It was a weekend morning, and I flipped on the TV hoping to watch “Tennessee Crossroads,” one of my favorite programs on local public television. Instead, the channel was having a fund raiser and showing a program about trains.
“Um, this is kind of interesting. I might as well watch it.”
Honey was snoring away blissfully still asleep and unaware that the program was convincing me that we should ride a train. The trains on the program were not ordinary trains, of course. These trains were steam locomotives, puffing, coal-eating, smoke-belching locomotives.
Although steam locomotives were retired and sent to rail yards to rust years ago, some survived. Train enthusiasts loved the old engines and a few have been restored to become popular tourist attractions. In Tennessee some train-lovers believed that trains were not only to look at, but also to ride.
“How can you learn about trains unless you can ride one, see the steam and feel the clackity-clack of the rails sliding beneath you?” they reasoned.
I woke Honey up early the following week to drive the 150 miles to Chattanooga. I chose a one hour train trip as I was not quite ready to commit to six hours on the rails. Once we left the interstate in Chattanooga to look for the attraction, the roads became small and narrow and led us to an industrial area. It seems that train yards are not necessarily in the best part of town.
The old train depot had been restored to its former glory, however, and was a sight to behold, as were the sidetracked black engines and bright red cabooses in the rail yard. Inside the depot we bought our tickets and waited on the long wooden refinished benches, while watching the old antique clock tick. The old ticket booth was fully restored and looking through the bars on the ticket window, I could see an old manual typewriter, just like the movies.
Finally, the train arrived with much whistle blowing and steam hissing. The passengers from the first trip departed and we boarded the train. I had forgotten that conductors punch your tickets after you get on the train instead of at the steps. Speaking of steps, I had also forgotten how steep and high they were.
“All aboard” yelled the conductor. We were off on our adventure to nowhere.
Our tickets were finally punched and the train ride was pretty much as I remember trains, though it didn’t shake quite as much since the train moved rather slowly instead of at the tooth-rattling speed of a diesel train that I once rode from St. Louis to Washington, D.C.
The main attraction of this particular tour was a long tunnel under a mountain ridge, dug by hand prior to the Civil War. Unlike in olden times, we were not robbed by outlaws or attacked by savage Indians.
In case you are wondering, this train is not the infamous Chattanooga Choo-Choo, which has been permanently de-railed and turned into a commercial hotel, inviting guests to spend the night in luxurious sleeping cars, which include modern amenities, even free Wi-Fi. It is rather sad that the Choo-Choo train no longer runs.
Our tour guide, who looked like Santa in a conductor’s uniform, lamented the fact that we had missed the six-hour train to Georgia, which has a dining car. I have dined on trains before, though, and remember that eating on a train involves dishes vibrating on a white tablecloth while you try to ignore the splashing liquids in the glasses and eat before your plate slides off the table.
The most interesting part was watching as a fireman shoveled coal into the firebox to heat the boiler and make steam. It is not the conductor or the engineer that makes the train run. It is the fireman who shovels the coal that makes it go.
Copyright 2013 Sheila Moss