With all the mergers and consolidations the past 40 years, with all the fallen flags, with all the new technology, with all the heightened security, I often wish for the old days of railroading. Forty years ago plus, there were tens of thousands more railroaders employed, which is also what a lot of us miss, especially if you were a former railroader who lost a job due to a fallen flag being merged into a mega system, or a railroad becoming bankrupt and failing.
I miss not being able to camp out in any locations trackside for hours, or even a full day to watch trains and to photograph these same trains, without so much as a side glance from the public, authorities, or railroaders, as long as you were acting in a safe manner. I once camped out at a location which will remain anonymous for 36 hours in Ohio watching trains. All the while no one bothered me in the least. Not to mention all the friendly waves I got from passing trains and toots on the horn from numerous engineers. What days those were. I miss the days when most tower operators would let you up in the towers to chew the fat between trains, or station agents for that matter. I miss being able to drive down into a yard, pull up to a yard office, and gladly get a release to watch and photograph.
I miss those days when even standing close to some switching operations, of being asked up into cabs of locomotives and cabooses. I miss those days of doing this after delivering either cans of pop or bottled water to crews, sometimes while waiting at signals for an extended period. I miss those good old days of engine crews throwing old train orders or timetables down to me while trackside, all the while waving. Those were the days.
Then I miss the simple joy of seeing all the fallen flag names on every type of car imaginable in that train going by, or visiting relatives and seeing those Rock Island locomotives going across northern Kansas, or seeing GM&O locomotives in Springfield, Illinois, or those IC engines in Paducah, Ky. I surely miss those NYC Baldwin Sharks coming through Winton Place north of Cincinnati. I certainly miss those cabooses.
Finally, I miss riding those trains, or railfanning those tracks that went everywhere. I remember a small SW1 in CB&Q black that trundled across the Colorado prairie towards Cheyenne, Wyoming, or that Penn Central transfer that departed Riverside yard near another relatives house in western Cincinnati. I miss riding those passenger trains, what with going up front at a station looking at whatever head-end power there was, seeing the steam escape through the hose at the end of the train, seeing the illuminated drumhead. One highlight I miss was riding in a dome at night across America, watching the signals change, roaring through every small town, watching the crew change at 3 something AM in North Platte, all the while almost never being able to sleep due to all the excitement. The main highlight I miss was the diner and every meal taken there, what with the impeccable service, the silver service, the fine linens, the flower on the table. I miss that ham steak dinner while heading west into the sunset out of Chicago, and that scoop of ice cream the waiter always provided.
Oh how I wish for the good old days……