Monday, May 13, 2013

An Age Gone By

If I had the choice I would take every trip by train, but these journeys would undoubtedly be on the trains of yesteryear, not the modern high speed trains of Europe or the poorly serviced Amtrak trains of the United States.  

 My grandfather was an auditor for the Kansas City Terminal Railway from the time he was 20 until he retired at 65.  The Terminal was a joint operation of the trunk railroads that served our metropolitan area and at one time was the second largest national hub.  He worked at the beautiful Union Station but I never saw his office or actually knew what he kind of position he held other than “auditor.”  What I do know is that he was granted a lifetime pass on the trains and also received discount tickets for his family.  In the beginning years of my life all my trips were either by motor car or train.

Dad loved automobiles but had a healthy reverence for trains, too.  As a young man (he didn’t marry until well into middle age) he had traveled across the United States by rail.  He had wonderful stories of getting off the train in Yellowstone Park and staying at the wooden lodge’s there.  He had seen all the west and most of the east.  He never traveled south though until he married Grandfather’s only daughter and managed to produce the only grandchild.  

In the early 1950’s Grandfather took us by train to Miami, Florida.  It was a two night journey and Grandfather sprang for two bedrooms in the Pullman cars:  one for himself and Granny and one for Mother, Dad, and me.  We made that trip twice, once in 1953 and once again in 1954.  The bedrooms were so interesting to a small kid, with the tiny washrooms and two bunks that pulled out at night for sleeping.  I always got the top bunk and I could peer down into the huge window and watch the towns flying by.  The sound and rhythm of the wheels on the rails was incredibly comforting and exotic at the same time.  Even better were the fabulous meals in the dining car.  The service was incredible and the waiters offered up menus where you could select your own food.  I always chose the fried chicken for dinner because it was followed by a bowl of warm water called a finger bowl.  The bowl was line with a filly white paper cup and because I was so entranced by the notion of washing one’s fingers following a fried chicken dinner, I was always given extra paper cups to take back to the bedrooms.  My dad loved the observation cars and then later, some trains had domed observation cars.  Stairs would go up to the dome and down to the lower level, with the lower level below the dome usually offering restrooms or a small lounge area, while the upper portion had a "bubble" of glass on the car's roof. Passengers in the upper portion of the dome were able to see in all directions from a vantage point above the train's roofline.  Dad could sit up there for hours and I’d go for a bit, but I liked exploring and coloring in the bedrooms best.  

Dining Car
Santa Fe Finger Bowls

Day room of the Pullman Bedroom
Observation Car

In 1955 Grandfather sprang for a trip to Hawaii and we rode the train to California.  From there we took a boat, the Lurline of the Matson line across the Pacific to Honolulu.  Dad only got a three week vacation so Grandfather flew us from Hawaii back to Los Angeles where again we caught the train and rode home.  In 1955 I didn’t know a single kid that had ever been on an airline, much less one that flew over the ocean.  Now I don’t know a single kid that has been in a Pullman Car bedroom (or roomette – if you were traveling alone) or has eaten in real meal in a dining car.  

In 1956 Dad drove Mother and me to his favorite place on earth:  Green Mountain Falls, Co.  Dad had stories of driving across Kansas on dirt roads in the old luxury touring cars of the 1920’s; in those days it would take three to five days to travel the 618 miles into Colorado Springs and then up Ute Pass to the cabin his family had bought in 1910.  By 1956 the Griffith cabin had been sold, but a distant aunt offered up her home to the family.  The next year Grandfather and Grandmother came to Colorado to see what all the fuss was about – and from then on, nearly all the vacations were in Green Mountain.  Grandfather even went so far as to repurchase the Griffith cabin and bring it back into the family, making my dad happier than I’ve ever know him.  

Lake at Green Mountain Falls, in the foothills of Pike's Peak
 In the early 1963 Grandfather and I went to Chicago together over the Easter weekend.  We rode the train, of course – but this time we rode in the coach car because we weren’t on the train overnight.  Still there was a domed observation car and we spent most of the trip riding above the rails through Missouri and Illinois. 
So my last real train trip was back in 1956, complete with dining car, porters, and bedrooms.  I still dream of traveling like that and wish I could climb aboard a well-equipped, well-accoutered train to cross the United States or go from coast to coast in Canada.  Even better, my own personal dream is a trip on the 1920’s Orient Express, the iconic train trip of luxury and intrigue from Paris to Istanbul.  

The Orient Express bedroom
Now this is luxury train travel -- Orient Express


Margaret said...

I do love trains and have ridden in my fair share, but not as many as you. When I was a child, our church did a "Snow Train" which went up in the mountains and stopped at a few cities to sightsee. It was quite an adventure and magical to me. I liked the trains in Europe, but that high speed train made me really nauseated. (don't look out the window!) My husband's family took a dinner/wine tasting train to Seattle once and that was very special too.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog through Googling for train photos and what a nice post to find!
Thanks, Milly!