The other night as I laid down in bed, I heard the faint horn of a train coming through Granville. It made me smile.
I’ve realized that I really like trains.
Back in Kijabe, hiking or running on the railroad tracks, we always kept our eyes out for any signs of a train. The conductors would wave and smile at us, blow their horn, and the cars would clatter by shaking and vibrating the inside of me. It made me feel small and exhilarated to stand so close as they rumbled past.
I remember when one of those trains de-railed and we went to check it out, stopping by the train station. Then of course, there was the box car tilted on its side by the hot springs. Scrambling inside of that for pictures was a must on any hike.
In fourth grade, I discovered Nairobi’s railroad museum, and dragged my family back there a couple times. I loved being able to shimmy up and down and inside the cars, skinning my knees and getting grease on my fingers. My favorite car of course, was the one with the plaque stating: “It was from this coach that Superintendent Charles Henry Ryall was dragged and killed by a man-eating lion at Kima station on 6th June 1900.” Then, of course, Noah and Daniel and I had to re-enact that momentous event, taking turns playing the various parts of: (a) poor Mr. Ryall (b) ferocious lion, and (c) horrified fellow passenger.
Dad would tell us the story of the British and their Lunatic express, and when we would walk on the old railroad bed below Kijabe, I would think about those crazy colonials plowing ahead through Kenya with their train tracks. The Uganda Railway poster depicting that event is in my dorm room even now.
There’s movies too. Music Man and their song to the rhythm of the train. Ghost and the Darkness and the lions at the Tsavo bridge. Jumping out of trains in The Great Escape. Classic.
In Emmaus we lived by the train, and I know it must have been frustrating to have to just miss the green light and have to stop before crossing the tracks, but it got me into the unbreakable habit of counting cars. At Weis Markets, our bench for breaks was right next to the railroad. I would sit there, eat my lunch and count the cars. Now I feel compelled to stop and count as they go by.
In London, the underground, which counts as a sort of train, was always accompanied by a perpetual “Mind the Gap.” In Philly, I learned how to ride a train by myself, thanks to Melissa’s careful coaching. In Chicago, I saw my first elevated trains, and was amazed at them rattling over head, while nobody seemed to notice.
However, I think it was in Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan when I started fantasizing about hopping on to a boxcar and riding across the prairie, wherever it took me. Like the depression-era hoboes, I’d run alongside and jump on with a knapsack when it slowed down. It’s a nice daydream. Me and a buddy eating P&J sandwiches, swinging our legs over the side of a boxcar, watching the sun set over an endless sea of grass. Maybe someday…