Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trains in my memory

I'm afraid this is another story about the "old days" from an old guy.  In fact it was so long ago that I was 4 or 5 years old.  My parents had divorced, and we were living with my aunt Rose and uncle "Butch" somewhere in Highland Park, California.  I remember being my uncle Butch's favorite until his daughter was born.  I remember my mother fell, running for a street car to go to work.  She bit her tongue and required a few stitches.  One of the stitches broke, and for the rest of her life she showed off the lump on her tongue.

My aunt Rose's house had the remnants of a walnut grove for a back yard.  I love walnuts and I used to love climbing trees.  There was an alley next to the house, and on the other side of the alley were the railroad tracks.  These were not the diesels you see pulling Amtrak today.  These were the smoke-belching steam engines that hobbyists prize.  They were black with huge wheels and the rod connecting the wheels that thrusted back and forth with majesty and power.  There was the steam whistle that echoed across the landscape with that unique two-tone dissonance that was so characteristic of the steam engine that the sound itself brings pangs of nostalgia to many of us old guys.

I wondered how flat this huge engine could make a penny become.  So I tried it, placing a penny on the track.  When the next train roared by I couldn't wait to find my flattened penny, but I never found it.  I suppose it was vaporized, or turned into a copper spot on the monstrous wheel.  In my uncle's garage I found a piece of solid steel bar, about 4 inches long and maybe a half inch in diameter.  Huge trains require larger chunks of matter to flatten.  Yes I did!  I carefully placed the bar of steel on the track.  I waited for the train to come by.  I knew about when the train was due because, of course we lived there, and people who live right next to a railroad track do hear them and learn the schedule.  So I stood and watched as the next engine charged through.  It was dusk, and I distinctly remember seeing the bar of steel turn red-orange and then it began circling on the great wheel for several turns.  I figured that it instantly turned molten and later fell off onto the gravel along the track, but I only searched in vain.

In later years I imagined the scenario of derailing the whole train.  But in my memory this behemoth didn't even flinch.

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