My intrepid companion has a wee fascination for trains. This means that when we’re out adventuring, trains often factor in – even when we didn’t expect them to. I mean, honestly – last thing you expect to run in to high in the Cascades is a caboose. For one thing, trains don’t have ‘em anymore. For another, we’re on the side of a mountain with no tracks in sight.
So of course, when you see something like that and you have a train nut in the car, you make an unscheduled stop.
And we discovered a whole network of trails following the old railroad. Folks have put a lot of time and love into this. Also, there are train tunnels. Tunnels! We didn’t make it to the tunnels this trip, but most certainly will in the future. There’s also a spur trail that promises a fantastic vista over the mountains, which I’m dying to do. It’s really a fantastic little area, especially for a variety of day hikes that will keep botanists, geologists, and trainophiles happy for ages.
But if not for the caboose, we never would have known it was there.
I miss cabooses. They’d been part of my life since I was three, when we moved to a suburb outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. The Santa Fe Railroad ran along I-40; we had to cross the tracks to get home. This was usually just a quick set of fun bumps – brrt-bdum-bdum-brrt – as we hit the cattle guard-tracks-cattle guard combo. But occasionally, as we approached the tracks, bracing ourselves for the bumps, the signal would begin to clang. Red lights would flash. The arms would come down. And a Santa Fe locomotive would heave into sight.
Mind you, these were freight trains. Onna grade. So we were in for a long several minutes of watching the train go by. It seemed endless when all you really wanted was to get home, get on your bike, and collect your friends. There were only two things to look forward to now: discussing how awesome turbo boost would be, and keeping an eye peeled for the caboose.
I loved the caboose.
So you can imagine how upset I was when someone, somewhere, decided the caboose was now surplus to requirements, and trains just… ended. No more glad lifting of the heart as that little red car came into view. Just an anxious straining of the eyes for the final car. And you never knew, until it was past, whether that was really truly the end of the train or just one of those deceptive stretches empty of container cars.
Damn it. I want my caboose back.
So there’s something bittersweet in patting a grand old caboose, now reduced to an exhibit in a roadside park. I miss the days when they rode the rails. But it’s nice to at last get the chance to meet one of these grand old friends.