Things I don't miss

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Friday, January 22, 2010

Alco PA graveyards
These photos are a downer. In 1970 I came upon most of Santa Fe’s PA fleet on some spur tracks in a southwest suburb of Chicago, awaiting the torch. They weren’t protected by a fence or anything, so I climbed aboard one. Sat in the engineer’s seat. Played with the levers. Looked out the windshield over that flat snout and imagined I was doing 90 through western Illinois. Then I got off, snapped a few photos, and left them to fate.

Dirty, sad, failed passenger trains
Nothing Amtrak runs equals some of the pathetic dogs allowed to remain breathing far too long during the 1960s. This would include most of Penn Central’s considerable fleet, although its Empire Service in New York State and its two flagship trains, the Broadway Limited and unnamed trains 27-28, both between New York City and Chicago, retained a spark of life. Southern Pacific’s trains were clean but little else. To hang around the southern edge of Chicagoland in the late 1960s and watch the remains of a national passenger network roll by was a sad experience.

Abandoned rights-of-way
To me, they’re like dead bodies on public display. I keep imagining a pair of rails where a bike path is today. Or maybe all that’s left is a vague line through a farmer’s field slowly turning back to what it was before a railroad showed up. The Katy Trail through Missouri, more than 225 miles of what was once the Missouri-Kansas-Texas St. Louis line, is a wonderful experience for cyclists. But when I glimpsed it the other day near Jefferson City, all I saw was an FP7 hauling a late Katy Flyer. Too many memories get in the way when I see rights-of-way that are no longer railroad rights-of-way.
The incredible shrinking Official Guide

Do any of you remember what it was like to get a copy of the Guide that was maybe six months newer than the newest one you had, and then go through the timetables, page by page? The object was to see what was missing that was there six months earlier. Not just passenger trains, but the components of passengers trains, such as sleeping cars and diners and lounge. The Guide was a metaphor for the incredible shrinking railroad industry.
Defeated railroaders
I admired the Kansas City Southern and Cotton Belt train crews who befriended me as a kid. But almost to a man, they were not happy people. Most were at least late middle age, and got their jobs when train service was the best job someone without a college or even high school degree could ever hope for. It wasn’t easy work, the hours were endless (as many as 16, to be exact) and this wasn’t what these fellows imagined they’d be doing when they grew up.
I wrote the other day about things I miss. Lest you think I am wallowing in sentimentality, my overall remembrance of the 1960s and 1970s is one of loss and contraction. Today, be thankful for what you’ve got, because you’ve got a lot. — Fred W. Frailey

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