On Wednesday, Southern Indiana officially entered the autumn season. I also discovered that the White Water Valley Railroad in Connersville offers a scenic Fall Foliage Flyer Train Ride every Thursday and Friday in October.
This tiny railway became a not-for-profit organization in 1972. The Fall Foliage Flyer runs from Connersville to Metamora, where the train has a two-hour layover allowing passengers to have lunch and shop. The brilliant fall colors, however, are the highlight of the trip. My wife Diane is always a sucker for a train, boat, or horse drawn carriage ride.
I grew up in an industrial region in Illinois where there were numerous train terminals which shipped steel, meat, produce, and automobiles. After high school I got a job at an ice plant that loaded ice into refrigerator train cars. Later in college I worked at a terminal that shipped autos by train from Detroit into the St. Louis area. Like Jeffersonville, the town where I grew up had a train car shop, where they assembled and repaired train cars.
My father was also interested in trains. There was a brakeman’s lantern hanging in our garage. He built a large train layout for my older brother’s Lionel model trains. As a child I remember going to the train station to pick up my older sister who often took the train home from college. Diane, who grew up in Wisconsin, says it was a major adventure to take the train south along Lake Michigan to Milwaukee or Chicago.
Despite all of these experiences I had never really thought of us as train people, although over the years we have taken a number of train excursions.
We have ridden the train at the Indiana Railway Museum in French Lick, Indiana. This was about a twenty-five mile trip through the hills of Southern Indiana, along the edge of the Hoosier National Forest. On this trip you can see limestone and sandstone formations, a historic log cabin, and the second longest railroad tunnel in Indiana. By the way. the longest railroad tunnel in Indiana starts up in the knobs in Edwardsville.
When we first came to Indiana we also rode on the Corydon Scenic Railroad which offered a 90-minute excursion. Back then it even had an Elvis impersonator as part of the entertainment. After changing ownership a few times Lucas Oil eventually bought this railroad and used it to transport raw-materials and finished products and to assist other companies who required the services of the short line railroad.
In our long list of train rides, we took our grandchildren on The North Pole Express excursion offered by the Lebanon Mason Monroe Railroad based in Lebanon, Ohio. It is also operated by a local nonprofit organization. On the ride we took, students from a nearby circus college dressed up like elves, served hot chocolate, performed various stunts, and made balloon animals for the children. It was a short trip with a layover to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus.
We also took the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Nantahala Gorge Excursion. This trip went to the Nantahala Gorge and back again with a layover in the heart of the Nantahala Gorge, where canoeing and kayaking trips begin. There were two tunnels and 25 bridges on the route. This train has been featured in numerous movies and television shows.
We even welcomed the millennium on a train. On New Year’s Eve in 1999 we rode the Millennium Snow Train. This train left from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and traveled through the Agawa Canyon. Mostly I remember drinking champagne in the dining car, seeing a moose, and not being able to get my wife out of the camera crazy crowd on the platform at the end of the train.
Back when Diane and I were involved in a long distance romance, living 360 miles apart in Florida, occasionally we would take a train to visit each other. Once on my way home to Daytona Beach, Diane dropped me off at the station where I boarded the train.
I was standing next to the conductor by an open window, waving goodbye to Diane, when I suddenly realized that I had left my car keys in Diane’s car. I yelled at her for the keys and she went to get them. When she returned, the train was starting to pull away from the station.
Just like in the movies, Diane ran alongside of the moving train as it gradually sped up. The conductor and I both yelled at her to throw the keys into the open window. Finally she threw her arm back and hurled the keys towards the train. They went straight up, missed the window, and landed with a clunk on the top of the train.
I was convinced that the keys would fall off due to the vibrations, so I went to the club car to drink, knowing that I would arrive in Daytona Beach at three in the morning and not have the keys for my car.
A couple hours later, the train came to a stop in Thomasville, Georgia. I went back to the window, climbed out and reached up on top the train. To my surprise and the conductor’s amazement the car keys were still there, just where Diane had thrown them.
Psychologists have studied why people are attracted to trains and similar objects. Nostalgia seems to be a significant factor for many individuals. For some folks the appeal of trains seems to be related to a fascination with the movement of the wheels. Others seem to enjoy all of technical details involved.
Researchers believe that boys may be biologically hard wired to be attracted by objects that move fast, roll, or have wheels. Boys are three times more likely to be attracted to trains than girls.
Even in studies with monkeys, it was found that boy monkeys are most attracted to objects that roll, such as cars and balls.
From an evolutionary perspective such play may help humans understand how things rotate in three dimensions and improve spatial reasoning, which can have a number of survival advantages.
Psychoanalysts have noted the similarity between train-travel and the slightly otherworldly and detached sensations that people have when dreaming. The railway traveler experiences the world through the train’s windows and is thus somewhat removed from it.
Trains were employed extensively by the famous movie director, Alfred Hitchcock. He used them to provide a dreamy scenic and cinematic backdrop through the train windows.
The punctuality of railway schedules also provided a set timeframe to advance the plot while also creating a sense of unstoppable excitement, suspense and anxiety— much like the episode of the thrown car keys.