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Ghosts Of The Past

May 29, 2009

The wooden planks laid across the ties look as though they haven’t been touched since steam rolled over them on the I.C. over forty years ago. It is a peaceful spot and, except for traffic on the adjacent highway, the only sound heard is that of chirping crickets in the uncut grass along the old dirt road.

I close my eyes and see images of what might have been. The rolling hills and the grass uninterrupted by today’s highway system. There are few trees and the tracks lead off to the distant town of Carbondale. I hear a distant whistle. I wonder if this can be real. A distant cloud of smoke, drawing ever nearer is approaching from the north. The shimmering headlight seems to dance off in the distance.

There is a feeling of excitement. Slowly, the headlight materializes into a looming black locomotive. Then suddenly the engineer opens the throttle. The smoke billows up in a volcanic blast, and the shotgun staccato of the locomotive’s exhausts grow louder as the train starts up the short grade. The whistle wails a warning as the locomotive gallops past, shaking the ground and followed by a string of empty coal cars heading back to the mines. Swaying back and forth, their steel wheels pound a steady rhythm on the steel rails.

I open my eyes, but there is nothing there. Only the crickets and the traffic on the highway.

I hear another sound, this time a five chime air horn. It is faint, but this one is real. The bright headlight is far off, but approaching rapidly. This train is the reason I came here. The horn sounds for the small gravel crossing a half-mile away. Two long, one short, another long.

Then the passenger train bursts out of the trees, the late afternoon sun reflecting off the silver stainless steel coaches. Then the locomotive and three cars flash past, seventy miles per hour and accelerating. The roar can be heard for miles. As the marker lights disappear from sight, the engine’s horn blares its warning for all to hear. After the train vanishes over the horizon, peace returns to the countryside and the crickets again sing their song in the grasses alongside the old dirt road.


Copyright 2008 – Mary Rae McPherson

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