“Trains Rock,” column for August 20, 2013

Trains. Can somebody tell me, please? What exactly is it about them? My grandchildren simply cannot seem to get their fill.

Randy is 3. By day, he spends hours building wooden tracks for a series of small cars that are connected by magnets and go no farther than his room.

By night, he falls fast asleep in a Thomas the Tank Engine bed.

Charlotte is almost 2. She loves nothing better than to spend all day with her parents and her grandpa at Sonoma TrainTown Railroad.

Henry is one day younger than Charlotte. He snaps to attention — like his dogs, Oliver and Archie, if you rattle a box of doggie treats — at the mention of Thomas the Tank.

And Wiley, who is only 7 months old, but big and smart and beautiful for his age, seems entirely content to chew sloppily on a section of wooden tracks from his brother’s train set.

Go figure. I keep trying to understand it.

Not one of these children has ever had any personal experience whatsoever with trains. They’ve never ridden on, or possibly ever even seen, a real train. And yet the attraction, the fascination, the adoration, is simply undeniable.

No two ways about it. For them, trains rock.

Finally, I had to ask.

“Randy,” I said to my oldest grandchild, “tell Nana. Why do you like trains?”

We were sitting on the floor of his room, studiously at work on an elaborate construction of tracks that, I must say, looked pretty darned impressive.

The previous night, I had slept like a dead rock in his Thomas the Tank bed, which he had graciously given up for my visit. It was a good bed. I owed him.

“I’m just wondering,” I said. “What’s so cool about trains?”

He studied me for a moment with his mother’s green eyes, then grinned his best grin and shook his red curls, the way he does whenever he has to show me how to buckle the straps on his car seat.

“‘Cause, Nana,” he said. “Trains are good.”

Trains are good? I smiled. Then I told him this story.

When I was little, not much bigger than he is now, I lived with my family in a land far away, in a house that sat very close, I swear, to an honest-to-Thomas, real-live train track.

It was so close that every night, when the train came roaring by, it would shake me almost right out of my bed.

Sometimes, by day, I would climb up in an apple tree in the orchard beside the house and wait for the train to come by.

I would hear it in the distance, and feel it coming closer, rumbling up from the tracks, from the ground, through the tree, right into my bones.

As the engine passed, I would wave to the engineer, and he would wave right back and blow the whistle: “Whoo-woooo!”

Just for me.

Then I’d count every car that followed — “eighty-seven, eighty-eight, one-hundred and twelve” — all the way to the caboose.

I told Randy that story and he listened wide-eyed, hanging on my every word, especially when I added that his great-granddad, on his dad’s side, drove a train.

I scored big points with that.

What I didn’t tell him — but hope to explain to him and all his cousins someday, when they are old enough to understand — is why, way back when I was their age, I, too, loved trains.

It’s simple. Even then, as a child, I knew that those trains had been some place, and they were still going somewhere — some marvelous place that I might get to go, too, someday, if only I should be so lucky.

Trains are dreams that run on tracks made of steel or wood or words or imagination.

It’s always time for anyone, young or old, to get on board.

Like the old song says: You don’t need to buy a ticket. You just thank the Lord.


  1. Bonnie Miller says

    I enjoy every single column that you write. I especially enjoyed the one about the trains.. I too have a fascination about trains. I have written a poem about the train that we hear every day and night going through the middle of town…….. that separates the north side from the south side. I take pictures of trains and train tracks every time I can.
    We got to meet you in person once and I felt like You were part of my family!!

    Thanks for Everything!!!

  2. Dear Sharon: Sure appreciated your train stories…I lived on a farm with the railroad tracks running thru the middle of the farm. There was also a tunnel on the tracks on a part of our farm..My brother & sister & I enjoyed watching the trains…Especially so for my brother who would run as far down the yard toward the tracks as he could whenever a train came along. He’d climb up on the fence and wave at the engineers and would always say he was gong to be a railroad engineer ( and that is just what he did after he came home from WW2) He started out as a fireman on the old steam engines, but eventually became an engineer..
    During the Depression, many of the men who rode the rails would jump off as they neared our farm and come up to the house for a hand-out. My mother never turned any away altho we
    never went hungry, sometimes our fare was pretty slim.. One summer evening a short Italian man came up for food. We had already had our supper, but Mother found something for him to eat as well. He & my Dad started talking about farming. Seems he too had grown up on a farm in Italy. As it was getting dark, he asked my Dad if he could sleep in the barn. My Dad said as long as he didn’t smoke, which he assured him he didn’t. The nest morning, Mother gave him breakfast. Since it was harvest time, my Dad asked him if he would like to help out on the farm for a few days.. He was overjoyed and agreed. Dad told him he couldn’t afford to pay him anything, but he would have his food and a place to stay—-Joe stayed for 30 years!!!
    I always enjoy your column. I get it in the Pgh Post-Gazette….

  3. Jeffrey Weber says

    I’m almost 60 and I still love trains. I’m always disappointed when I’m able to safely pass the tracks when a train approaches from the distance. I’d much rather be stopped to watch it pass especially if I’m the first car. No matter where I have to be, how important the time, there is, for me, always time to watch a train.

  4. Barb Padgett says

    When I was a child, my cousins lived in a house that had an elevated track behind it. We’d play in the backyard and, when we heard a train coming, we’d stand and wait for the caboose. When it came into view, we’d start yelling and waving, and if we were lucky, the conductor would throw down a few of those huge pieces of chalk that they used to write on the boxcars. Just one of those would keep us in hopscotch grids and sidewalk drawings for a week!

  5. Cyndi Stanton says

    Sharon, This brings back wonderful memories of my boys and their love of trains! There is a terrific CD that John Denver put out shortly before he passed that is full of wonderful train songs. My favorite is based on The Little Engine That Could. I don’t remember the title of the cd itself, but it shouldn’t be hard to find. I think all your train lovers would love it. I highly recommend it!

  6. Mary Kay Weber says

    We also lived by the train tracks. When my baby brother, who just passed away last month at 49, was a little tyke he would stand at the window and name every car that passed, “Engine, tank car, box car….LITTLE RED CABOOSE!” Then when they changed the caboose color to orange he’d say, “LITTLE ORANGE RED CABOOSE!” So cute!

  7. Hello Sharon — I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your column about trains. I’ll bet you’ll get a lot of happy mail about this one! I could tell similar stories about my love for, and experiences with, trains. And my maternal grandfather was a conductor on the Laurel Line Railroad. Another wonderful thing we have in common — I just became Nana this year!
    I look forward to more of yourcolumns.

  8. Davey Myers says

    Hi Sharon! We have something else in common. I too sat by the railroad tracks at the lake and waved to the Engineer and Caboose man and they waved back. I thought it was so cool. My Grandfather was an Engineer on the railroad in Rochester, New York. AND, all our Grandkids love trains too. Something exciting and magic about them, huh? Miss you.

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