Railroad traveling adventures and stories
In April I had the chance to ride the Operation Lifesaver Train from Gering, Neb., to Bridgeport, Neb. For those of you not familiar with Operation Lifesaver, I will say the trip is for the education of the public as to the safety of trains and tracks. An informative session was held while we traveled the rails, giving passengers tips on staying safe at railroad crossings, tips about warning signs and devises and information about train engines and their power.
Three pullman cars from Cheyenne, Wyo., were filled with large and small passengers enjoying the ride. An engine was at each end. When we reached our destination the engineers walked to the opposite end of the train and boarded the tail end engine, reversing our trip. We rode backward going home.
This ride brought back memories of rides I had taken and a couple of near accidents with trains. My parents talked of the near hit by a train that they had when I was a baby laying in the back seat of the car. Hearing them tell this story always gave me a slight fear of trains – but riding the trains helped me conquer this fear. My first ride was from Alliance to Lincoln where I was met by a friend who was in nurses training in the city. An enjoyable weekend was spent and an enjoyable train ride back to Alliance.
When my husband was stationed at Camp Rucker, Alabama, I rode the train to that area to be with him. Again, I boarded at Alliance and rode to Chicago where trains were switched.
Then we went south. The car I rode had hauled Japanese prisoners. The windows were barred and the car had not been cleaned. Train smoke and dust drifted in as we traveled. At Montgomery, Alabama, I switched trains and rode to Dothan, Alabama, on a local train. My ride ended at night by a little shack, not a depot, out in the forest. One soldier and I got off the train. Of course I was lost. I appreciated the young soldier who walked me the short distance to the restaurant in Dothan where my husband waited.
My husband’s mother asked me to come visit her in Missouri while he was in the service in Europe. This time I rode to Kansas City. From there south, the train stopped at every road crossing for the farmer’s eggs and cream for market, slow trip.
While being asked to go on Operation Lifesaver my friend said, “Be there at 4:00 or you may have to run to catch the train.” He looked surprised when I told him I had done that before. When my husband came home from the service after WWII I was to meet him in Omaha. It was nighttime and my suitcase and I were on the train when I asked the conductor if I could get a sleeping berth. He informed me I would have to go back to the depot but I had plenty of time. I got the ticket for the berth and started back to the train. It was already leaving. I ran to catch the railing and swung myself onto the step. After that escapade sleep wouldn’t come.
While riding Amtrack sometime in the 1980s rail car riding was much improved. Riding from Sacramento, Calif., to Denver in winter time the land was white and pure for miles and as far as one could see the snow was unbroken. At a few prairie dog towns there were well-worn paths between the holes. In all those years of my living it was proven the little dogs didn’t always hibernate.
I looked forward to photographing Donner Pass where the pines would hang in white lace. We came through Donner Pass at night. What I could see was beautiful but not for taking photos.
Traveling by train was enjoyable. The rides were usually comfortable and the meals in the dining cars were exceptional. Many interesting people were met in my travels from the love sick soldier who asked my advise on his love life to the Hopi Indian boy who kept me laughing with his jokes.
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From June through September, John Etchart spends most of the day driving a tractor through hayfields below the mountains near Meeker in northwestern Colorado.