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Danny Boehr/Al Tuner - The Muse From Here Archive - 1994

Last Update: November 8, 2003

Wednesday, August 24, 1994
Love of Trains

Perhaps only a shrink who could pry into the deepest sources of emotion in my cranium and could explain it all. So I am at a loss to explain it. But much like a number of other phenomenon it might be easier to explain the symptoms rather than the causes.

When I was a small kid my love of trains started from sources unknown. I recall family trips on the New York Central's Empire State Express from New York to St. Thomas Ontario as clinching it for me. I decided to make it a career and have never regretted a moment of it. I ]in fact, have been blessed with combining vocation and avocation and it has been incredibly rewarding. But I drift from the subject. I guess I will know when the love is gone when the following no longer happens:

  1. A smile does not cross my face while sitting in the diner on the Capitol Limited between Cleveland and Chicago and seeing the parade of Conrail trains.
  2. An inner excitement does not occur when I sit, alone, on my favorite mountain west of Altoona PA and screaming, yelling pushers are helping shove manifest trains over the Eastern Continental Divide.
  3. A glee does not manifest itself when standing in North Platte NE watching the most powerful railroad in the country put on its interminable show.
  4. When my head does not turn to look for trains every time I drive along a road and we cross some line's trackage.
  5. When sleeping in my roomette does not feel like a warm security blanket against which the outside world cannot penetrate. When sitting in the dome of the Capitol Limited going up Sand Patch grade seems routine.
  6. When the SP's line over Donner Pass no longer appears one of mankind's greatest accomplishments.
  7. When riding a Metroliner crossing the Susquehanna River in Maryland seems uninteresting.
  8. When riding a train and not looking out the window upon reaching a major terminal.
  9. When pulling into Chicago and not feeling a tinge of sadness at the sight of all those E units sitting dead.
  10. When sitting at Summit and not feeling in awe of a transcontinental double stack roaring east up that incline.
  11. When riding The Chief at 90mph on the Great Plains of Illinois and Missouri, passing a 70mph intermodal in the same direction hauled by gourgeous GE's and not looking up from my book to take it in.
  12. When the words "Tennessee Pass," "Tehachapi," "Queensgate," "Conway," "Raton," "Glorietta" and "Colton" have no important meaning.
  13. When I don't feel like driving to the nearest rail facility on a night away from home, but rather watch a movie instead.
  14. When riding the Zephyr, while attacking the Front Range, Soldier's Summit or coursing through Glenwood Canyon, I look at my watch and say "Damn we are ten minutes late!"
  15. When riding my commuter train in the evening and not lingering a moment to hear that locomotive accelerate out of town after depositing me safely at my home station.
  16. When General Electric brings to mind refrigerators.
  17. When Argentine brings to mind South America.
  18. When Powder River, the Port of Long Beach, the hollows of West Virginia, Corwith, South. Kearny, and umpteen grain elevators in the mid west no longer conjure up the launching pads of America's railroad operations.
  19. When in the middle of the night, I hear a distant train blow for a grade crossing here in town, and I don't feel the hair on my neck go erect and it does not speak to me" directly, saying all is well in the world.

Fortunately in 44 years, none of this has happened.

Al Tuner

Monday, November 28, 1994

It's 650 p.m., and I step off my nondescript commuter train in suburban Maryland. It is dark and after a rainy day, water glistens on the remaining parked cars, and it is strangely warm. Tonight this unheralded rail conveyance is made up with three MARC cars, shoved westward by a locomotive numbered 92. After exchanging pleasantries with departing commuters, I linger to light up a cigarette. I place my attache case on the ground, heavy with papers I haven't read and a brown bag lunch I did not eat. I take in a deep breath of smoke and view the scene. It has been a hard day, very hard. Re-organizing and discussing "ownership of processes", projected shortfalls, strawmen and benchmarking. Real people's livelihoods, daily activities, professional careers and outlooks depend upon these discussions from on high, yet one could never detect that amongst the charts, presentations and new management mantra real people are at stake.

I stare at the locomotive intently, taking it in, much like the cigarette I am consuming. An E9. A veteran. And, I think to myself, where have I heard this sound emanating from within its carbody before? I have heard it in Croton Harmon, on a cold night, as these monsters of speed and stamina backed down upon the Knickerbocker, or the Wolverine. I have seen these units light the cypress and pine trees along the rights of way on speeding Florida trains through the Carolinas and Georgia. I have heard this gutsy, yes macho, roar echo off the mountains climbing into the sky at Horse Shoe on a snowy night. I have heard them pass my office window, rattling them, bringing the Crescent into Washington. This particular unit called Cicero, and McCook and Osceola and LaCrosse home, on torrid summer nights, or pulling Zephyrs through ice and snow in the vast, sometimes forbidding plains.

But here is #92, strangely in Maryland, making those magical and emboldening sounds, shoving three cars. Like so many times in its life, its replacements are on the property, ready to substitute for it at the slightest hint of major failure, yet it works on. From Zephyrs, to leading commuter train charges bellowing west from Chicago's Union Station to this outpost, it has gone from racehorse to curiousity with dignity, and grace and pride.

Somewhere, for some reason, this locomotive has so far escaped, the P&L statements, the ROI studies and other hard nosed business decisions, so it can do what its maker intended. It's movement remains seemingly oblivious to its eventual fate.

The sound of the unit fades into the evening's stillness. I extiguish my finished cigarette, and walk to my car. Unit 92 and I, have something in common today. Another analysis, another discussion has left us intact, so that we may roam the rails some more.

Al Tuner

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