Posts tagged: trains
When I travel to a new place, one of the first activities I look for is a train ride, especially when the cars or locomotives are vintage workhorses that have been restored and put back in use. There’s no better way to sit back, relax and see the countryside, as well as capture a bit of local history.
In many places such excursion trains are located at the edge of town, in the rail yards where the engine and passenger cars are stored between trips. But Branson, Missouri, is different.
The Branson Scenic Railway depot is right in the middle of town. In fact, I could look down on the depot and one of the big engines from my room next door at the Hilton Convention Center. The morning of my ride, all I had to do was walk out the front door of the hotel and straight into the historic 1905 Branson depot.
Each day, depending on the season, two fully-restored locomotives, Number 98 built in 1951 and Number 99 built in 1962, carry the seven cars, all built between 1939 and 1956, on three to four trips. The excursion train operates on working Missouri and Northern Arkansas Railroad lines and travels as far north to Galena, Missouri or south to the Barren Fork Trestle in Arkansas.
Once on board, seating is open so passengers are free to find a spot they like and settle in. The dome cars fill up fast so I bypassed those and picked a seat in a car in the middle of the train, at a small table so I could take notes as I rode.
Rolling through the beautiful Ozark Mountain foothills in fall is about as pretty a ride as you can imagine. The trees were beautiful. As we rolled along, deer, turkeys and even wild pigs could be seen from the wide windows. The train was full—I understand it almost always is—and most passengers were visiting Branson from all over the country. At one end of the car a group of seniors from Indiana laughed and talked and at the other end a family of four from Texas took photos as we rolled across the tall trestles. It was the kids’ first train ride.
During the 40-mile roundtrip excursion, a narrator pointed out not-to-be-missed views, gave wildlife alerts and filled us in on the history of the train and the region. The rail line we were riding was built at great cost due to the ruggedness of the landscape and it was the primary reason the town of Branson grew and thrived. The car attendants, most of whom have been with the railway for years, stopped by frequently to chat.
Branson is known for big shows and glitzy entertainment but, no surprise here, the train trip was my favorite activity. There is nothing contrived or artificial about it.
So many places raze the old to make way for the new, but Branson went to great lengths to not only preserve its railroad history, but totally reinvigorate a tangible, and still thoroughly enjoyable, link to the past.
More information about the Branson Scenic Railway
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at email@example.com
(Photo courtesy O. Winston Link Museum, Roanoke, Virginia)
Once you see one of his photographs, you never forget it. Inky darkness is frosted and silvered by pools of light. People and places, most in small towns in rural Virginia, are frozen in the moment. And always, dominating the scene in sometimes startling ways, is the presence of a massive engine, billowing a plume of smoke and steam.
O. Winston Link was born in Brooklyn, New York, 1914 and like most boys of his time, he had a fascination for the big steam engines that roared down the tracks through small towns and big cities across the United States. But it wasn’t until after World War II that he found an outlet for that fascination. While on an industrial photography assignment in Staunton, Virginia, Link traveled to Waynesboro to take photos of the Norfolk & Western Railway steam engines, the only railroad still running steam engines at that time. For the next five years he would spend more than $25,000 of his own money and countless hours photographing the trains and the people who worked and relied on them.
Today, the exhibit at the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, Virginia perfectly illustrates the power of Link’s single-minded devotion to chronicling the last of the giants.
When you see the photos, most taken at night and almost all done in black and white, they at first look like moments of photographic good fortune; being in the right place at the right moment to capture a tableau of ordinary life in the mid-1950s. Light casts strange and eerie shadows on the gigantic engines as well as across the land, houses and people in the photos.
But Link, who studied engineering before going on to become a professional photographer after World War II, and who was a skilled craftsman in his own right, was more than just a man with a camera. Nothing in his photographs was left to chance. He captured larger images by rigging a line of cameras to fire at exactly the same moment and then stitching together the photos.The people were placed, the composition worked out as elaborately as the lighting that illuminated the scene.
“You can't move the sun, and you can't move the tracks, so you have to do something else to better light the engines,” Link said. He chose to take his photographs at night and controlled every aspect of the photos. Through his lens and his genius with lighting, wiring dozens of bulbs to fire at exactly the right moment, replacing lanterns in the hands of railroad men even lamps in nearby homes, he conjured exactly what he wanted to see. And, ultimately, what he wanted us to see.
When the last steam engine ran in 1960, Link photographed it from behind a couple standing on the front porch of their home. It was the end of an era and the end of his project.
At the time no one was interested in photos of steam engines. That was yesterday’s technology. Photos, when he could sell one, went for next to nothing. He did better selling high-quality recordings of steam engines and whistles and it wasn’t until the 1980s that Link got the recognition he deserved.
Today, strolling through the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, next to the Virginia Museum of Transportation, studying the images he produced you are drawn into the scene, compelled to look closer for the tiniest details of the composition.
Link painted with light on photographic paper creating stark, indelible, dramatic images of mechanical dinosaurs rolling and belching clouds of steam on their way to extinction. To stand and look at his work is like being taken along on that historic ride.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
I see a thousand automobiles every day. They’re all around me. They roll down my street in the morning and late at night. They ride in formation in front, beside, or behind me on the highways and freeways. And yet, never does it occur to me to wish I was in any of those steel cages. They hold no mystery. I suspect, for the most part, they are going to work, to the grocery story, to have the dog groomed or on any of the countless necessary but mundane trips I take each week.
