A mini dress should not be the ensemble of choice when working on the railroad. It was while watching the post civil war/first transcontinental railroad television series Hell On Wheels when I realized that the impractical nature of their clothing choices kept women in the kitchen or bedroom.
For this particular episode of life, I should have been more practical and curated that pair of canvas overalls, rugby shirt and bandana per days of yore. My college roommate still keeps her overalls handy. I go between “do your own thing” apparel and the more astute choice of striking a dignified pose with my grandchildren – flowered dress, memorable jewelry and non-functioning shoes.
But on this day I was oblivious, literally bringing up the rear, teetering astride a miniature train, pressing my knees together and holding on for dear life. One hand gripped the car and one cupped around the shoulder of Pepper; she was in the car before me looking in all seriousness at the train organizer who commanded us to follow THE RULES. There were quite a few.
Elodie fronted Pepper in the preceding car. She swayed from side to side – Not Permitted. Little Dalton was in front of Elodie following the rules, and Big D headed up our crew. His foot was askew prompting train personnel to review the rules again: Quick. Into the cars. Quick. Exit now. Hands and feet inside. No swaying – for our safety, of course.
Earlier that day the Weprin clan swept us up on their way down from Nashville to meet a miniature (1/8-scale) steam locomotive. We were to catch a rare 20 minute ride around the Mid-South Live Steamer track which had been under construction in the Maury County Park with an assortment of additions since the 1970s.
Charter members of Mid-South Live Steamers began their saga with a get together in a Nashville home in 1966. Interested folk came from various states to discuss a love like no other. As they say – you never lose a dream, it just incubates as a hobby. In this case: steam locomotives.
The story goes that they traded information, built models and enjoyed the beauty of the greatest invention of all time – a marvel for both 18th and 19th centuries. Though the train world has since converted to electrical and diesel power, the haunting impact of smoke coming out of the stack, the whistle, the steam foaming from all about and the hundreds of moving parts interlinked stand as testimony to human ingenuity and the ability to hook arms.
Citizen hobbyist Paul Craft recognized that the club needed a track for its model and his Columbia, Tennessee hometown park needed development. He got the two groups together and facilitated a source of pride that they share to this day. With cooperation they created long lasting fun that teaches history.
Our family ambled up to the newest improvement: a train station. While holding her lap dog Princess, the ticket lady announced that the ride was FREE, but a donation to the cause was appreciated. Still the young’uns cajoled us to purchase wooden train whistles all around which would come in handy while celebrating the last loop of rail.
As we rattled away on some 14,500 feet of track something deep and abiding rolled up inside me. Was it that 1960 Kindergarten field trip that I took with Mrs. Wiggins’s class aboard the Mobile and Ohio Gulf Coast Rebel annointed by stiff petticoat, patent leather Mary Janes and sack lunch that launched my thrill of train transport? Or was it that time in Atlanta at Peachtree Station when my mother pulled me out of my flip flips while I gazed in stunned wonder at the fleet of nuns waiting on the platform to board a train?
Most likely it was storytelling. Yes, the indelible conversation that my mother and aunt whispered concerning the lost romanticism of train stations that I now recall.
On our tiny train ride through the park, we journeyed through model bridges and tunnels and past men working on cars loaded with transport vehicles. These club members gave life to their hobby. Their passions were “to promote and publish the history and virtues of steam power and to promote goodwill to the railroad industry as a source of mass transportation for passengers and freight.”
Apart, yet weirdly connected to observations concerning the Mid-South Live Steamers, a female of undetected age and knitted brow swept by me the day before donning a testy tee shirt. It announced, “Make your own rules”. Maybe I should have promised her all the B’s Salty & Sweet http://bsaltyandsweet.com pop tarts she could eat as a lure to ride the Live Steamer train set with me.
Of course, she might have gotten cranky to observe the stout civics lesson of cooperation while there. No going rogue on a railroad. Live Steamer member “Snake” would issue the safety rules, but she of course would insist on riding with her feet propped up. She would grumble and dismiss the historic aptitudes of cooperation which is never more apparent than while boarding a train.
I have a framed art print entitled, “In a Moment, Lives a Tiny Dream.” For me, the tiny dream is the moment of significant awakening. At the end of the train ride, when the children blew their whistles, I realized that modeling cooperation has lost its luster for many grown ups in our culture. (Don’t tell me what to do!)
Elders demonstrate. Children recall their practices and demonstrate for another round. Cooperation can be a clarifying and healing lens for the future and it won’t matter what outfit you wear. As Mid-South Live Steamer member Brent Gaddes said, “what we do for ourselves dies with us, but what we do for others lives on.”
Chug on and start a love train, love train.