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Monday Train blogging: Adventure

by DoDo Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 05:47:35 AM EST

(My first post as a frontpager!)

What’s this here!? The engine broke down?

In a 1934 publicity stunt, men pull the "Pioneer Zephyr" on the rails, to 'demonstrate' the lightweight construction of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific's streamlined luxury diesel multiple unit1

Last week, the theme was state-of-the-art modern rail travel: fast, comfortable, frequent - and uneventful. But sometimes, more often off the mainlines, things don't go according to plan and schedule. So as a contrast: what adventures, strange experiences, funny anecdotes on trains can you tell of?

(Below the fold: a story of mine.)

I often went hiking in the Börzsöny Mountains, north of Budapest. Being the ruins of a one-time volcano, they rise from the surroundings like a single block. Along their eastern foot, there is a decrepit branch-line, which off-season and off-the-peak-hours is served by a single railcar, going up and down the line.

One day 12 years ago, as we were on our way back, already out of the woods and on the open terrain, the wind suddenly got strong. Looking back, we saw a thunderstorm with hailstones descending the mountain! With no cover in sight, we ran for the train station, and caught the train early – in the other direction.

Now we were safe in the railbus, but not unaffected. Half an hour later the train suddenly stopped: as the driver informed us, a wind-torn tree fell across the tracks, also cutting the telegraph lines! What now?

We had to be our own emergency unit: a dozen men – half the passengers – left the train, we tore off the larger branches, then pulled the trunk to the side.

  1. Copyright notice: You can buy a full-size poster version here.

BTW, sorry for being AWOL lately, but was extremely busy in the last few days, and that probably won't improve until the 15th this month.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 05:48:22 AM EST
DoDo - Better late than never! Great to this becoming a series...though haven't had too many train adventures yet...except as a kid in Los Angeles, we used to go to this place called "train town", where there were all these old trains that kids could climb over, which was a thrill!!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 06:24:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, Travel Town, or whatever it was really called.  I remember that too, and had a blast there!

Despite being an Angeleno, I've actually taken the train a good bit.  My mom and I used to ride the Amtrack Coast Starliner up to visit her parents in Washington state, back in the 80's when it was cheaper to do this than to fly.  Once the AC broke somewhere around Oregon, making it a rather unpleasant trip, and sometimes they ran out of food, but aside from that I can't really say there were any adventures with Amtrack.

Now that I'm in Japan, the lines are robotically efficient.  The town I live in is connected by two semi-local commuter lines with rock-solid schedules and performance.  I once got on the train going the wrong direction late at night, but was able to ride it back the other way.  Not much in the way of misadventures here, either.  As long as you can figure out the routes and stations, I don't know if it's possible to have a misadventure on a Japanese train.

by Zwackus on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 06:50:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thats right...Travel Town! Our elementary school classes even used to go there on field trips, not far from where Dodger Stadium is now.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 03:29:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Any other fans of Trains and Classic Trains here?

Eats cheroots and leaves.
by NeutralObserver on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 09:36:49 AM EST
Do you by any chance have the Spring 2002 issue of the latter, Classic Trains Magazine?

If so, could you please at least summarize the contents of an article in that issue for me? I saw it referenced elsewhere with zero details. It is about Milwaukee F7 Hiawathas, titled "How fast could they go?", and is possibly inserted into another article titled "The victimized Hudson - why did the running gear of Milwaukee Road 102 fly apart?".

(I'll probably won't log on at ET for days again, but then I will look for it here.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 03:09:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I remember my first train ride at age six, but somehow I have trains wired in my brains with every 1930s-40s Black & White movie. It's the romance and expectation that get to me.

My only real experience is travelling from Budapest to Sofia in July 1990. My Hungarian friends had told me that the food situation in Bulgaria wasn't that great. (This turned out to be somewhat true, and even truer during the winter of 90-91.) Anyway, we decided that I would "smuggle" out sugar, coffee, and chocolate out of Hungary. (At that time, I was told that it was not permitted to take them out of the country.)

So I get to the Hungarian-Yugoslav border and, of course, I'm rather nervous. Then I see that the Yugoslav border guards are going through luggage and even throwing suitcases out of the windows and making some people get off the train. (I was told by a Bulgarian grandmother travelling in my compartment that that they were East Germans and/or Russians.) So by the time the guards get to me, I'm really nervous...compounded by the fact that I was told that I needed to get a visa at the border.

The border guard took one look at my passport, smiled, stamped the visa in my passport, and then proceeded to give the grandmother just a little trouble. He didn't even open up my suitcase. The coffee and other stuff made it into Bulgaria safely.  

by gradinski chai on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 01:49:42 PM EST

This is the Ginza street, Tokyo, ca 1892. The bridge is Nihon-bashi. Horses pulled the streetcar then.

My adventure: I wrote this before, but once I took Eurostar to London to take a 9 pm flight home from Heathrow (the plane from Paris was full). It shouldn't have been a problem, but the train was late by a few hours.

