“Trains are beautiful. They take people to places they’ve never been, faster than they could ever go themselves. Everyone who works on trains knows they have personalities, they’re like people. They have their own mysteries.” Sam Starbuck, The Dead Isle
The sound of the train whistle, the clatter of the cars going by can transport us back in time. You may remember growing up shooting rabbits near the train tracks, perhaps running to catch hold of the ladder to swing up and ride a few miles down the track. These sounds drifted through open bedroom windows in concert with katydids and the last birdsong of the day. I didn’t shoot rabbits or tumble to the ground from a moving train, but I stood on my tiptoes at Christmas time watching the model trains go round and round in the Marshall Field’s toy department on State Street in Chicago. One of my favorite childhood books is titled, A Tree For Peter, written and illustrated by Kate Seedy. (Six-year-old Tommy first sees Shantytown through the train window on a rainy afternoon.) As a boy, my husband played with National Geographic maps and railroad time tables. He took colored pencils and drew the railroad routes, like the Illinois Central from Chicago to New Orleans. For many years he could drive over a mainline track and tell you who it belonged to.
I invite you to come along with me and pay tribute over the next few weeks to the integral part railroading plays in the Rocky Mount story after the tracks first reached Rocky Mount on Christmas Eve, in 1839. In 1840, a train of cars en route to Wilmington stopped in Rocky Mount to import some “Old Nash” for special toasts at opening festivities. Let us raise a glass of “Old Nash.” even in the form of sweet tea, as I begin this series of Main Street Rocky Mount posts about the railroad, railroad families, architecture and your memories. Hit the FOLLOW button on the top right side of the blog so you don’t miss anything. PLEASE scroll down to the comment section and leave me your railroad thoughts. I want to follow up with you, and together, let’s honor the past while enjoying the sound of trains today that call us to reflect on our journeys; paying attention to the tracks we run on.