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Two views of ‘Riding the Rails’

October 2, 2014
Joyce Schenk , Westfield Republican

Our former neighbors and forever friends, Sally and Dick, recently returned from an out-of-the-ordinary adventure. They traveled up the east coast and back home by train.

Son Tim and I visited them last week to hear all about the journey.

As we talked, I found myself contrasting their 2014 experiences with my long-ago introduction to train travel.

It was the summer of 1946. In Fort Worth, as in many southern cities that season, polio cases among children were on the increase.

I was 12 at the time, the youngest in our family of four. Week by week, Mom grew more concerned I would contract the terrible disease. To keep me safe, she made arrangements for me to spend the summer with my grandmother, my great aunt and great uncle in St. Louis.

(As a 12-year-old, you can imagine how excited I was at the prospect.)

You'll have to remember that 68 years ago, the world was far different. It was a much safer place for children than the one we live in today.

Mom felt confident I would be fine as she pinned a note of instructions to my blouse. The note gave the conductor my name and destination and asked him to look after me. Then she put me on the train and waved a tearful good-bye, confident she was taking me out of harm's way.

Last week, as Tim and I listened to Sally and Dick's report of their modern-day train adventure, I found myself thinking of the monumental differences between their luxurious experience and my long-ago journey.

They enjoyed the comfort and privacy of their own compartment. Equipped with bunks and a large picture window looking out on the passing scene, the little unit even boasted a compact bathroom, tucked into a corner.

By contrast, my two-day journey from Ft. Worth to St. Louis simply provided a basic way of getting from one place to another. I sat upright on a bench seat which I shared with a changing selection of temporary bench-mates.

During their trip, which took several days, Sally and Dick were treated to three excellent meals each day in the well-appointed dining car.

On my trip, I was fortunate that Mom had given me some carry-along snacks. Only one "meal" was provided each day, and that was a box "lunch" delivered at some point in the afternoon or early evening.

Sally went on to report a favorite aspect of their trip was the passing scenery. Miles and miles of lush countryside flashed by their window, giving an ever-changing view of the beauty and diversity of this vast land of ours. From fields of crops to small towns sleeping in the sun to bustling cities, the scenery was constantly fascinating.

But one contrast that stood out between Sally and Dick's trip and mine was the glimpses they had of the inner cities.

Sally said there were literally miles of abandoned factories with windows broken, walls crumbling and vines growing through the rubble.

Instead, when I took that long-ago train ride, the inner cities I passed through were thriving. The Second World War had just ended and American manufacturing was in full swing.

Today, the American industrial scene has moved out of those abandoned factories as technology continues to replace men and machines.

As with all progress, train travel has made vast improvements in the decades since a 12-year old traveled alone to St. Louis. Most have been positive.

But, as for the changes in the country itself, whether or not they have been improvements, time alone will tell.

After hearing of our friends' recent trip, I'm tempted to follow their lead and try today's train travel.

Having a compartment with bunks, a large window on the world and a mini bathroom would make the journey one to remember.

And, those three meals a day in the dining car . with no kitchen to clean up. That would be hard to resist.



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