By the time I arrived at Victoria, it was a little after 8 pm. Then there is the immigration. The official asked, "How long do you want to stay in UK, sir?" I said, "Look, sir, I don't want to stay here. Let me go home!" He was nice enough to let me go immediately. But, when I tried to buy a tube ticket, the clerk laughed at the pound notes I had, "Mate, you can't use thse notes anymore!" I had to go back and changed money. I arrived at Paddington at 8:25.

On the Heathrow Express, I double checked that the train would go to the Terminal where my plane was supposed to be. The instant the train arrived at Heathrow, I dashed, ran like hell to the Terminal. Something was strange, however. There was not JAL counter. I asked the Swiss counter staff where my airline counter was. Suddenly, everybody looked up at me and said, "You must go to Terminal 3, sir." I realized I was at Terminal 2. "How could...," I meant to say "this happen to me!?!" But realizng Swiss staff were still watching, I said, "...I get to Terminal 3?" "Get back to where you came from." "Very well, thank you." I left, as calmly and confidently as I could.  Of course I missed the plane.

I will become a patissier, God willing.

by tuasfait on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 02:00:59 PM EST
Dodo!  You look so good here on the front page -- your name in lights!  How exciting and many congratulations!!

And I love trains, too.  My first experience was a trip I took from Los Angeles to Scotland by train and ship when I was 6.  As mentioned above, it was cheaper than flying then, although not for long.  The travel time, though, was something else -- each way was four days across the US and 7 - 8 across the Atlantic, and another partial day from England to Scotland.

I really like traveling by train and used to love the British ones.  On my last trip in 2001, I was sad to see how they'd changed.  At first, on hearing the words "platform alteration" I was annoyed but thought it was just one of those things.  But it happened so often it started seeming almost Monty Python-esque.  

It became quite funny (or maybe we were just hysterical at that point) and we joked about the possibility of ending up in Swansea (do all British trains end up in Swansea, or does it just sound that way?).  We did get on a wrong train once, but ended up in Manchester somehow.  It's not all that difficult to do when you're running around from one platform to another.  I'd do it again, though, but with less luggage if I get another chance!

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 03:23:57 PM EST
I quickly insert two more stories, which happened with relatives.

My grandfather was medically unfit for soldierdom when WWII broke out. Of course, that means those who stay behind get all the nice girls, and so he met and married my grandmother. But, as the war on the Eastern Front proved no Blitzkrieg, the draft was extended to almost every man of working age, and my grandfather pulled in too.

But, he never fired a shot.

He spent almost all of his years in the military being shuffled from barracks to barracks, only to have his unit scattered the first time it was ordered into battle. (He threw away his uniform and made it home, where tragic news awaited him, but that's another story.) His letter exchanges with his wife detailed his time - his time under constant Allied bombing.

How experienced they became with bombing is shown by the following story.

A joint passenger - Hungarian military - German military train was pulling out of Losonc (today Lučenec/Slovakia) when some fighter jets arrived, and began to strafe the train with machine gun fire. When it passed for the second time, the sergeant of my grandfathers' wagon ordered the doors to be pulled wide open, half of the men hiding, the other half outside: to lie in the grass pretending to be dead.

Their car was the only one with zero casualties.

The bombed-out-barracks veterans knew fighter jet pilots don't waste ammo.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 03:24:49 PM EST
A relative of mine had an evil stepmother, right out of a folk tale.

In the days during and after the Soviets crushed the 1956  Revolution, tens of thousands fled the country by train.

The evil stepmother gave some money to her two young stepsons, and told them to board a train too.

One of the brothers had another idea at the station, and went to my grandparents. The other boarded an express to Yugoslavia. He sat down in a compartment besides an old railway worker.

At the border, the border soldiers came to control everyone. There was the problem: they made clear no child was allowed to travel alone, my relative didn't just have no home but would have been arrested. In desperation, he told the controllers the old railway man was his father.

The old man played along without wincing.

He didn't say anything until the train arrived, then gave some money or food or papers to him (I don't remember this part of the story).

My relative, who ended up with foster parents in Western Europe, never learnt who his savior was.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 03:35:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've zigzagged Europe with an Interrail ticket six times, so I've spent a lot of time on trains. I love being able to see the scenery change. Probably the longest trip I've taken without stopping for a night would be from Stockholm to Rome, or perhaps from Warsaw to London.. I've met lots of interesting people on trains and have never gotten into real trouble, even on night trains and even when travelling alone (I'm female and about five feet tall so I guess I'd be an easy target if someone wanted to do something, thankfully, that has not happened).

The only time I've almost been robbed was on a night train from Paris to Amsterdam. I woke up and saw someone going through my luggage. I started yelling in bad French "Qu'est-ce que vous faites!!! Arretez!!" and the guy bolted out of the door. Later I saw him being taken away by some security personnel in Brussels.

One of my funniest trips was supposed to be a short journey from Rome to Florence. It was the last train of the evening. The train was only 10 minutes late leaving. It was full, so we had to stand. When we reached Arrezzo, the train stopped at the station and then just did not leave. We could not find out what was going on. We asked around, and finally a Japanese guy heard from a French girl that a Spanish guy had heard from someone that the engine was broken, and repairs would take a while. We ended up spending five hours in Arrezzo, sitting on the floor and smoking, talking to people in mixed English/French/Italian. It was actually fun.

