Author’s note: This is the last of a four-part story of my family’s summer vacation. We made it out alive.
The steam-converted-to-diesel train engine was bigger than my house. Its wheels stood a good six inches over my 5’10” head and the photograph I took of my son in front of the engine made me wonder where he was in the picture.
“When it first ran, the wheels turned so fast it pulled the rails out of the ground,” our tour guide at the Railswest Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa, said.
I don’t doubt it. Although the engine looked harmless now, when that barn-sized mass of metal moved, I’m sure it shook the earth like Tom Jones did Vegas.
Council Bluffs, sitting just across the Missouri River from Omaha, Neb., is a pivotal piece of U.S. railway history. It was the eastern terminus of the transcontinental railroad … oh, who am I kidding? The kids didn’t care.
The Boy, four, ran through the yard and, after a head-nod from our guide, stormed up steps and into the cab of a steam engine.
The Boy loves trains. If given the choice between pulling his sister out of the path of stampeding Clydesdales and watching an engine shunt freight cars, he’d pick the rail yard.
The Girl, two, loves trains only because it annoys the hell out of her brother.
“Do you know what this is?” our tour guide asked, pointing at a car behind the engine.
“The tender,” the Boy, and of course it was. For readers whose child isn’t obsessively fixated on trains, the tender held water for the boiler and coal for the firebox of steam engines. I didn’t know that until the Boy learned to speak.
Our tour guide was really exceptional. She was patient, businesslike and probably knew quite a bit about trains. I’m just assuming that, of course, because we couldn’t hear a word she said.
“No, my do it,” the Girl screamed in a pitch that may have only been audible to dolphins.
“Mine,” the Boy bellowed, wrestling her over controls of an engine that no longer ran.
And so on.
Back when this engine thundered over the railroad tracks that stretched across this country, there was a way to deal with people like this – toss them off the train, preferably as you were crossing a trestle. It was a more civilized era.
Next came the dining car where …
“I went poopy, Daddy,” the Girl said to her mother. Our two-year-old can tell us apart – she breastfed after all – but sometimes calls me Mommy. She just wants to keep us guessing.
Please enjoy this brief interlude while my wife changes the Girl’s diaper in our minivan. The Boy sure did.
The guide then took us through a mail car and caboose, but after dropping something old and maybe irreplaceable out an open window, my wife hauled the Girl off like a mail sack, if mail sacks screeched.
We past a lot of busy freight trains during our two-hour drive home, although no one saw them but me. I was the only one still awake – I was driving.
Copyright 2009 by Jason Offutt
You can order Jason’s books on the paranormal, “Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us,” and “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” at amazon.com.