I have loved trains ever since I was a little girl. There is just something magical about locomotives and train tracks. Maybe there’s a little bit of train love in my genes, my grandfather worked for the railroad, although at the station, not on the trains. My grandmother’s yard in Indiana bordered the train tracks that ran through her little town. As children, my sisters and I would hear the train whistle blow, and out the door, across the porch and to the end of the lot we would run to wave at the engineers and railroad hands as the noisy cars rolled by. They waved back, and we stood counting the cars until the backdoor of the caboose was just a tiny dot as the train left town for whatever destination our imaginations conjured. Although I have always loved trains (I’m talking about the traditional trains that crisscross the country), until last Saturday night I had never actually boarded and ridden one. I’m excited that as part of my quest to do six amazing things (one for each decade) leading up to my 60th birthday in January, a train ride was on the agenda.
Several months ago, I happened upon the Walkersville Southern Railway, excursion train. One of their options was an evening, 4 course dinner, train ride. That was it!!!! I stepped out on faith, called the Railway’s event coordinator and booked THE ENTIRE dining car. I just knew my first “real” train ride, (I have ridden many rapid transit systems) would be all that much better accompanied by 40 of my favorite people. So the planning began!
My mind was filled with images of trains and tracks and railroad signs. Those images I drew and painted and they quickly became notecards for the guest goodie bags. What was a goodie bag without chocolate? I spent a day pouring molded chocolate train engines and packaging them for my guests. Finally a wooden train whistle was added to the bag and voila, the goodie bags were filled and ready to roll. Friends and family forked over the money for the ride (many thanks all) and before I knew it the dining car was full, the entrees were chosen, the seating chart was completed and the big night was fast approaching.
Bob, my sister, Gail, and I arrived at the station early. Some of the guests were already there; no one wanted to miss the train. The event coordinator wanted me to check everything in the dining car to be sure it was just as I wanted, and invited me aboard to put the guest’s bags at each seat. I loved climbing up the platform and stepping onto the train, it was just as I had imagined. Beautiful warm wood covered the walls and lovely burgundy curtains framed the windows. White linen cloths and gold linen napkins covered the beautifully set tables which lined each side of the car. Candles flickered softly, reflecting their golden light in the windows. It was perfect! The only thing missing were the guests.
I stepped outside and the guests began arriving at the train station. I got a bit teary waving as each car filled with friends and family, bounced across the gravel, found parking spaces and joined the growing crowd at the station. Some guests came as far as North Carolina to join in the fun (thank you Maggie and Tina), I knew, I would enjoy my first train ride, but I realized the real fun would be an evening spent with all the special people on the train. Finally I called “All Aboard” and the line up the platform to the dining car formed.
As friends and family boarded the train, I was invited to visit the engine (thank you Chuck Wasson for arranging this) and so I quickly jogged to the front of the train. I grasped the metal ladder rails and climbed up into the cab, there I was, not just taking my first train ride, but at the controls. They didn’t let me drive the train, but I did get the engineer’s view, checked out all the bells and whistles and tried out the leather covered seat reserved for the engineer. Quite an experience and we hadn’t even left the station. Back down the ladder and past the dining car I jogged again, my turn to board was fast approaching. I looked into the windows of the quickly filling train, happy , candle lit faces smiled out at me, my three oldest granddaughters, my daughters and sons-in –law, my sisters and brothers-in-law, my uncle, nieces, and lots of wonderful friends, it was surreal, a whole train car full of amazing family and friends. I boarded last and looked down the rows of tables, it looked like a painting. Perfect. I took my seat and we were off.
The train ride was slow and steady. Evening was upon us as we wound through the beautiful Monocacy Valley, mountains purple in the distance. Cows glanced up from grazing and even chased the train a bit as we passed their field, and deer scattered as the train rolled by, their white tails disappearing into the woods near the tracks. Cars waited for us to pass at railroad crossings. This was a new perspective for me. It was fun looking out the train windows and observing people watch the train pass, I had always been the one waiting and counting cars as the train passed in front of ME! We crossed the Monocacy River as the sun’s setting rays danced across the water, turning the river orange. The trained was filled with talk and laughter. The servers delivered soups and salads, breads, meats and desserts and filled and refilled glasses. With each new course, I rang a silver bell, and guests answered train questions (name 3 songs with trains in them, or 4 movies with trains, or what is the longest railroad in the world, What 4 railroads are on a monopoly board, etc.) and received prizes for correct answers. The last part of the trip found us looking out on moonlit fields, the lights of farmhouses and little towns twinkling in the distance. And then we were back at the station, my first, (but hopefully not last) train ride was over.
There were lots of hugs as guests departed the train. The evening really was an amazing experience, far more than I had even dared hope for. Best of all, the train was just as magical from inside as it had been all those years looking at it passing in front of me. I’m already looking forward to another ride on the rails, I’d like to fill a whole train next time . . .who wants to come along . . . ALL ABOARD!!!!!!!
I'm a wife, mother and grammie who loves time with family and friends. I love learning new things, visiting new places, and making each day count, because moments matter and I don't want to waste mine.