All Aboard The Train

There was never a time growing up that our dad didn’t erect his platform of trains in the basement for the Christmas season. He spent an inordinate amount of time fabricating the layout, drilling holes, painting scenery and setting multiple tracks in place. He enjoyed adding something new each year among the fir trees with fake snow, the realistic railroad tunnel and the little houses along the track.

The trains were his toys, and his alone. We were permitted to watch him work at his holiday hobby, but no touching. Once in a blue moon he would allow one of us to serve as engineer under his close supervision. Mostly we were there to be amused and spot any trouble along the tracks.

I remember how loud the trains were in the paneled basement as they click-clacked around the silver track, and the sound of the low whine of the train whistle. His face lit up as he managed to get smoke to rise from the train’s stacks, a proud accomplishment for the basement railroader.

I can remember when trains visited our town on their way to and from places far away. Baby boomers, especially, recall the circus trains that would pull into the city and unload their beloved cargo of performers, equipment and, of course, the circus animals. It was almost more exciting to watch the elephants and lions be brought off the train than to go to the circus itself.

One Christmas my Aunt Louise took me and a few of my siblings on a train ride from Wheeling to Moundsville and back. I believe Santa was onboard. It remains a favorite memory of those old trains with their tall leather seats.

It’s sad there are generations that have never traveled on a train, or never witnessed their awesome power as they steamed their way into the B&O Station in Wheeling, now serving West Virginia Northern Community College’s need. I can picture my father coming home from World War II and disembarking at that bustling train depot. I imagine the many families who greeted their soldiers during and after wartime, and those who met the remains of their loved ones lost in war. Each time I have had an occasion to visit the B&O Building, I think of my dad and the trains.

He never lost his love of the locomotives and treated us to a trip to the Cass Scenic Railroad near Snowshoe, W.Va, on a hot summer day. Later, my husband and I took our son and my in-laws on that same Cass train excursion. It turned out to be one of the best memories for all of us.

Do yourself, your kids or grandkids a favor and visit a train station. Take a trip on a Polar Express or Santa train. There are opportunities to do this in the tri-state area. Or better yet, plan a trip to the Cass Scenic Railroad next summer or fall and give your family something to talk about on the trip home.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via email at hziegler@theintelligencer.