Another Sentimental Journey

Pennsylvania and Lake Erie Rail Station

Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Rail Station

I lived in Pittsburgh for thirty-three years and had a brother-in-law who worked for the P&LE RR, and I never noticed the complex carving on the facade of the building until my recent visit back to Pittsburgh. I’m not sure what significance the dates (1879 1900) have; did it take twenty-one years to construct the terminal? Or did it take that long to carve the locomotive along with the puffs of smoke trailing toward the rear of the train?

In any case, the intricacy of the carving is fascinating… as was train travel when I took my very first trip on the railroad.

In 1960, my brother graduated from high school and immediately joined the Army. He was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky for his basic training and then spent some time in Aberdeen, Maryland. In the spring of 1961 he was scheduled to ship out to Germany. He was sent to Ft. Dix, New Jersey prior to crossing the ocean.

My parents began to think they might never see him again – not because of any danger he would face, but because of their advancing ages; dad was sixty-nine and mom was sixty. So they decided to visit him at Ft. Dix before he left the country. I’m not sure why I went – maybe it was just to carry the luggage!

We boarded a Pennsylvania Railroad train at the old Pennsylvania Station late in the afternoon or early evening. We couldn’t afford sleeper berths so we did our best to get comfortable on the seats. Being a teenager gave me an advantage – I could sleep anywhere in any position.

I remember waking up when the train stopped at Paoli. Paoli is about twenty miles west of Philadelphia. I don’t recall any other stop along the way, but I might have been asleep. What I did notice about Paoli was a man in a Railroad uniform come through the car selling sandwiches and beverages. We didn’t buy anything because mom had packed a lunch.

Soon we were moving again. It’s funny that I don’t recall stopping in Philadelphia. But we finally reached our destination in Trenton, New Jersey. From their we took local transportation to Ft. Dix and spent a nice weekend with Lewis.

I wish I could remember more details of the train ride, but in reality I don’t think there were very many details to remember. The train was pulled by a diesel locomotive, so the sounds that my childhood had come to connect to choo-choo trains weren’t there. A horn is simply not as beguiling as a steam whistle.

The seats were much more comfortable than those found on a commercial airliner, and there was far more leg room, but they were still not very well suited for sleeping. The main thing was the clickity-clack of the wheels passing over the railroad ties. That sound is unmistakable and extremely soothing. It’s no wonder that so many old songs used their percussion sections to duplicate that sound.

In 1961, airline travel was becoming more reasonably priced and slowly spelling the doom for passenger trains. Sometime in the 1980s I took the AMTRAK train on a business trip to Baltimore. The major difference between that and the trip of my youth was the cleanliness of the train and the overall service. They had both gone the way of the steam locomotive.

Perhaps with the price of airline tickets going up, people will begin to look at the railroads again. It’s certainly a much more relaxing way to go and, if enough people decide to take the train, more routes might be added and the price drop even more. It works great in Europe; it should work here!

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