Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Very Long Road...

Several times I've been asked why I changed careers and what inspired me to take the job I'm in now. I did write about it before, but I'll reiterate my story again for those of you who are newcomers to my little slice of Cyberspace.

Pictured above is the Torresdale, PA railroad station. It sits about 3 miles from the house where I grew up, along the Northeast Corridor between Washington DC and New York City. Four tracks of electrified 140 lb. rail linking Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia & New York, it sees the heaviest passenger and freight traffic in the country.

Once the main line for the Pennsylvania Railroad, then when the New Your Central and Pennsy merged, the Penn~Central railroad. By the early 1970's it was then Amtrak passenger service and ConRail for freight.

When I was about five or six, the big thing for me and my dad to do was on Sunday afternoons after Church (if you've ever been subjected to a 2~hour Latin mass at a Catholic church you'd need an outing to recover...) was to head off for a few hours of train watching. My dad would listen to the Phillies on the radio and I'd sit on the hood of our car, a 1963 Ford Falcon station wagon, and watch the trains go by.

Sometimes I'd even get the engineer to blow his whistle at me!

What a rush for a five year old!
Then one day, I can't tell you exactly when it happened, a HUGE GG-1, (pictured above) still sporting it's old Pennsylvania Railroad colors, pulling a cut of shiny new Budd Company Am coaches, came through the station at a crawling speed. I know now that the train was under a "Slow Order" and was just doing a slow pass through the station obeying the rules, but to this five-year-old, he was slowing down to show off his great machine just for me!

When that huge locomotive came even to where I sat in awe, the engineer leaned out of his open window in the cab, gave me a huge toothy grin and tooted his whistle just for me!

As the train passed, I sat in awe... As the last passenger car slid out of sight heading south to 30th Street Station I said to myself, "Someday, I'm going to do that!"

The dream really never did fade in me, no matter what I did in life. I always had that urge, no matter what I did in life. No matter where I was, I'd find an excuse to go somewhere and watch at least one train go by, that little boy in me still wishing to be up in that cab. I know my father always wanted to be an engineer, and I'm pretty sure, wherever he is, he's proud of me right now.

It took a long time, I'm knocking on 44 this coming December, and an even longer circuitous road to get here, but I'm finally here. A long road for that little five year~old boy sitting on the hood of an old Ford Falcon to the man who is, starting next Monday, after five years of working track gangs, operating ballast regulators, working as a conductor, is finally going to Locomotive Engineer's School.
Dad, I know what you were feeling when you witnessed those K4 Pacific's highball it through Frankford Junction when you were a boy back in the 1930's. I only wish you were around now to see me with my hand on the throttle!

Photos pinched from the Interweb, Melancholy reminiscing Copyright 2009 Thomas J Wolfenden

5 comments:

honkeie2 said...

awesome post, thanks for sharing! I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up maybe when I turn 40 i will know

Ranger Tom said...

Honkeie: Don't worry about it, it took me almost that long to figure it out myself!

Exzanian said...

Ranger, really nice sentiment here. It reminds me of the town I grew up in SA. In the seventies the old steam locos were in the final throes of being replaced by electric and diesel trains, but there were still a few honest to goodness steam locos in operation. For work, not just display you know? We used to hear them every day and my Dad always said to me "remember that sound Vince, because once it's gone, it will be gone forever"
I would lie in bed at night and hear the slow rythm of the old rail steamer starting off slow: Shoo sha shoo. I would verbalise it in my mind as "I think I can, I think I can, I know I can" eventually that motor would be yooping along madly "I did it, I did it, I did it, I did it!!!!"

Ranger Tom said...

Exzanian: I remember that story well also... The steam engines were long gone here in the states by the time I was old enough to remember trains at all, and I'm saddened that they're all gone now. Your dad was right too, listen and remember, because they'll all be gone some day.

FishEagle said...

I also made my career choice based on the good experiences I had as a little kid. I'm an environmental scientist because I enjoyed climbing trees so much as a little girl. Lol