Nevada Southern Railway, August 9, 2009
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From a trip on the Nevada Southern Railway, Boulder City, NV. August 9, 2009. By John Carter
Last updated: August 22, 2009
The crowd on the platform milled around anxiously. Kids of many ages, from 1 to 75, talked in muted tones and quietly, almost nervously waited for the trip’s commencement. To some, it would be their first train ride and although short and slow in speed, it still represented a new experience and a new thrill. Unrealized by them at the time, the lure of the train will slowly draw them in and when they ride again, and they will, the excitement will not be diminished by their first trip, but rather heightened because of it. Having once traveled by train – subways not being counted – the lure of the train becomes more exciting with each boarding. Some in the restless crowd already knew this, others would only experience it the first time today.
The crowd is slowly growing in numbers, from the initial 14 or so, consisting of a couple of families with small children and my entourage of 3 adults, twin 9 year olds and one 8 year old. Of this group, only I had previously felt the bug bite resulting in a medical condition know as railroadmania – or is that railroadmaniac? From hushed conversations, stories could be heard of previous trips on other steel roads that included scenic byways and majestic vistas. The tone in many voices was somber, quietly respectful and bordering on fearful of the lumbering beast resting just yards away. It was as if a throng of pheasants stood at the foot of a royal leader and shuddered in fear at the thought of disturbing it’s sleep. Resting it was, sleeping it was not.
To those only here for the ride, the idling engine was little more then a noise producer that was stationed, as if standing guard, between the parking lot and the prize – the ticket booth. To trainofactioactos, this bulk of engineering technology was a prize itself – an EMD GP30 4-axle Diesel Electric Locomotive. Donated by the Union Pacific Railroad, this previous mainline work horse sparkled in pristine, showroom condition and proudly displayed the red Union Pacific name on her sides. Washed, cleaned, waxed and polished with loving care by the beehive like workers, all volunteers, of the Nevada Southern Railway, who take as much pride in their charges as they do in life itself.
The massive 253,000 pounds of pure raw power of NSR’s Number 844 is capable of producing an awe inspiring mightiness of 2250 horsepower. The yellow and gray striped, 56 foot long brute was capable of speeds of up to 78 miles per hour. However, on this day speeds, would be much closer to 20. The entire trip would last about 45 minutes and cover a mere 7 miles total. Speed would not be important. The lumbering giant purred lightly, well lightly compared to the enormous eruption that would soon fill the air.
It was easy to spot the train buffs that walked the gang plank past the hibernating diesel, they either stared unbashfully at the gleaming machine like a little kid at a candy store window or they sulked on by it, almost afraid to admit they were intensely jealous of the crew that rested in the cab, for the crew got to play with the toy of toys. Others that sauntered past the pride of the museum seemed almost annoyed at its motor’s gentle rumble. Well, every crowd has a few that just do not understand the beauty and the art that is locomotive technology. Either way, they would still enjoy this day riding a piece of American and Nevada history.
The tension was nearly visibly building as more prospective riders arrive on the platform and gleefully procured their tickets, a mere piece of paper that represents the opportunity to board the silver sided symbol of American ingenuity. While the heat is a oppressive 105 or so, it seems almost comfortable – or maybe – more accurately the thrill of the pending adventure is dulling the senses to the otherwise stifling temperature. The authentically attired train crew representing times and eras long gone, busily and quietly see to the job of preparing for the fourth and final trip of the day. Most of the visitors do not even see them as they blend softly into the background. A few seasoned voyagers however notice the ease and precision the conductor’s crew tends to the needs and safety of the passengers as they ready the train.
“Will this trip ever begin”, wonders a few riders silently to themselves? Almost if by mental command, “All aboard” echoes down the canyon of the covered passenger terminal from the man in charge – The Conductor. Before now few knew he existed, now all were cast under his spell, for he and he alone has the commanding authority to issue to the engineer the command “High Ball” a railroader’s expression meaning ‘to proceed with all due speed’. Few, if any of his charges would hear the actual command, yet all would breathlessly await the result – the release of the brakes, the movement of the train, the genesis of the expedition.
With amazing speed and incredible orderliness, the masses of waiting patrons gather at the entrance to the coaches. One an air conditioned and enclosed Pullman Coach beautifully restored, located to the right of the stairs and to the left an open air car that would be air conditioned only by the desert breeze and air flow created by this traveling troupe of railroad history. Initially many travelers opted to the comfort of the air conditioned coach. A few quickly discovered that the thrill of gliding along effortlessly could be more appreciated from the open air car as it allowed the rider a direct connection and an unbridled view of desert flora drifting by just feet away. My group settled in to the open air car so as to best enjoy the sights, the sounds, the smells of the adventure.
