In the caboose

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 22, 2015 7:05 PM

My brother has always loved trains. When he was little, my mother did a silhouette train on a big darkly stained piece of wood that they suspended in his room via a black link chain. I suspect it was done with decoupage, the painstakingly slow craft of taking a photo or piece of paper, gluing it to wood and then covering it with coat after coat after coat of polyurethane, scouring with fine steel wool between each coat, in order to create a perfectly smooth surface. My mom was big into decoupage as well as a number of crafts. I seem to remember things with paper mâché and I know there was a lot with macramé. 

My brother still has the black silhouette train. I believe it hangs in his bedroom just as it did when he was a boy.

I think I remember a train set that spun around our Christmas tree. We had two Christmas trees for the longest time. One was my mother’s tree and it was in the formal living room. It was all gold and silver and white lights. There were no colored ornaments, none of the usual kid-made pieces or ones from Hallmark. The other tree was in the family room and it was on a wooden platform. Decorated with ornaments made in school and other brilliantly, tackily colored pieces, it was the kid’s tree. We could put anything on it we wanted to. There was a small track that ran around the wooden platform. I’m pretty sure it had a model train. Our Uncle Bert bought it for Scott when he was little. Knowing my brother, he still has that train, too. Either that or it’s safely tucked away in my mother’s attic.

I love being well outside of a city and seeing trains traveling through the country. I love that we used to be able to hear the downtown trains when we lived in our rental. We can’t hear them out here. I miss the whistle. 

There’s a romance about trains, the kind of feeling I don’t think has existed with other modes of transportation. Planes never engendered that kind of devotion. Perhaps the cruise ships of old, when it was the only way to cross the “pond.” Trains seem so accessible and yet unapproachable. 

Some great films have taken place on trains including the Thanksgiving favorite Planes, Trains and Automobiles. James Bond has been on a train more than once, including in the recent Spectre. Trading Places had a lot train time. Of course, the holiday book turned film The Polar Express also took place almost entirely on a train. 

Trains seem to somehow connect us with another time, another world, one less complex and tangled. One where we pretend. 

Yesterday, I came across the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, Montana. It was built next to a rail yard in 1939 for railroad personnel who were exhausted after long days helping move freight and passenger trains over the rugged Marias Pass.  It was supposed to serve as an entrance to Glacier National Park, between the east and west glaciers but that never happened due to World War II. It cost some $40,000 to build and when it opened it had 29 rooms, 10 bathrooms, a big lobby, a dining room, a kitchen, drying room, store room and general store. The Inn, which continues to be popular, has been renovated to include bathrooms in every room. It also has embraced its railroad roots by taking old railcars and transforming them into guest house/cabins. 

There is the Green Caboose and the Blue Caboose, both for four people, each with two full size beds, a kitchenette and bathroom. The Orange Caboose is a restored 1895 honeymoon caboose with a wood interior, a gas fireplace, a full size bed, kitchen, bath and a deck with a grill. The newest is the Red Caboose with a queen size bed in the master bedroom, and two twins in the cupola. It has a full kitchen, and a bath. 

I’m fascinated with the tiny house phenomenon just as I’m fascinated with Airstream travel trailers. Small living spaces with big ideas and modern conveniences. These cabooses may exist in the 21st century but they harken back to that simpler time in the early part of the 20th century, when there was more innocence. More romance. More trains. It’s what I’m celebrating today.

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live out loud

Comments (1) -

11/23/2015 12:35:12 PM #

Yep - he still has the floor train and the painted on board train. (It was painted, not decoupaged, but heavily laquered after the paint dried). We have that wonderful Amtrak train sound near the Taylor house and you can hear it often during the day and night. And like you...I love it.

mom United States

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