_THAT’S THE HIGHWAY_

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* 16 … TRAIN AND MEMORIES (05/19/2011, the day I finished reading Jim Hinckley’s “Ghost Towns of Route 66” book)

The oldest sibling could hear the distinct whistle of the approaching train as he steered his Caprice Classic onto the gravel lot that once was the parking lot of the town train station. He felt the sense of excitement he experienced as a kid watching trains travel past. He parked the car, shut it off, and got out, grabbing his camera from the passenger’s side front seat. Closing the door, he looked down the tracks and saw the distinct freight train engine in the distance.

Though one would be hard-pressed to believe it these days, his adopted home town was once a hubbub of train activity. The station, now long gone (taken out by a severe storm less than a year after he and his parents and siblings came to town), welcomed passenger trains as well as freight trains. Now, only freight trains rumble through town; the passenger trains had been moved to new tracks before his family arrived. Still, the railroad maintains the duo tracks that run on either end of town, allowing freight trains to pass at this junction, if need be.

‘Just like clockwork,’ the oldest sibling thought, watching the train get closer. The whistle blew, and his sense of excitement increased. He had been snapping photos from the time he exited the car. He looked around, noticing that he was the only one there, though that was not surprising. He looked down the road and noticed traffic (what little traffic the town had around six in the morning) stopped waiting at the crossing gates. The train steadily moved towards him and he continued taking pictures of the train and the traffic, and even of the gravel lot.

Looking around the travel lot, he knew exactly where the train station had stood for so many years, though he only saw it for less than a year. After the storm ravaged what had been left of it, the local Route 66 association, in his opinion anyway, gave up a bit too easily. Prior to the storm, the local Route 66 association had been taking steps to begin preservation measures. Given his Dad and Mom’s new (at the time) business, the town wanted to restore more structures, with the train depot taking top priority … until the storm. After the storm, the state pressured the town to simply destroy it, complete with a sizeable “donation”, if the town agreed to demolish the train station. The town council claimed it had no choice but to agree to it, and less than a month after the storm, despite opposition from the local Route 66 association, the train station was gone for good. But, even today, remnants of where the train station stood, including some concrete steps, were still visible.

The eldest turned back to the train, which was now nearly at him. He looked upward towards the engine’s windows to see if he could see anyone. Sure enough, two guys were there, waving out at him. He waved back and snapped a picture. Now, the train was roaring past him, and he was enjoying every second of it.

He stood there, for what seemed like just a few seconds (though it had been over a half hour), watching the end of the train fade in the distance, listening for the whistle. Shortly after the train was out of site, he turned back towards his Caprice Classic to head back to the house, when an old pickup rambled into the lot and screeched to a gravely halt. He knew the old man driving it, a local shopkeeper, who had retired just months ago. The old man climbed out of the cab, shuffled out towards him, saying, “There you are! Yer brother has been calling everyone and AND their mother to find out what the dickens happened to you.”

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