Many younger Americans don't have much experience with trains any more since AmTrak  passenger service does not go to smaller towns as trains do in other countries. And so I think it's an interesting phenomenon that Thomas the Tank Engine  is capturing the hearts and minds of so many little boys. This week I'm being plunged into the world of Thomas.
Our daughter Megan, son-in-law Jim, and two-and-a-half-year-old grandson Drew are here for a week, and since I last saw them four months ago, Drew has become obsessed with all things Thomas. It's astounding to me that he can tell you the name of any of the 60 different train cars at a glance! Poppy has some catching up to do and will undoubtedly not be up to speed by week's end.
Trains have been a part of my life since my earliest recollection. My dad worked as a switchman from his early twenties until his death of a massive heart attack at age 42. My wife and I grew up in Fostoria, Ohio, a small town about 40 miles southeast of Toledo. We young Fostorians we were always told that our tiny town was one of the places the Germans planned to bomb, had they bombed in the USA during World War II. Why? Because the lines of 5 different railroad companies intersected in Fostoria . Growing up, I never lived more than two houses from a railroad track and learned quite young to sleep through the sound of trains rumbling by all night long.
When I was in high school I got to ride my first passenger train with my grandparents from Fostoria to Chicago where we changed trains to continue on to St. Louis to visit my aunt and uncle. Between my junior and senior year of college I made my first trip to Europe. I had a three-week Eurail Pass and traveled all over France and Germany and visited several cities in Switzerland and Austria. That experience was very useful to me when I took 7 mission teams of students to France. We traveled often by train to get to the place of our next week of service.
If you've ever ridden on a passenger train, you know that you meet all kinds of people and have many memorable experiences, especially if you travel in compartments. One of my most vivid memories was on my first trip to Europe. Trains were not air conditioned then, and so windows were generally wide open in the summer heat. It was still very warm inside those trains! On a trip from Paris to Calais to visit my aunts and cousins, I was in a compartment with several other people, one of whom was a young Arab guy. My money was getting low, the train car was hot and breezy, and I was extremely thirsty. The young Arab guy offered the rest of us a bottle of room temperature Coca Cola, beginning with me. I happily accepted his kind offer and was looking forward to even warm Coke until I saw him remove the bottle cap with his teeth! I managed to down the Coke, but it was more quenching than enjoyable. For some reason our travel companions all turned down his kind offer after seeing what he did to my bottle....
If any of you are thinking about train travel in Europe, I would recommend compartments over train cars. When I first started going to Europe in the early 70s, there were smoking cars and non-smoking cars. Now that the trains claim to be air conditioned (a claim I have not found valid by my American standards), every passenger train car has a smoking end and a non-smoking end, separated by a glass arch that allows air to circulate freely from one end to the other, propelled by the "air conditioning." So basically all passenger cars are smoking, with a strongly smoking end and a less-but-still smoky end. If you choose a compartment instead, there are still actual non-smoking compartments whose occupants usually squawk loudly if anyone lights up in the compartment. That's the way it is in France — I don't know about the rest of Europe anymore.
Here's a joke about four people traveling in a train compartment.
In a compartment on a train car were a American, an Frenchman, a spectacular looking blonde and a dreadful looking old lady. After several minutes the train went through a dark tunnel, and the unmistakable sound of a slap was heard. When they left the tunnel, the Frenchman had a big red slap mark on his cheek.
The blonde thought, "That Frenchman probably wanted to touch me, and by mistake he must have put his hand on the old lady, who in turn must have slapped his face."
The old lady thought, "That flirtatious Frenchman must have touched the blonde and she smacked him."
The Frenchman thought, "O-là-là! That American probably made a pass at that blonde and she slapped me by mistake."
The American thought, "I hope there's another tunnel soon so I can smack that Frenchman again."
Drew does not have many trains in the Thomas collection yet — I'm sure that Christmas will change that status somewhat. Here's a picture from Megan's blog of Drew putting every vehicle he owns into a train formation.
We've enjoyed a lot of quiet, restful activities since Meg and her family arrived. Drew and I have read almost all the way through the book Thomas' Big Storybook  that Megan borrowed from her local library and brought along. Drew would sit on my lap and listen to the whole book, but we take breaks as my voice wears out. Here we are in a reading session this morning.
Drew even likes to "read" the book to himself.
A fun and definitely not quiet activity that we've had is going to the banana box sale at our local Sav-Mor store early Saturday morning. Megan blogged about it, so I'll just link to her post . Here's picture of Nora and me organizing our two boxes of over $200 worth of groceries for which we paid the asking price of only $7 per box!
Do you have train experiences to share? Do you have a little guy in your life who shares Drew's love for Thomas?
"Our lives should be absent of worry and full of praise." - Drew Conley
The pessimist sees a dark tunnel; the optimist sees a light at the end; the realist sees the light of an oncoming train; the engineer sees 3 idiots on the tracks.