Monday, January 31, 2011
I'm Tired, I'm Tired, I'm Tired
Photo: Southern Pacific publicity photo of a Daylight locomotive
There was a program on channel 9 the other night about the Daylight, the Southern Pacific passenger train that ran between Los Angeles and San Francisco between 1937 and 1971, when Amtrak took over passenger service. Trains still run, but not the Daylight.
The trains were striking in appearance, red and orange along the sides and black on top and bottom, with matching specially built steam engines, so the train was one matching design from beginning to end.
I grew up in Watsonville, California, which was on the main line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Everywhere in the Pajaro Valley you could hear the train whistles blow as trains came into the station. My father's sister Thelma and her husband Ray had a farm over on the Monterey County side of the Pajaro River and the trains ran along the edge of their fields. I remember how thrilling it was to see those red and orange trains go by, the engines puffing clouds of smoke. It was the beginning of train love for me.
This documentary came on, and I was completely caught up in memories of passenger trains. The show featured many clips of the Daylight chugging through the California landscape. In the background were the hills and valleys and seashore of California. These sights were so familiar to me, and brought up so many memories of my misspent youth and the beautiful places where I misspent it. The low round hills of the Pajaro Valley were the background of my childhood, surrounding me every day like the arms of God. Seeing them once again in the background of the train movies connected me to something inside that is deeper than words.
I spoke about that connection to my husband, Rick, and by email to his friend, Hutch. Rick and Hutch were both Army brats who lived all over the world growing up. They met in Germany when they were in high school, and they played and sang folk music together with a third member, Terry MacNeil, as The Balladiers. Yes, spelled with an “i.” Talking to Rick and Hutch about trains set off their memories.
Hutch wrote: “Sometimes, as a family, we would have a compartment, and other times, berths. Either way as a kid I always managed to get the upper. Can you imagine the intimacy of changing into pajamas, passing others in the narrow passageway to and from the bathroom? At least once a trip the train would lurch and you'd fall through the little blue curtain onto who ever's bunk you'd be passing.”
Rick wrote: “We must be the last generation to carry such fondness of memory for the era of passenger trains. I'm glad you took the boys back* so they can carry some memory of that time. I developed my love of the 'I'm tireds'** not from watching them pass through but from riding them.
“I never saw a more beautifully evolved choo-choo than the European zigzag trains with their passenger cars all fitted out like lovely wooden jewelry boxes with thousands of different doors and drawers.
“The diesel electrics were a real innovation but nothing said 'train' like the big, noisy, hissing steam locomotives.”
*In 1993, I took our sons on a train trip. We went from Seattle to Chicago on the Empire Builder, then from Chicago to Akron on another train. We visited with Rick's relatives in Ohio, then caught the train back to Chicago and from there caught the train to Los Angeles, stopping to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Raton, New Mexico, along the way. From LA we took what is now called the Starlight up the coast to Seattle. It was a grand trip that took about three weeks and we still talk about it.
**When Rick was a little boy in Ohio, his grandfather would put him to bed at night and tell him about the steam engines chugging along saying, “I'm tired, I'm tired, I'm tired...” Rick said it didn't take long for him to drop off, and ever since he has thought of steam engines as the “I'm tireds.”