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A railroading experience

06/13/2011 @ 1:26pm

fer•ro•e•quin•ol•o•gy n: the study of railways in general, but especially locomotives.

foam•er (plural foam•ers) n: avid hobbyist; somebody who is very devoted to a hobby, especially a railroad enthusiast.

I want to be upfront here and state that my wife and I are neither “foamers” nor do we worship at the altar of the iron horse. But that doesn’t prevent us from enjoying an occasional ride on an antique choo-choo.   

Our most recent experience along those lines involved a short-line railway called the Boone And Scenic Valley Railroad. This rail expedition deep into the wilds of the Iowa boondocks was aboard the Boone And Scenic Valley’s dessert train, so I guess you could say we rode a chew, chew choo-choo.

Our rail voyage had to be booked in advance. This meant my wife and I could take advantage of an unforeseen benefit: we were able to say, in all truthfulness, “We better get going, we have a train to catch!”

Heretofore neither my wife nor I had ever been able to make that statement. We used the heck out of it, telling friends, acquaintances, convenience store clerks, and even random strangers we stopped on the street that we had an important railroad appointment to keep.

Ironically, we nearly used too much time telling people we had to be on time and arrived at the train station with only moments to spare. We had scarcely taken our seats when the train pulled away from the depot.

We settled into our own private sleeping compartment, which had been outfitted with a folding table and chairs. As the rumbling railcar slowly picked up speed, it was easy for us to imagine that we were back in an elegant, bygone era.

My wife and I sometimes think we were born too soon. Passenger rail service had died off in our area by the time we came along, so riding a train is a rare treat for us.

There was a set of buttons on the bulkhead of our railcar, one of which was labeled “porter”. We could envision mashing that button and having a man in a crisp, white jacket instantly appear at our door, a fresh dishtowel draped over his arm. We would make our request and he would hustle off to fulfill it; perhaps a glass of wine for the lady and a snifter of brandy for me.

In this imagined scenario, we would be served a sumptuous meal in our private compartment. We might remark on the exquisiteness of the pattern on the dinnerware and the high quality of the linen tablecloth. As we dine, a nighttime cityscape -- skyscrapers glowing like gigantic Chinese lanterns -- slides past outside our window.

The reality is that we ate cheese and crackers and grapes served on paper plates. And our speed could best be described as “stately”; when asked, one of the crew said that we would top out at about 8 MPH. But none of that prevented my wife and I from daydreaming, nor did it diminish the pleasantness of our experience.

The train at first passed through unremarkable Iowa farmland, but the terrain gradually turned steep and hilly. A wall of trees had taken root beside the tracks, at times creating the impression that we were traversing a leafy green tunnel.      

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