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Gayle Hedrington

July 7, 2010

Whenever a train whistles, memories of days gone-by surface in my mind. I remember buying a wooden train whistle for my grandson Dillon, so that I could hear its melancholy sound. A sound that reminds me of my youth. Growing up in Trenton it was not unusual to hear the distant whistles from the train station when the wind and temperature was right. It was often the last sound I'd hear before falling asleep.

My first memory of riding a train is from when I was four years old, I don't remember the actual ride, only the train arriving. My mother called attention to the cattle bumper on the train, and emphasized that the train we were going on was a steam engine. I looked at the huge black engine that was a replica of my brothers' Lionel engines, that pulled their trains though tunnels, over lakes made of mirrors, and past cities, all assembled on a green painted plaster board.

Trenton is between New York City and Philadelphia, and we often took the train to those cities. The train brought us shopping, seeing the Christmas show at Rockefeller Center, and once it brought us back from Florida. That trip was memorable to me, because of the exquisite dining car with the highly polished silverware, crisp white linens, and our porter who was a dark black man, with a radiant smile, and wearing a stark white uniform. The contrast of colors are etched in my memory.

The same trip was my first exposure to segregation. I don't know what town it was, but we stopped at a train station down south. It was hot, and when I went to drink from a water fountain, my mother directed me to another fountain, telling me the first fountain was for blacks only. In Trenton we never had segregation, and the idea struck me as being mean. "That's not right!" I told my mom and she told me to be quiet, it's something not to talk about in public.

As a teenager, my friend Janice and I would go clothes-shopping and afterwards stop at the train station, usually to use the bathrooms before heading home. Often though, we would sneak onto the tracks to put a penny down and watch a train run over it. We would look at the oval, flattened copper and look for signs of any remaining features, it was rare if we found one. Sometimes if we felt frivolous we would use a nickel, it would get just as flat.



Trains have always been part of my life in one way or another, and the romanticism of the tracks moving people to places, bringing goods on freight trains miles and miles across the plain, always leaves in awe.

So this summer I've been taking pictures to show the Glory Days of the railroad for a photo competition. People can enter up to five photos through July 15. I haven't picked my favorites and still have more shoots planned, but here is one that I'm entering. It reminds me of my own youth.

Copyright 2010 gayle hedrington. All rights reserved.
Gayle Hedrington photo




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