But when I see a train, when I hear the whistle blow in the night or early in the morning, I automatically stop to listen; to wonder if it is a freight train or passenger train. To wonder where it is headed and where it has been. I put myself onboard, on the other side of the wide windows, and my imagination settles down onto the steel rails and is pulled forward with the chain.
I’m not alone. I hear others say the same thing. There is a romance to train travel that time and progress haven’t managed to dampen. A train is going somewhere slow and steady, rolling through valleys, over mountains and on high trestles spanning wild rivers. Even animals seem to catch the spirit, drawn to the fenceline beside the tracks and then stopping to lift their heads to watch the boxcars or coaches rumble by.
The last time I was on the Rocky Mountaineer, the luxury excursion train that snakes across British Columbia and Alberta, winter was closing in. We left Vancouver in the darkness of an October morning and pulled into stations in deep twilight at the end of each day’s ride. The rivers were low and slow and grasses and shrubs painted the hillsides with autumn color that flamed at the feet of tall evergreens and the pale skeletons of Pine Beetle-damaged pines.
But this trip I gazed out at the fresh green of a late Western Canada spring. Sipping coffee over breakfast in the dining car, we left the big city behind and moved out into the countryside. In mid-morning we watched eagles and Osprey fly over rivers that were swollen with snowmelt and spring rains. in the afternoon someone called out “Bear” and people popped up like Prairie Dogs, craning to see a big Black Bear grazing at the edge of the road. Bighorn Sheep perched on rocky outcroppings, tails flicking as they watched us roll by.
The next day we reached the Rocky Mountains and cameras clicked all around me. Many of the passengers were making the trip of a lifetime: a dozen or so from Australia, two women from Chile, a couple from Wales, another from Scotland. All were there to see the iconic Canadian landscape of the west, and Mother Nature happily obliged. Just as we pulled into Banff, as if cued to provide the grand finale, a grizzly sow and her cubs stepped out of the pines and stuck around just long enough to be photographed before melting back into the shadowy forest.
Listening to others in the coach talk about the bears, about the mountains and the places we’d passed on the trip, I was able to put my finger on one of the aspects of train travel that is so appealing: It is a community experience. It is a journey in the company of others who share the love. And, really, when you think about it, that’s what we’re all looking for in everything.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com
Note: The Rocky Mountaineer has added SilverLeaf service for the 2012 season. Find more information about it here.
The thing about going somewhere is that, if you’re lucky, you have someone to tell goodbye. Someone who is sad to see you go.
It’s the same coming home. For the fortunate, there is someone there to welcome you. Someone who missed you and is happy to see you again.
It used to be that when you sat at the gate in an airport, waiting to depart, you got to witness all kinds of goodbyes and hellos. You could see men and women rush into one another’s arms when a plane landed. You witnessed tender embraces, last kisses and that lingering brush of hands at departure, palm against palm then fingertip to fingertip, prolonging the separation until the last possible moment.
Now, as any flier - frequent or not - knows, most hellos and goodbyes are said at the curb. A wave, a quick kiss and out of the no-parking lane as fast as possible. From that point on all passengers are the same. Stressed. Suspicious. Caught in the machine that air travel has become.
But, if you travel by train, ah, well then, you see it all.
Train stations are still places of hand-holding and long goodbyes. Of people running into embraces and the loud chatter of reunion.
Sometimes, on the train, you see other stories, as well.
Sitting in the observation car of the Empire Builder, watching the Columbia river roll past, I noticed a woman sitting across the car. She was on her cell phone, talking to someone. The connection was spotty so occasionally the call was lost and she would have to punch in the numbers again. What held my attention was the tone of her voice. It was so high and cheerful I assumed she must be talking to a child. But, then I realized I was wrong.
“What did you do today,” she asked. The voice on the other end of the signal must have talked about a project of some kind.
“Well, it was sweet of you to do that,” she said. “You are a sweet man, you know. That’s why you’re my husband.”
Paying more attention, I could hear the brittle edge in her voice. She wasn’t quite as cheerful as she sounded.
They talked a minute or two more and the signal was lost again. Finally she ended the call by making a kissing sound into the phone.
I went back to my book and was immediately lost in the novel. The next time I looked up and glanced over at the woman, she was still sitting in the same place but was now snuggled up against a man. Her head rested on his chest, under the curve of his left arm and his right hand was on her knee. They were silent, staring out the window at the sunset.
For a moment, I was confused. I’d heard her talking to her husband just a few minutes before. A man who was obviously far away. And now, suddenly, he was there beside her.
But, of course, he wasn’t.
I realized that the silent couple, lost in their own thoughts, must be lovers. At least one of them, the woman, had another life. He wasn’t wearing a ring.
There was a sadness to the way they sat so close together, touching, thinking. I tried not to watch them but I was captured by the tableau. The miles passed.
After a while, when the sunlight disappeared and the only thing in the window was one’s own reflection, an uncomfortable image to stare into, they got up and walked back to their seats.
I don’t know if they stayed on the train or got off at my stop.
In the business of arrival, gathering bags and departing the train in the dark, I forgot to look for the couple. I don’t know where they went.
I can only imagine her, carrying her bags, walking away from the man on the train, palms brushing, fingertips touching, into the arms of the man on the phone.
On a plane, they wouldn’t have had the time to sit, holding one another. On a plane, I wouldn’t have noticed them at all.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance
columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her audio essays can be heard each
week on Spokane Public Radio and are frequently picked up by public
radio stations across the country. She is the author of
“Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons”
and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org