Boys and Their Trains
My husband is an enthusiastic railroad and model train buff. Like many other boys (are there women train buffs? Check this link to see what others say) his fascination was born, I’m sure, out of having a small model train collection as a boy (Lionel O gauge, and as an adult, HO gauge if that means anything to you).
On our family vacations, if there was a train yard with old trains within 50 miles of wherever we were heading, he’d sniff them out and have to stop. The girls learned to entertain themselves at such sites, and indulge his love for the old models, especially steam.
We’ve seen the St. Louis Museum of Transportation in Missouri, The Colorado Rail Museum in Golden, Colorado, where they saw Union Pacific #4006 (“Big Boy”) and a bright Yellow Rio Grande; two of them were with us as adults when we toured the Baltimore B & O Museum (Maryland); and Dad and daughters entertained themselves (while I was networking at least two Virginia Press Women conferences) by checking out the Virginia Aviation Museum in Richmond and the Roanoke Train Museum. I always enjoyed the model train layouts and “crafty” miniature cities and countryside as much as the actual trains, as noted on the discussion thread linked above on women train buffs.
Is it any wonder as a new grandfather, my husband couldn’t wait to put a “Christmas train” set under the tree while they were just one month and three months old??
So it was with some excitement our daughters planned and bought tickets not only for us but themselves and their families for a delayed Father’s Day and Mother’s Day combined present on a steam-powered excursion train running between Cumberland, Maryland, and Frostburg.
We settled on July 5 as a time we could all make the trip—the two grandsons, three daughters, two sons-in-law and grandpa and grandma. We especially appreciated the efforts of the families with toddlers to endure car trips of several hours to make it happen.
The big disappointment of the day was finding out, upon arrival at the train station in Cumberland, that the engine pulling the train would not be steam after all but plain old diesel. The steam engine had broken down the day before. My daughter assured my husband that no, this switcheroo was not common because no one in reviews online had mentioned any complaints of this nature. Old engines sometimes need repair. Of course, Sam and James were not the least bit disappointed and truth be told, it didn’t matter to me, except I knew it was a big let down for my husband. But he got over it.
I wish I’d snapped my own photo of our picture-perfect conductor (shown on this brochure, who gamely posed for others) and when my husband quizzed him on the steam engine and other train facts, he admitted that although he’s worked trains all his life (50 + years), he was not that informed about other specific old trains. He soon asked a younger colleague on the train to come over and answer my husband’s questions.
We had packed picnic foods (allowed on the train) and rendezvoused in good time for the 11 a.m. load/11:30 a.m. departure from Cumberland. I’d passed that way many times on Amtrak’s path through the lovely mountains of western Maryland, so it was fun to explore the old timey station in Cumberland (different from Amtrak “smoking” stop there, by the way).
Much of the 16-mile route follows the C & O Canal Towpath, and it was fun to wave to enthusiastic Sunday bikers and hikers as we passed. Cumberland serves as a trailhead for the popular Great Allegheny Passage on the Towpath, running 141 miles running from Cumberland to Pittsburgh.
The best part though was just having the whole family together and enjoying grandparenting, such as doling out the peanut butter crackers to the little ones to hold them over to lunch.
The boys (ages 21 months and 19 months) seemed to enjoy exploring the train aisles (accompanied by an adult of course) not constrained by car seats, and I enjoyed watching their eyes take in the huge engine and passenger cars. I wondered what they were thinking. It will be a memory only as it is told to them through pictures and stories, but like parents and grandparents everywhere, we’ll enjoy telling them about it for years to come.
And yes, they already have small trains of their own and Thomas Tank Engine books. And thanks to a friend and experienced grandma, Thomas Tank Engine videos await them when they get old enough.
I have long come to accept that if one of my hobbies is traveling, exploring train yards and museums is part of the package. How delightful to do so with some new young-ins in tow!
Female train buffs–speak up? Are you out there?
What hobbies do you, your spouse, children or grandchildren enjoy pursuing on vacations?
Several photos courtesy of family members. Thanks!