The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 26, 2004


Carlisle Comments: Trains

Somehow trains are not the exciting, fast, modern and glamorous things that they used to be. My grandfather worked on the railroad for 50 years, from the early 1900s to the mid 1950s. He worked his way up from fireman to engineer. In fact, in November of 1953, he was given the honor of driving the last steam passenger train between Concord, New Hampshire and Boston. Railroad engineers were to our grandparents what airline pilots are to folks today. Big machines, fast travel, and good pay, something to strive for.

My grandmother had a pass for the Boston and Maine Railroad as a result of my grandfather's job, so all of her grandchildren got to ride with her on the train free. Mostly we went to North Station in Boston. In fact, I can remember coming out onto Causeway Street and checking the progress of the overhead road being built right in front of the station. Each time there was something more to see. She also had to go to Boston to get the time. She would take my grandfather's railroad watch and check the time against a "control" clock in Boston. I can't remember where the clock was, maybe South Station. I do remember it was on a building. Remember, the railroads standardized time across the country, and being "on time" was very important.

One of my earliest memories of trains is the old steam engine belching and puffing, coming into the station in Laconia, New Hampshire, where I lived. The early passenger cars had windows that opened. This, before the days of air conditioning, let cinders and lots of soot and smoke into the car and onto the passengers. My grandmother was a real "neatnik," and used to struggle to lower the window beside us and then scrub the seats and us clean.

Those old cars had two things of interest to my brother and me. One was the water dispenser at the end of each car. It used paper cups that were folded flat, and you had to open them up before using. Usually they leaked. The other and far more amazing and spell-binding thing, at least for a kid, was the toilet. We could go into the little room at the end of the car, look down through the hopper, and watch the railroad ties go by. It's kind of gross to think about now, but for kids, it was fascinating.

My grandfather allowed his grandsons to ride with him in the cab of the engine, but never his granddaughters. I was really jealous of that. My younger brother managed to get grease or oil on his clothing during his ride, and I remember smirking at him. My grandmother was the ultimate "back seat driver." I overheard my grandfather asking about her trip to Boston, and she replied, "Fine, but you stopped awfully short in Nashua."

Trains switched to diesel, and Grampa talked of "A" cabs, "B" cabs, and rear "A" cabs." That's how the engines were arranged. These were faster, cleaner, and quieter than the old steam engines, but not nearly as exciting. But when real power was needed, they still hooked up the old steam engine.

Then the "Budliners" came along, with all the mechanism under the cars. These cars could be driven from either end. The cars were air conditioned and very modern. My grandfather called them "lightning on wheels." Unfortunately, I guess they weren't all that they were cracked up to be, because today you usually see an old diesel "A" car hooked up to the train and doing the work.

Grampa is gone now, but I wonder what he would have thought of our trains today. I think I have a pretty good idea.

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito