Originally Published 03/21/2011 07:19:27 AM
Photo Source: Jessica Beebe
3:16 PM Thursday: I am waiting for the 3:28 from Portland. The ticket office is mostly empty, save for a few souls huddled around the stove, having donuts and coffee before boarding. I get two ham sandwiches, a newspaper, copies of Look and Variety and two packs of smokes for the trip. It shall be a long one.
500 miles to Buffalo. 14 hours on the rails, an overnight adventure secure in the gaslamp womb of the Pullman Berth. There are few more pleasant ways to travel than by Pullman: the lamp and fan, the linen, the shades drawn for sleep, or open to reveal the sudden flick of a light in a kitchen or a Mail Pouch Tobacco ad on a barn… As I see this lonesome America speeding by in my car, I’m the only witness, the only one in the world keeping these secrets, and I relish my solemn duty.
The age of rail travel is ending, with the ascent of the automobile and the interstate highway system. Passenger service is not profitable, and the rail companies have badly mismanaged their operations. It is twilight, a fact I realize all the more whenever a motor car speeds past my window on the Iron Horse.
I see the sad, slow death of this magnificent industry, and can’t quite believe it could happen. Stepping through the steam of the 3:28, into my Pullman home, feels like stepping through time and eras. The last run is ahead. A lost America looms. I feel a tug in my throat and climb aboard…