Arkansas & Missouri Railroad Adventure

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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.

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They don’t have a depot there anymore so you board at the end of a path through the woods…

Our conductor met us at the edge of the woods.

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There was no hiding his excitement about the Hogs’ chances later in the day!

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.

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Roomy and nicely appointed.

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.

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Our party consisted of myself, Mary Jane, Barbara, and Sondra – both of whom are long time friends. They have known Mary Jane for years.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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As I stepped towards the door I spotted the car brake – these details were really everywhere in 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.

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You can see the drop off in this shot.

Here’s a shot of the tressel and the hollow below.

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Those are treetops below us!

Another angle…

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Looking through the rails below us.

The caboose has a cupola on top….

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Makes a great platform for photography opportunities.

I moved to the other side of the platform as I felt the train curving to the left.

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Again I hung out over the side of the platform to get a shot of the entire train.

As I stepped back into the dining car I stopped to capture one if those lovely details…

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The brass hardware on the outside of the car.

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.

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Crossing

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Van Buren reflected in the crossing light.

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Station signal

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Loose nail (as tempting as this one was, I did not pick it up. No nails from this RR in my collection – I swear)

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The switch

While I continued shooting Barbara and Mary Jane looked at my photos on my iPad.

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Mary Jane is actually pretty adroit at working the iPad. She found a few she liked.

I thought this fella was pretty charming. Even at his age he was playing “engineer” for the day.

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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…

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Mary Jane was ready to roll!

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.

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Here we get a view of the engine operating as a switch engine.

The light had begun to change…

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Here’s a view of the dining car ceiling fans in the afternoon light.

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Barbara settled back in for the return trip.

Mary Jane found a seat…

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She explained how the switching process worked…

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And turned her gaze forward to take in all the sites on the voyage home.

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…

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The conductor joined in…

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The whole car sang along…

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And Mary Jane ate cake.

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.

21 thoughts on “Arkansas & Missouri Railroad Adventure

  1. I too was brought to tears by the intense beauty and mastery of this post….pure art, I could just go on and on. This is so well-done, fabulous work….I am in love….Well done!!!!

  2. This is such a beautiful post it made me teary eyed. I want to live in your neighborhood and buy Mary Jane a cool gift, I love stuff like that! What incredible and sensitive photos you took, Mary Jane is so beautiful as is the group that participated, a very loving and wonderful thing you did. I am supposed to be assembling two tables and a TV stand, but instead I am having more fun drinking wine and reading your blog. Thanks, it was fun!

    • A glass of wine sound good – especially if you are assembling furniture:) Thanks so much for the kind words – MJ is a treasure – getting everyone together was a little like herding cats – but totally worth it.

    • Thanks, it was such a great day. The first thing Mary Jane said when we told her we were getting her a ticket was that she wanted as many of us as possible to go with her.

      • I’m in love with that 50 (but I do wish it had a zoom). I wonder if there is an affordable zoom lens with that sharp focus? Wish I knew more about lenses, but I’ve never been a technology geek.

        (Let’s see what that 50 can do up in the dark, shady fern forest I hope to visit at the end of this week).

        • A fast zoom is really the holy grail – they are out there but they are not cheap. I think shooting primes makes you compose each shot – you have to work within the static rectangle, It;s more physical because you are the zoom:)

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