Back in July my neighbor, Mary Jane, turned 99. Her friends and neighbors pondered about what to give her. Last year we bought her an air conditioner, the year before a new TV, the year before that a digital antenna. She lives simply in a country cottage on dozens of acres with just the basics – electricity, TV, her cats, and some pet raccoons – and at this date she still lives without running water. Typically we buy her something that will make her life easier. The air conditioner was a tough one to get her to accept, but during this years drought she has fessed up to appreciating it more that she had imagined she would.
This year we decided to send Mary Jane on an adventure. We pooled our funds and decided to buy her an all-day train trip. Mary Jane’s father was a telegrapher at the local train depot at the turn of the 20th century and her stories of childhood are filled with tales of train rides and the adventures that comes with them.
Twice a year the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad makes an all-day run from Seligman, Missouri to Van Buren, Arkansas. You meet at dawn in Seligman, which is nothing more that a few business and civic buildings.
Our conductor met us at the edge of the woods.
This is the Dining Car – there are a few options but we decided to go first class! This car dates from the 1940s. There are Coach and Club cars that are about 100 years old. If you want to have a more authentic train man’s experience the Caboose is available too – it’s a restored B&O caboose with no heat or air conditioning included.
We settled in and the Conductor and his crew gave us hot coffee and danish. Mary Jane had a cup of coffee before as we pulled out of Seligman.
I first met Sondra at Mary Jane’s 90th birthday, she does historical drama – she studies a woman from history and creates a script to convey history in a very believable way. That night she was dressed as Mary Jane’s aunt Meg – I remember she never broke character and I got a better sense of Meg hearing the stories in the first person.
We had barely started down the tracks when Mary Jane rotated her chair away from us – her plan was to watch every bit of the trip facing forward – up on the East side, back on the West.
We picked up the caboose at Springdale Arkansas. The neat thing about this excursion is that they hitch and unhitched cars. You get to see first hand the process and shuffling it takes to run the line. The dining car started on the back of the train. Before it was over we would be on the front. Here the family who has booked the caboose waits with anticipation to move into their new digs.
The conductor turned off the parlor lights as we approached the Winslow Tunnel – the kids in the car squealed as the tunnel lights wizzed by in the windows.
Next the conductor let us know that he would be able to take a few of us out onto the platform as we crossed the tressels. I jumped at the chance, knowing that this is a view Mary Jane could not get from inside the car.
I got out on the platform and leaned over the side to shoot ahead – I grabbed a bit of color and prepared for the tressel coming up.
Here’s a shot of the tressel and the hollow below.
The caboose has a cupola on top….
I moved to the other side of the platform as I felt the train curving to the left.
As I stepped back into the dining car I stopped to capture one if those lovely details…
After a gorgeous trip through the Boston Mountains we arrived in Van Buren, Arkansas. We had lunch, pie, and wandered through a street fair. I set out to shoot a few of the railroad’s details as we relaxed and waited for the train to return to take us home.
While I continued shooting Barbara and Mary Jane looked at my photos on my iPad.
I thought this fella was pretty charming. Even at his age he was playing “engineer” for the day.
If I was being honest I’d have to confess to carrying a pocket watch and wearing Union Pacific earrings. I almost put on my striped overalls that morning – good for him, he had the nerve to go there:)
We heard the train whistle in the distance…
Our trained had departed after dropping us off at the station and returned to Springdale to for another run while we enjoyed the afternoon in Van Buren. The trained pulled into the station, dropped off the passengers, dropped the caboose, transferred it to the opposite side, and shifted the engine back to the front.
The light had begun to change…
Mary Jane found a seat…
On the trip home some passengers in our car had a birthday celebration for a family member complete with cake. The children insisted on singing to Mary Jane too…
She called me first thing this morning to reminisce about her favorite parts of the day. The weather, the cake, beans and cornbread for lunch, friends, photos, the whole day. She said it was just perfect.