I love trains. I love to watch them go by, to hear clicking of the wheels on the tracks, to see the long lines pass by. I love to be in the car "stuck" at a crossing gate that has come down, to wait expectantly for the big machines to go by, all to the consternation of less enamored friends. The train whistle, an annoyance to some, is my siren call.
I am not quite sure what draws me. I often wonder, “Where is that long line of freight cars going; where will it end up and what’s on them?” “Who are those people on that train, how was their day and what are they going to? What’s waiting for them after their journey?” And all the while these servants of our world lumber on.
Trains are simple really, although now loaded with complex electronics, but the basic wheels on the track is a concept that jets us back to the time of discovery, of the linking of the continents and the start of prosperity. Now, more frequently, we hear the electronic voices announcing the stations arrived at and to come, replacing the conductors who used to call out the stops and be seen hanging precariously out the door checking on those coming and going, keeping the train on time, always on time.
The freight train with its long line, sometimes hundreds, of cars is a marvel to watch. The trains lumber along in their long dance, counted on to stay in line and behave in their practiced order, with little supervision by the handful of human overseers. They move into the night, through locations that people wouldn’t last long in by themselves, hauling products we all need, to join the others in the vast yards waiting for their next assignment. And at the front of all this, the Engineer!
I used to think that the job of a long haul train engineer was very glamorous, and a bit mysterious, and perhaps a bit boring! After all, what does one person do at the head of a line of 200 freight cars in the middle of the night? Then, I learned. All those friends traveling behind you can turn on you in a second if you’re going downhill a bit too fast, or drag you backwards with their own might if you don’t get them uphill fast enough. You are alone, with the power under your hands, and the forces of inertia and gravity are yours to sense and harness.