Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Train Travels

Last week I was reading the Rochester Subway blog about the New York Central station on Central Avenue.  The station was demolished in the late 1960's and has been replaced by a 'modern' Amtrak station.   The original was a classic building and listed by the Infrastructurist blog as one of the most beautiful rail stations to hit the wrecking block. 

 I remember the station and can recall my first acquaintance with it.  It was probably in 1948 or 1949 when my Aunt Mae (Mary Eagan O'Brien) took me on my first train ride.  We rode to either Buffalo or Syracuse and then back to Rochester. The high point of the ride - after just being in that huge station - was lunch in the Dining Car.  I don't recall anything about the ride itself but I do recall that lunch.  Imagine eating on a train!

After that inaugural ride from the Central Avenue station there are a few rides that I do remember.  There was a ride to Cleveland when I was in the Little League to see a double header between the Indians and the Yankees.  This was probably in 1951.  Another was a trip from Rochester to Erie, PA to see an Aquinas football game.  (In those days Aquinas did not play any of the Rochester public high schools.)  I seem to recall that the game was called after we were in Erie because of the weather.

My most memorable ride happened in the late 1960's when I was working for IBM in the Rochester branch office.  In addition to programming support I gave to local IBM customers, I also provided area support for customers in western New York with specialized computers (IBM 1800 data acquisition and control system).  The specialist for the eastern portion of the state was in Syracuse but was away at the time.  The customer with the problem was IBM in Poughkeepsie and the weather was terrible.  It was snowing, windy and portion of the NY Thruway was closed so I decided to take the train to Poughkeepsie.  The ride to Poughkeepsie and back was uneventful until we were nearing Rochester late at night.  The conductor talked to me and let me know that the train was late and they would sure like to make up the time before the train reached Buffalo.  He also noted that I was the only passenger scheduled to get off in Rochester.  Then he asked me, "Do you mind when we reach the Rochester station if the train just slows down rather that stop?"  At the time I was in my late 20's so I said, "Sure, I can handle that."  I don't know how slow the train was going when I jumped off but I do recall that I kept running when I hit the platform before I could slow down.

When I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1961 (I already knew that I was going to be drafted but did not want to go in the Army) my trip to Boot Camp in Parris Island, SC and when Boot Camp finished I took the train from Jacksonville, NC to New York City.  I was with a Boot Camp friend from Kingston, NY and his folks picked us up in NYC and I spent the night at his home in Kingston and then went on to Rochester.  I'm not sure how I got to Rochester.  I may have hitchhiked.  After my leave in Rochester I had to go to San Diego for electronics school so I took the train cross-country to California.  Six days if I recall.  Six days of boredom and beer.  Not an enjoyable trip.

Since those trips I have not taken a train ride (with the exception of the south Florida Tri-Rail) in the US.  My lovely wife and I have had a number of train rides in Europe. In Europe you can go anywhere, at any time and at a reasonable price. Not at all like the States.  Maybe one of these days we will catch up with the Europeans when it comes to transportation systems.


Mike said...

Fantastic stories Patrick! That station was actually torn down and rebuilt three times... each time it got bigger and more beautiful than before... how we ended up with the shack we have today is beyond me. There comes a point when perfection should just be left alone. Maybe if we that get high-speed rail we'll have another shot at it!

Eileen said...

Boy, I don't remember any of those early rides of yours. I do remember the several times that mom would take the train out to visit us. That Detroit station back then was a disgrace and now it's a real mess. At one time in the last several years the mayor wanted to turn it into the Police headquarters. There have been a few movies filmed there.