By Roger, age 10
Riding a train can be a lot of fun for a small girl or boy. I live on St. Maarten. We only have model trains, but we have a life size tram disguised as a train.
The children at Player Development got a ride on the tram train. It is red with lots of shiny metal parts. I liked the clang of the bell and the toot of the horn, but I think I would love to ride on a real train. I have talked to some adults about riding the Long Island Rail Road passenger commuter trains. They tell me a train ride is not much fun. It is just a ride to or from work.
So this is the story of John Baker. He is retired now and lives in California, but he remembers as a small boy riding a luxury train with his granddad in 1950. Later on, from 1958 to 1962, when he had to travel to and from college, he once again rode on trains. But by then, railroads had to compete with fancy automobiles, interstate highways and the cost of fuel. So the railroads started cutting back on the luxuries like fancy cars with stained glass and chandeliers for lighting.
Passenger cars were lightweight, and many had bench seating, so they were not very comfortable. In fact, one car called the P54 was so light it was called the Ping Pong car by commuters, because they said as they got off, they were bounced around like a ping pong ball.
Now, long out of college, John Baker remembers riding trains. He told me a story that made me laugh. You see, when he was in college, commercial planes were available to take people longer distances much faster than a train. Mr. Baker told me his parents were old and did not trust airplanes. What did he do? He finished college and joined the U.S. Navy, but not to sail the seas – he wanted to fly planes! Mr. Baker became Pilot John.
And here is the joke: There used to be a television ad that said, “Take the train to the plane and save having to park your car.” Well, Pilot John took the plane to the boat. Yes! He landed his military plane on a moving aircraft carrier. They use large metal cables to hook the plane as it comes in to land. That is called trapping. They use a catapult to shoot the planes into the air. That is called launching.
So if you want to see how fancy old trains used to look, you can go online and do a search and you can see real Ping Pong Coach Car. Or you can go to the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum and tour the many exhibits – and, yes, they have a working engine on the property, and track three is open. You can get a short ride to a turntable that will turn the train around and send you back to where you came. I can’t wait to try it.