Hugging a train on the way home

I have had a fond affection for trains all of my life. As early as I can remember I have loved to watch trains. When I was a small boy I had an American Flyer toy train and my brother had a Lionel. We played with them a lot. I purchased another Lionel train as an adult I and on occasion I set it up for my kids and at Christmas. Anyone that has played with these electric trains knows the joy of lying on the floor with your eyes near the track and watching the train rush by. If you run the train too fast it will fly off the track at a sharp turn. You then have the fun of picking up the engine in your hands and placing it on the track.

Well here in Texas I have found renewed interest in watching trains. Watching a train out here in the country is different than watching a train in a city. Usually when you encounter a train in a city you are annoyed that you are stuck waiting for it to pass by. You are stuck in your car surrounded by other restless motorist and big trucks waiting for the slow train to pass. A slow moving train in a city is like watching a once raging river flow into a lake behind a dam. You do not see the power and the excitement of the train.

When I lived in Oregon my family would take trips up the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland. We loved to watch the river barges and the trains. There is nothing like watching trains from a car or standing beneath one as it passes over your while you are standing underneath a trestle. When I was riding a mountain bike with my son Zak, a friend, and his son along the Deschutes River I encountered a beautiful scene. We were coming back towards the Columbia River returning from a ride 10 miles up the Deschutes River when a train came around the hillside on the opposite side of the canyon. It was so cool to see the bright yellow and orange engine against the green grass as it went up river to Madras.

So this encounter with a train came after I started my 17-mile commute home from work in Giddings along Texas FM 448. FM 448 intersects state highway 77 a few blocks south of the Lee County courthouse and dead ends at FM 153 in Winchester. On my way home to the Lone worm Ranch I cross the railroad two times on FM 488 and one time right after turning on FM 153 at Winchester. There is a nice stretch just beyond the small town of Northrup on FM 448 after I cross the railroad for the second time that I had a chance to feel like I reach out and hug a train.

Getting caught waiting for a train on FM 448 means that you will probably have to wait for it again if you do not beat it to the next crossing. I left Giddings around 1 AM and there is usually a train going through town about this time. I got caught and had to wait for it at the first crossing and marveled that it was starting to pick up speed now that it was clear of Giddings. This train had cars of all sorts. Sometimes there are bulk ore cars, container cars and automobile cars. This late at night I had a front row seat at the crossing watching the cars stream by. I knew that I if this was a long train that I would get the chance to watch it again at the second crossing. When the last car was clear of the crossing and the gate went up I continued my journey home. I could see the silhouette of the cars going through the fields in the night. The red flashing light on the last car let me know where the train was. Up in the distance in the night I could see the glow of the engines head light. I got to the second crossing and watched the train again. Graffiti flowing by fast in my headlights looked like a blurred cartoon.

The train passed and I proceeded through Northrup and watched the red light go off to my right. I knew that if I put the pedal to the metal I could beat the train to Winchester and make it through the crossing but I decided to just cruise and ride next to it along the five-mile stretch of FM 448 where the tracks are right next to the road. I was quite surprised when the train came next to my car and I matched its speed. We were going about 55 miles per hour through the night. There we were two humans driving machines in the night. The two train engines were way larger than my puny little Toyota Camry but for a while we were buddies riding through the night.

There is nothing like the sight of two massive engines pulling 100 cars in the night. My little headlights barely lit up the road while the huge light on the engine blasted up the night for about a mile. It was at this moment that I felt like I could reach my arm out of my window of my car and hug the train just like I did with my toy train as a boy. Looking at the engine silhouetted in the night as it moved along the track with the bright headlight was like watching a mechanical swan glide through the night.

When I saw that I was nearing the dead end of FM 448 at FM 153 I new that I would soon have to say good-bye to the train. As I slowed down the engine started to blow it’s horn to announce that it was approaching the Winchester crossing. By this time the train was going about 65 and it was then that I really got a rush seeing two engines just barreling down into the night hauling freight. I am sure that I will see the train again. Watching trains in the country is sure a lot better than watching them limp along in a city.