After what appeared to be hours of waiting, anticipation has a way of multiplying time, a soft yet clearly audible HISS appeared from under the railway cars. The engineer was preparing the train for movement by applying air to the train’s car brakes. The dim of conversations in the cars decreased slightly. The conductor’s voice boomed down from overhead speakers announcing the pending departure of the train from the station and instructed everyone that they must be seated and remain seated for a short duration. Ah, so this must be where ‘seat-backs and tray tables in the upright and locked position’ originally came from. The passengers sat down and settled down, and waited, on the verge of afraid to breath as it might result in them missing something. Then suddenly another HISS. Anticipation greatly increased again, “we must be ready to move”. Yet nothing. A visible let down descended over the riders.
Then suddenly, without warning or farther ado, the napping giant at the front of the train awakened with a terrifying rumble. A small shudder was felt through out the entire train. The desert calm was awaken with a horrific blast of commotion. While it startled many as it pierced the stillness, it was music to the ears of the railroadia fans aboard. Almost without hesitation, the car lurched as the train started moving. As the slack in the couplers was pulled out the train bounced a few more times before settling in to a systematic roll and ultra slight rocking back and forth.
Upon the faces of many first time riders were looks of astonishment – almost to say, “How could something this big and bulking even move, let alone move smoothly, apparently without exertion”. But moving it was and moving slightly faster and faster still. The expressions on the faces of the little ones in my ensemble showed utter amazement. Little eyes opened wide and tiny smiles reached from ear to ear. As sensitive noses picked up on the odors of the engine waffling back through the cars, delicate ears listened dauntingly to every sound emitting from around them. Youthful eyes scanned the vistas passing by outside the car’s windows, eyes wide open with amazement at the passing landscape.
Just then, piercing the still air came a shrill from the engineer’s whistle. Two long blasts and one short one preceded the train as it reached the first road crossing. A few bumps and few jolts. A few creaks and some rumbling under the wheels and suddenly the train was clear of the station and clear of the first of numerous such crossings.
From the overhead speakers emanated the conductor’s metallic voice announcing passengers were free to stand and wander around the train, however, please keep heads and hands inside the car. Yea, right. Who among us was not planning on at least leaning out the window to view forward and backward of this rambling living, breathing organism that the uninformed simply call: a train.
Many, present company included, immediately jumped to their feet, moving to the car sides to get that one foot closer to nature that could be achieved. Had the car featured an option to lean out over the edge, it was clearly positive from the posture of many that they would in fact so lean out to gain yet another degree in closeness to the passing nature’s wonders. Many children, most on their first train ride ever, eagerly and excitedly leaned on the hand rails and busily pointed out different things they observed along the sides of the tracks. From wildlife to desert plants to the unfortunately and unsightly proof of human presence – trash – many things and many observations fell on the eyes of these youthful travelers. The excitement in their voices as they pointed out different visual stimulations caused the roar of the mighty locomotive engine to be virtually drowned out.
Those experiencing their first trip on this magic carpet of railway travel gasped in awe at the sights, sounds and smells that encompassed their very being. First timers and experienced travelers alike were slowly drawn in to the mesmerizing tranquility that embodies rail travel. Unrestricted by the confines of an automobile, a person’s body, mind and soul is capable of drifting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Listening to the rhythmic beat of the metal wheels upon the rails while being gently swayed to and fro by the rocking of the car results in the tensions of life itself being massaged from the mortal being, allowing the very sprint within to drift toward a state of tranquil equilibrium.
The same scenery that had been passed just minutes earlier while riding confined in an automobile suddenly took on a new personality, a different prospective, a panoramic dynamic. The energy erupting from the minds and mouths of the first time explorers as they observed the vistas from a different viewpoint flooded the car and infected even experienced travelers. The joy and jubilations gushing forth brought a sense of satisfaction, this was the essence of the spreading the excitement of railroading and rail travel.
The contradictory blending of the smells of the passing desert and pungent aroma of the diesel powered locomotive creates a unique olfactory sensation that can not be described and must be experienced to appreciate and is, surprising to many, to not be offensive. Although you can expect a few in each group to so complain. Of course, they are equally coating the environment with emissions disseminating from a liberal coating of flowers and herbs that are no where near by that have been generously applied to their person in such volume that a paint sprayer may have been used in application.
As the train neared the end of it’s journey, a screech of steel on steel indicated that the engineer was working his magic to slowly, skillfully bring the train to a safe stop at the designated location in the station house. Another screech resulted in little kids, and some older ones as well, to rapidly move hands to form coverings over their ears. The expressions on the faces of the young and young at heart indicated that while the ear piercing sounds may be unpleasant, they were somehow not unenjoyable as it was but yet another part of another experience they had now completed – travel by railroad.
One young traveler woefully laminated that she was sad that the trip was over so soon. Unfortunately she has yet to discover: a trip of minutes, a trip of hours or even a trip of days will each end “way to soon”. Her traveling companions may not yet be infected, but this future railfan is showing the first signs of railroadidis by asking the question, “Can we do it again?”