The best views I've seen from a train were on journeys from Munich to Florence via Innsbruck and from Basel to Nice via Milan. The most boring journey to me nowadays is from Stockholm to Copenhagen, since I've travelled that route so many times as it is the most usual route from Finland to mainland Europe - first the ferry to Stockholm and then the same old train to Cph...

I'm hoping that someday I can catch the Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Beijing. That'll take a week. The train travels through Russia and Mongolia before entering China, and you can stop on the way. I'd also love to travel on the Trans-Canadian railway.

You have a normal feeling for a moment, then it passes. --More--

by tzt (tzt) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 03:27:49 PM EST
The Trans-Siberian is a dream of mine too.  In college I studied Russian as a language, and in more recent years I have studied Mandarin.  While my skills are barely sufficient to order a beer, it would still be fun.

I thought that I read that to do it properly, the trans-Siberian takes more than a week.  Ideally you would get off at various points and see some of the cities along the way.  Sitting on a train for a week solid could get a little old.

You have your choice of whether you end up in Beijing or in Harbin.  I have been to Beijing already, but a lot has changed since I was last there.


by ericy on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 09:30:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll have to think about this a bit...but the conversations got me to thinking about great movie scenes on trains. "Strangers on a Train" by Hitchcock. "North by Northwest", by...hmm... Hitchcock. Sherlock Holmes (played by Basil Rathbone) had some exciting scenes on a train once or twice too.
What else...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 03:35:33 PM EST
I used to take the train to Paris, Gare de L'Est. As the train used to leave early in the morning the great luxury of the trip was the petite déjeuner in the dining car. Somehow, it just tasted better when being able to watch the country-side passe by or meet interesting people.

The longest train trip was from Basel to Copenhagen - but amazingly it did not stick as strongly in my memory as the Paris trips.

School excursions also used to be by train. I can't remember all of them.

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 03:45:55 PM EST
that I almost never take the train these days.

When we holiday with the family, we take the car; wit h3 kids and the luggage, it's more conveninet (and definitely cheaper - gasoline is so cheap in Europe).

When I go to London, I take the plane, because it's still faster for me (Air France has a special business flight where you can register only 10 minutes before the plane leaves, and it flies to City Airport, which is very convenient to go to the City, as I usually do)

I got sick of trains after my year in the military. I took trains so much that they now evoke memories of being dead tired, and I end up not even being able to read or anything. (my military service was in the middle of the Black Forest, it was 150 km from Strasbourg, but it took 3h30 with 2 changes to do the trip, plus a 20 minute bus ride at the end...)

I feel okay about it. 5 people + luggage in a compact MPV is not so horribly wasteful; we never use the car during the week as I take the metro and my wife works from home (well, this year we used it to take our son to the hospital in the suburbs); as for my plane trips, I figure that a full plane with full price business travellers (at 500 euros a pop) pays fairly for its use of resources... maybe I am deluded.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 05:16:37 PM EST
Ah -- the way you describe being sick of trains is the way I feel about Greyhound Buses.  The mere sight of them inspires a sort of nauseous feeling that I can't seem to overcome.  I don't even like short, sightseeing tours on nice buses for this reason -- they give me Greyhound flashbacks.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 05:38:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I had some great bus trips as a kid.  My dad and I would go to visit my grandmother who lived about a day away by bus.  Since I was 8 or 10 years old at the time, my dad would drill me on math problems along the way and pretty soon, people from all over the bus would call out math problems for me to solve.  Once we got to grandmother's farm, I got to feed her cows and string barbed wire and do lots of stuff I could never do at home.
by corncam on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 08:30:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The bus AND math?  Add a spider and you're describing my worst nightmares!  ;-)

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 09:35:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I like trains, and have gone on most of the remaining mainline routes in the U.S.

But my best recent experience was on the Pike's Peak Cog Railway. This is a tourist operation only, because the only destination is the top of Pikes Peak. (In the summer they do have an intermediate stop to drop off hikers.) It runs from "when the snow allows in the spring" until "when the snow doesn't allow in the fall, or until January first, whichever comes first."

Last year there wasn't much snow, and I rode it on New Year's day. The rotary snowplow went first to skim off the two or three feet of drifted snow, which was pretty exciting, and then when we got to the top we only stayed for about 10 minutes because the wind was blowing so hard they were afraid the train would derail.


by asdf on Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 10:03:05 PM EST
Well, trains - I love them.
I went to school in the neighbour town and had to sprint to the train station each morning to catch the train. One day - after school - I was playing with the suitcase trolleys on the platform, pushing about 10 of them at the time (that counted as fun). Well, one fell onto the tracks. ups. My parents got a letter, stating, that I was a persona non-grata on the trainstation. That did not stop me, however, I was back the next day. I had to go to school somehow...

The other reason why I like trains is because you can meet people, if you don't like them, just ignore them, but I went out with two, and married a third. - So trains are good places. Really!

by PeWi on Tue Oct 4th, 2005 at 06:51:06 AM EST

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