Bob longs to hear puffing locomotives once more

Bob longs to hear puffing locomotives once more by Bob Karolevitz I was in a nostalgic mood this week, and so my mind turned to locomotives � the steam kind.

My day-dreaming took me back to childhood years when I saw those big black monsters hissing and puffing at the local depot, while cream cans were loaded in the express car, the mail pouches came off and an occasional casket was part of the freight.

Our town � Yankton � had three railroad lines then; and as I stood on the station platform, I saw passengers scurrying hither and yon, some going to the taxi cabs awaiting nearby and some just stretching their legs until the conductor shouted, �All aboard.�

Those days are gone forever!

We lived near the tracks, and I could feel the vibration of each train as it headed out to Aberdeen or Platte and points in between. The night runs were my lullaby, as the house � and my bed � shook ever so slightly.

I remember how we urchins in bib overalls would put nails on the rails to be crushed by the heavy engine. They made tiny swords of flattened steel � but I don�t recall what we did with them. Occasionally a copper penny was squished � but if we had one, it was mostly spent to buy a jaw-breaker or a stick of licorice.

We had a round-table near our house, too, and we youngsters were always on hand to watch a locomotive turned around to go the other way. It looked so easy to see all that tonnage reversed.

During the Dirty Thirties we saw the drive wheels of more than one locomotive spin on the tracks covered by squashed grasshoppers. Oh, what an icky mess they made until steel-on-steel traction was attained and the train crept forward ever so slowly.

The siding near our house was a good place to find unburned coal amid the cinders. I would take my tiny bucket and glean the chunks of �black gold� left over by the locomotives. It was like finding diamonds in the trash.

Can you imagine kids doing that now?

That was when passenger trains criss-crossed South Dakota. You could go from Milbank to Corona, from Manchester to Brookings, from Vilas to Madison. Shucks, Phyllis even used to catch a train in Mission Hill to go to her job in Sioux Falls.

I loved those old smoke-filled trains, which is why I started this column in the first place. I wish they were back once more � but then I wish gas was cheap again too � for our automobiles which replaced locomotives.

I long to hear that mournful, steam-powered whistle which only those big engines could produce � and know that chug, chug, chug of a lumbering locomotive as it tried to pick up speed on a straight-away.

Yes, I would like to go back to youthful days � just as long as you don�t take my garage-opener and TV remote away from me.

� 2005 Robert F. Karolevitz

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