In Which We Ride the Rails!

You know how much I love trains and railroad tracks because you've seen my pictures and read my stories about trains. And this day was a very, very special one, because on THIS day, I got to ride a train!!!!

My husband and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary on the 17th, and I bought us two tickets to ride on the local historical railroad to celebrate. It was billed as a fall foliage tour, with the trip beginning at the train station at Talleyrand Park in Bellefonte, continuing on to Tyrone (where we were married five years ago), then returning to Bellefonte. It was to be about a five-hour trip, with a nice long stop in Tyrone in the middle to see the sights, visit a little museum, and (for those who were interested) purchase a boxed lunch.

We arrived in Bellefonte around 12:30, found a parking spot (which was a bit challenging, as there were MANY people driving around looking for spots), and then I scooted around nabbing some quick photos before we boarded the train. My husband kept our place in line and hollered my name when it was time to board, as I had the tickets for safe-keeping.

There were hundreds of people riding the train and the place was very busy! We climbed up the stairs and were seated near the middle of one of the cars. The train left the station around 1 pm, pretty much on time, with a loud blowing of the whistle, and we were on our way!

The train was traveling rather slowly so that we could view the fall foliage and enjoy the sights. And then we were getting a great look at many side streets and alleyways we'd never seen before, glimpses of the backyards of America.

The train took a few turns and suddenly we were traveling along the Bald Eagle ridge, and the foliage was really stunning, all reds and oranges and yellows. If you have seen the Denzel Washington movie Unstoppable, you saw some of these scenes, as parts of the movie were filmed along this very same stretch of tracks that we traveled. (And my husband was even stopped there in his car as he drove through this area during the filming of the movie, while some of the roads had been closed off.)

We were cruising along, enjoying the scenery and the rumble of the rails. When suddenly, we were . . . slowing down! And then we were stopping! And backing up . . . What was going on? The sound system crackled to life and a male voice announced that there was a wildfire (it later turned out that it was a huge barn fire, which made the front page of Monday's local newspaper and sent one firefighter to the hospital), and the first responders had hoses and equipment blocking the train tracks. The train could not pass through, but we would wait a little while before they would confirm what would happen next.

At this point, we all got pretty fidgety. Would the trip continue? Would we be sent home? About 10 to 15 minutes later, the same voice came back on and informed us that we would not be continuing on to Tyrone, as the first responders deemed it unsafe for us to do so. However, they would try to salvage the trip by taking us to Sayre Dam (the home of Bald Eagle State Park, which you've seen on these pages before - you can see a glimpse of the dam itself in this prior blip). From there, we would return to Bellefonte.

There would be no trip to Tyrone, no stop to stretch our legs, no museum, no boxed lunch. My husband and I were suddenly glad that we'd made the choice to bring our own lunch along in a tiny cooler. A pair of hefty sandwiches, some cheetos, and Kool-aid. Not too glamorous, but in light of the no-boxed-lunch announcement, it all sounded like a feast to us now!

Train cars have seats like those reversible benches that you see in some parks. You can sit and look in one direction, or flip the top part of the bench to the other side and sit and look in the other direction. And so this is what we all did while the train stopped, before we headed for Sayre Dam: as the train made ready to move in the reverse direction (yes, there were engines at both ends of the train!), we flipped our seats so we could travel facing forward once again.

We traveled along the rails and saw parts of the park even I had never seen before. We saw foliage and houses and backyards and side streets. We looked down from inside the train onto the waters of Spring Creek, Bald Eagle Creek, the Dam itself. The anonymous male voice shared random bits of local history and railroad stories over the public address system. About how there had been a bad storm that caused flooding, how it washed out the railroad tracks, and how the Norfolk Southern train coming along the rails was alerted of the problem just in time to prevent it from hitting those ruined rails, sending it tumbling into the water below.

And finally when we were at the furthest point of our journey, the train stopped. And we turned our seats around again. And we ate our lunch quickly and expeditiously. Since there was no train depot there, there was no plan to let everybody get off the train and look around. So once we had gotten on the train, we were on it for the entire trip.

I mused as we rode the train about different modes of travel, and how we in America take our personal vehicles for granted. (I sometimes think about this as I occasionally ride the bus to work, as well.) There are conveniences to driving. The ability to make a different choice, and go somewhere else, or stop, at a moment's whim. The ability to decide what music you will listen to, if any at all; about whether you will stop for a snack.

The personal space we are used to having for our bodies, and the privacy of being able to speak among ourselves without others overhearing; the privacy of being free of overhearing others' conversations. These are things that are different when you are using public transportation. When you are riding a train, you and several hundred of your closest friends are packed in like sardines. You go where the train goes and you stop when it stops. You don't vote on things.

But there are plenty of things to recommend it too! There is such a sense of history in riding a train. And that rocking and rolling and thunder on the tracks that you hear when a train passes? Well, inside the train, you do hear a rumble and a rocking, but it seems like a gentle rhythm, almost like a lullaby. (That's the story, anyway, from this daughter of a railroad brakeman.)

And then we returned to Bellefonte and we got off the train - about an hour earlier than we had expected to. And so there was a bit of available light, and it was very dramatic, and I was able to take some train shots, including this one, that I wouldn't have gotten if our train had arrived back an hour later. We walked around Talleyrand for a few minutes and simply enjoyed ourselves. We looked at the big spring, the little bridge across Spring Creek. We laughed at the ducks.

A smiling bride and groom celebrating their nuptials on this day walked across the tracks and posed for pictures in their wedding finery. My first thought was - how will she ever get the creosote out of that dress - but they looked so happy, why ruin it with the trivialities of everyday life? All of that may come soon enough, soon enough. And I admit my heart smiled to see them on this day; and I whispered a quiet prayer for them: Young newlyweds, may your life together be blessed, may it be full of love, may your joy in each other continue beyond this day, may it last the years . . .

And then I thought about love, and about trains, and about how sometimes life itself is an adventure that doesn't always take you exactly where you expected to end up. But maybe it takes you someplace just as fine and lovely, though perhaps unexpected. Dear reader, my wish for you is that wherever your adventure takes you, regardless of the destination you intended and whether you actually get there or not: may you enjoy the ride.

And the soundtrack for this image of the train on which my husband and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary is Johnny Cash's Train of Love.  For the train of love's a-comin', big black wheels a-hummin' . . .   :-)

Safety note: I do not advise that anyone get as close as this to a train to take its picture unless you know that the train has stopped. And indeed, since I had just gotten off it, I knew that it was safe to approach this particular train to photograph it. Please be safe and use good judgment when photographing trains and train tracks!

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