I was driving through South Side Easton this morning and made my way down into the little borough of Glendon. My journey was leading me along winding roads running parallel to a stretch of train tracks.
At one point during my drive I made a right hand turn to get onto the Glendon bridge and noticed below me a convoy of trains rolling along. They were big silver, metal cars, all looking identical and all carrying their cargo through the rural town and on to parts unknown.
Normally, seeing a convoy of trains like this would be something I’d see in my peripheral vision and ignore. After all, trains have become some what of a nuisance to me these days. Especially if on the rare occasion I have to stop and wait for them to pass by. But this time seeing them was different. For I suddenly remembered just how important trains were to me when I was growing up.
So if you’ve got a moment and care to listen to a 45-year-old man reminisce for a while, then please read on.
When I was a kid, trains were always in abundance running through the city of Easton, Pennsylvania. Back then, you couldn’t travel down the Smith Street hill and into the heart of the downtown district without seeing them pass by on an overhead bridge at all hours of the day.
I was even able to see them running over the river across the Pennsylvania border into New Jersey via a clear shot I had from a hill next to my home. On warm sunny days in my upstairs bedroom I could clearly hear the whistle of the engine from miles away, and would always make a mad dash downstairs to watch them as they went by.
I remember they looked as small as Matchbox cars from my vantage point but that didn’t matter. Once I knew they were coming, I’d stop everything I was doing and just watch them go – admiring their beauty. It always made me a bit sad whenever I saw the little blue caboose go by. Because that always meant the show was over and I’d be forced to go back to watching Scooby-Doo, playing Chutes and Ladders or whatever else was occupying me at the time.
There were (are) two main train trestles that run through the downtown district. The first one is located at the bottom of the Smith Street hill and runs adjacent to Canal Street. This one’s rails ride through the borough of Glendon and eventually reach the city of Bethlehem (the location I saw them at this morning). I believe years ago this was probably the rail that also transported people from outside of the area to their jobs at the Bethlehem Steel plant.
The other trestle; located adjacent to the first, crosses over the Lehigh River and into New Jersey. This was the one I could see from my house as a child. At least until the trees and foliage grew too tall and all I heard was the whistle of the engine.
Whenever I would tag along with my parents on short, local trips around town, I always made it a point to bark out commands from the back seat of our ’77 Malibu Classic on the way home. And as we approached the bridge the commands would get progressively louder, eventually turning into full-on pleas of despair as we approached:
”Mom? Dad? P-L-E-A-S-E can we go see the trains???!!!”
For just on the other side of the trestle you drove under you had two options: drive up Smith Street Hill and into South Side Easton (and home) or, make a slight right and drive along Canal Street…..WHERE THE TRAINS WERE!!!
On good days (or when my screaming and crying became too much for my parents to bear) we would make that slight right and my excitement would build. For what was cool about driving along Canal Street was that the train trestle would be at ground level with you for the longest time. Then it would slowly rise upwards onto a bridge, revealing yet another train trestle behind it. It was like almost like a curtain that was magically unveiling. As the trestle rose, you would slowly begin to see what lied beyond — the coolest sight ever! An arsenal of parked TRAINS!
To most people, trains are those big box things on wheels that carry cargo from town to town. Or maybe a mode of transportation for a hobo carrying a polka-dot covered bindle over his shoulder. But to a young boy like me, it meant so much more. To me, the trains were works of art.
I’m not talking about those ugly flat-bed trains with nothing on them. Or those black oil tanker trains that are bland and boring. No, I’m talking about the cool colored box car trains that would ALWAYS be parked there. Shiny yellow cars that said “Railbox”, or bright red ones that had the initials “CR”. Then there were the ones that had the moniker, “Southern – Southern Serves The South” emblazoned upon them. Or maybe there would be blue cars with funky lettering on them that kind of looked like a mix between an “N” and a “D”. And lets not forget the odd-ball ones some malcontent had used to spray paint their devotion to AC/DC or Led Zeppelin.
It’s kind of funny how my wife scolds me for forgetting to take out the trash every week and yet I can still recall vividly the exact words and letters printed on the side of a box car train in the 1970’s. Perhaps its because I remember telling Mom and Dad to slow down as we drove, so I could savor every moment. I wanted it to last forever.
Eventually, we would pass the trains and make a left-hand turn up a side street and make our way back home. What’s funny is that I can’t recall a single thing I did after we got there. All I could think about for the rest of the day was the beauty I saw in those trains.
As the years went by, that damn thing called adulthood started setting in (cool then, sucks now). Girls, cars and music all began taking precedence and the trains became less and less important to me. And even when the time came that I got my own car and could go anywhere I wanted, I still had no desire to go see the trains.
To this day, I drive Canal Street very rarely. I really have no need to go and to be honest, it really is kind of ”out of the way”. Which is probably the exact same reason my Mom and Dad must have had whenever I would beg them to drive along it. But on the occasion that I do drive it for curiosity’s sake, it’s now just a ghost town on the trestles. Not one box car, nor any train for that matter in sight. Sometimes, progress sucks.
As I thought about this today, I realized that seeing the trains was something I really miss. And in some silly way it was just another thing that makes me understand the need to really enjoy the little moments in life you have right now. Because you never know when those moments will be gone forever.
So, here’s hoping you make it a point to find time to go see the trains.