Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History


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.
Johnny Cash

Comments on: "“I Have a Thing about Trains”" (6)

  1. My first train ride was from Los Angeles, CA to Detroit, MI at 3 years of age. I cherish that memory and fell in love with train travel, but I’ve only been on two other train trips over my lifetime. As a kid, I remember being deeply fascinated by the huge and very detailed train-scape at the annual XMas carnival in Detroit. Every year we attended the carnival, my first stop would always be to watch the long train speed through the intricate and very realistic landscape. Thanks for the memories!!


    • I like train-scales, too. At Christmas, I’d set up two displays, the smaller HO-gauge trains and my dad’s train set, using houses from the “Snow Village” collection. The train station name was Royal Oak where my day grew up. Which reminds me, I have some pictures of Detroit in the 1940s; maybe the historical society might be interested.


      • It sounds like you have great fun with your trains! OMG! I love shopping and eating out in Royal Oak, MI, it’s always been one of my fav places to hang out.

        I love looking at old photos of Detroit. The Detroit Historical Society, the Detroit Public Library-Burton Historical Collection and the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs are all possible places where you could send your photos.


      • We visited Royal Oak several years ago, yes, sweet little town. Thanks for the info on Detroit!


  2. […] fascination with trains is what really brought me to this garden. G-scale trains and trolley cars run along a quarter-mile […]


  3. […] to myself, “Here’s my chance!” Several years ago, I visited the area to see the Strasburg Railroad and Museum and to take a ride on a steam-powered train through the cornfields. I remembered that the views […]


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