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Tuesday, November 5, 2013


It was Christmas Eve 1949. My cousin Prudy and I stood proudly in front of the Christmas tree, in my grandmas house in St. Paul, holding up our presents for all to see. Mine was an 027 gauge Lionel electric train. It doesn’t get any better than that. Thus began a lifelong interest in trains. I still have it on display in our basement.

Flash ahead a few years to the early fifties. I lived with my parents and two brothers in a new home on the East Side in St. Paul. It’s was the Daytons Bluff area. Below the bluff lay the Mississippi river and lots of railroad tracks and two "railroad yards." They belonged to the Milwaukee Road and the "Q" (Burlington & Quincy)

Our next door neighbor, Art, was a yard engineer for the Milwaukee Road. He didn't drive, so he walked to and from work every day, except on Saturdays. That's when my father picked him up at work. A trip to downtown St. Paul followed to cash his paycheck and pick up a case of an "adult beverage." I got to tag along.
More often than not on these Saturday afternoons, I was invited to climb up into the cab of the steam engine. Art would wave me aboard. It was a steep climb up into the cab.

Each and every time the excitement built. There was a cord hanging down, which when you pulled it, the steam whistle sounded so loud they must have been able to hear it miles away. A bin of coal was behind the engineers seat. I usually got to take a few shovels full, after opening the boiler door, and pitch it into the flames. It’s was very hot.

The biggest thrill of all was to back the train onto the "turntable." This was a revolving platform which turned to align each train into its own stall. I was ten or eleven years old and pretending to be Casey Jones. The neighborhood kids played in Indian Mounds Park high on the bluffs above the river. I can still picture that river, the airport beyond it and the railroad tracks far below. There were passenger trains like the orange and yellow Hiawatha of the Milwaukee and the silver bulleted Zephyr of the Burlington Road speeding by on their way to faraway places.

The steam engines are  long gone now except for a few touristy amusement rides. The sound of the diesel and later electric engines wasn’t nearly as exciting as the huff and puff of the steamers. Still, I’m left with fond memories of my Dad, Art the engineer, and those Saturday afternoons of boyhood enchantment.



Primitive Stars said...

Morning, ahhhh, great post, love the old Christmas picture. My Father loved trains and was a train man, my Brother now has the train set my Father had, same as yours. Thanks for the sweet memories, Blessings Francine.

Montanagirl said...

Oh those are great memories, TB. So glad you still have them tucked away somewhere to share with us!

NCmountainwoman said...

Doesn't get much better than a boy and trains, does it?

Ms Sparrow said...

There's a train museum here in St Paul called the Jackson Street Roundhouse just off I-35 on Pennsylvania. I hope you get a chance to visit it.

Veronica Wald said...

Oh wow, what a sweet memory! I actually got to ride in real coal-powered steam trains in China in the early 1980s. Not really that great being a passenger, especially because they didn't have screens and no A/C so the windows had to be open) and little chunks of coal kept flying in. Ha, the good old days!

Jo's World said...

You were one lucky kid, TB! When I was a kid, we had the Northern Pacific Line and also the Soo line (mostly freight). As kids we tore around from one end of town to the other waiting and watching for the trains to come through. None of us ever got offered a RIDE,until we were old enough to buy a ticket. We still loved them though!

Jo, Up North

Anvilcloud said...

I also had a 027 that just went around in circles. Later, a friend got an HO for Christmas and he actually got some switches, I was jealous. Still am.

I got a big under the tree type of train a few days ago. Sadly, we have no room for it in our little place.

Linda said...

What a great post! I love old photos.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Lucky boy! What a delightful memory.