40.2 F

A One Track Mind

mayWritten by the late James R. May. Originally published in the Oologah Lake Leader, circa 1992. 

I will admit right up front that I have an ulterior motive. Let me explain. One of the nice things about growing older is that if you live long enough, there are lots of things that you have seen before and may see again. It is sort of like men’s ties. Keep all of them. Even the old ones. They will be in style again. . . eventually.

Even as a little kid, I went to the movies. I got to see the news reels. Films from the news of the week were shown somewhere between previews of coming attractions and the main feature. World events in glorious black and white were right up there on the screen for all us impressionable kids to see. My favorites were those of royalty, politicians, military heroes and assorted world leaders standing up on a platform and having parades of people pass by. Hitler and Mussolini gave a stiff armed salute. King George gave a casual wave. Winston Churchill gave his famous V for Victory salute. My all-time favorite was the Conquering Lion of Judea, Heili Salassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia. He stood on the platform on the last car of the train he was riding in and gave crisp military salutes.

Being an impressionable youngster, I learned quickly from the news reels. I put on my military cap that my parents had given me and walked to the sloping hill overlooking the Missouri, Kansas and Texas railroad line. There I spent my leisurely afternoon after a hard day in kindergarten reviewing my troops and loyal subjects. To anyone else it was just a skinny, blond little kid in a too big cap waving at trains. What no one else knew was that those were very special trains. They were passenger coaches jam-packed with military personnel. A wave from my scrawny little arm was returned a thousand fold. A little movie-induced imagination and a large dose of realism from America’s sons on their way to war was heady stuff for a little kid watching the trains roll by.

When the war ended and the public began to travel in ernest, rail passenger service reached its zenith. The Dallas paper published photos of the crowded Union Terminal. Frantic discussion took place about more escalators being needed in the terminal to move the masses of passengers from curb side to track side. A few years later, Union Terminal, with its overburdened escalators, stood empty. The track where I had stood and waved to so many soldiers was a turnpike. The passenger train was buried under a billion tons of highway pavement.

Occasionally there is a feeble gasp as though someone is trying to breathe life into a dormant rail passenger service. Except with quasi-governmental service in the northeast corridor and a handful of AmTrak routes, passenger service is moribund, if not totally dead. The very railroads that would be the ones to run passenger service seem to find every obstacle, real and imaginary, to prevent the revival of rail passenger service.

Imagine what it would be like to park your car in Tulsa, catch a train to Oklahoma City, do your business and have dinner on the train coming home. Cellular telephones and laptop computers are available for the workaholics among us. Now imagine being able to do the same thing to Dallas or St. Louis or Little Rock. What about a relaxing ride to Denver? Railroad terminals are located in the center of cities instead of a 30-mile cab ride to the outlying airport.

Do you think there is any interest in rail passenger service? Why else do people drive into town when it is announced that a passenger train will be passing though. Why do you suppose people drive to Kansas to ride the rare passenger train back to Oklahoma? Just nostalgic geezers with too much time on their hands? I think not.

Look at the numbers of young people on the SOLD OUT passenger trains that all too rarely come our way. I wish I could do something about passenger rail service other than stand on the track side and wave. I’ve already done that and for far too long.

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  1. Ashley, your dad was one of my all time ‘favs’. He and your mom were our first paying customers at Hammett House twenty-three years ago. I loved our visits and so enjoyed his outlook and perspective on life. I looked foreword to his weekly column in the Oolagah Lake Leader! Those were written with his unique style and witty words! His life gave so much pleasure to so many who knew him. Thanks for the memories!— Bill

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