From my early childhood in Chicago I remember big red streetcars that roamed the streets of the Windy City. I probably rode them from about the time I was born until we moved away when I was six years old. And I probably also rode on Chicago’s elevated (“El”) rapid transit trains from a pretty early age.
But my first “real” train ride was a trip when I was five years old from Chicago to Wyoming and back, on the Chicago and Northwestern. I remember several days riding in an old-fashioned heavyweight coach, sleeping on the train, and trips with my father to the rest room on the train car. Of course, the trains were pulled by steam locomotives.
A year later, we moved from Chicago to Montrose, Colorado, again traveling by train, this time on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy as far as Denver. My mother, sister and I journeyed by bus to Wyoming to stay for a time. With my cousins and sister alongside, I waved at oil trains passing through the town of Hudson, Wyoming, and was always delighted when the crew waved back. When I moved there in 1947, Montrose was the heart of the Denver and Rio Grande Western narrow-gauge system. Montrose was served by a four-car standardgauge passenger train— the Mountaineer—that chugged by my fourthgrade window each morning. It was the waning days of the steam engine’s dominance of railroad motive power.
In college, I often commuted between Grants, New Mexico—my home, and Las Cruces by train, courtesy of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. The train was diesel powered by then, but that was okay. It still ran on rails.
Since then, I have ridden trains in Japan, Germany, Belgium, Mexico, Canada and various places in the U.S.
Why do I love trains? There is a romantic aspect to train travel, but there is much more. It’s easy to forget that America’s development, particularly in the West, where I have lived most of my life, depended on railroads. Railroads still move a lot of freight, and passenger service continues, much reduced from what it once was.
The railroad remains a practical transportation system, but it has evolved from what it was when I was a child. I hope they never go away, and, yes, I still like to wave at trains.
WARREN DOMKE is a columnist for the Pleasanton Express.