Growing up in the 1950s, our family always had a train under the Christmas tree. The train belonged to my father when he was a boy, purchased by my grandparents in the 1920s. Lionel #318 0040, manufactured in the years 1924-32, displayed realistic detail, including brass trim. Two sets of cars could be attached to the engine: a freight and a passenger set. The cars’ authenticity, including handles, lights, ornate railings and mock stained glass made them especially fun to play with as we would give our stuffed animals and dolls a ride in the cars. The little engine chugged along the tracks, making a kind of grinding sound, and a large-sized transformer provided the electric, occasionally sparking as we adjusted the switch.
The success of the Lionel Company making model trains for children mimicked the popularity of the railroads in the 1920s when train travel was central to transportation in America. Railroads carrying freight and people crisscrossed the United States. Train-hopping by hobos and migrants became a commonplace method for workers to move to new locations that promised jobs. This was the railroads’ Golden Era, and folks passed on myths and legends associated trains, such as Casey Jones and John Henry. These folk songs became well-known in American culture, with the Wabash Cannonball one of favorites of country singers.
Now listen to the jingle, and the rumble, and the roar,
As she dashes thro’ the woodland, and speeds along the shore,
See the mighty rushing engine, hear her merry bell ring out,
As they speed along in safety, on the “Great Rock-Island Route.”
Although rail travel is making somewhat of comeback today, folks think nostalgically about the old steam trains whistling across the landscape. So was our experience visiting the Strasburg Railroad and Museum in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. As we boarded the train, I noticed the striking interior of the car, with polished woodwork and decorative stained glass at the top of the windows. As we rode along, the cadence of the wheels on the tracks produced a soothing rhythm as we watched the scenery glide by.
Maybe I’m a little sentimental cause I know that things have to change
But I’d still like to go for a train ride cause I’ve got a thing about trains.