Does it Ever Get Old?

Posted by George Hamlin
on Saturday, June 01, 2019

Watching trains while waiting at a grade crossing, that is.  Sure, on occasion when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, and probably worst of all, when it’s preventing you from proceeding in the chase … of another train.  Otherwise, it’s one of life’s small pleasures, particularly for railfans, and the young at heart.

For many of us, this probably began in our earliest years, possibly even before we really knew what railroads and trains were, in a fully cognizant sense.  Waiting for a train at a grade crossing involved stimuli on a number of levels.  The car, which had been moving, stopped, for no initially apparent reason.  There were the sound of bells (either live or otherwise, depending on the era) and lights flashed.

As the main event came closer, there was the sound of a horn or whistle, and sometimes, a different bell, as well.  Finally, an enormous machine dwarfing your automobile rolled, of if you were lucky, flashed by.  Unless it was very short, or small and light, the ground vibrated; not for nothing is the approach of a tornado sometimes likened to that of a freight train.

After a few of these experiences during our now-subconscious youth, possibly initially accompanied by some degree of trepidation, however, this came to be something to anticipate, and possibly, to savor.  Truth be told, many youngsters would rather that the cars they’re riding in slow down at grade crossings, rather than speeding up to get across before getting stopped.

Now fully cognizant, and possibly even having passed into adulthood, what about the anticipation during the interval between the gates coming down and when the train appears?  What’s it going to be?  Admittedly, there are locations where this is 99 percent predictable, but at many others, surprise may be in store.  Will it be something unusual?  How fast will it be going?  How long will it be?

Watching Amtrak’s Crescent roll south at Clifton, Virginia also provides the opportunity to muse about the wider world, and travel.  Some of the people on the train will be in New Orleans tomorrow, hopefully, having enjoyed their ride.  Having full dining car service was not an issue to be concerned about on July 26, 2013, when this shot was taken in the semi-rural western portion of Fairfax County; I wonder how many of those partaking of dinner noticed the cars lined up at this grade crossing as they sped by. 

Soon enough, the train has passed, and it’s back to the real, mundane world, but watching the train has provided at least a brief respite from driving, at the least.  So, does it ever really get old, aside from the times when you’re in a hurry?  Probably not, but if you find yourself beginning to disagree, maybe you’re the entity that’s getting too old to enjoy one of life’s small pleasures.

Photo by George W. Hamlin

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