Bob Howell

I got stopped by a freight train rumbling through Auburn the other day and it got me to thinking about how trains had played a role in my life. Now that Paula and I are in our retirement years, taking a few train trips has definitely moved higher up our bucket list,

The first encounter I had with a passenger train was told to me by my mother. It happened shortly after I was born. She used to ride the train between Geneva where we lived and Opp (the city of opportunity, if you will.) During the post World War II years, my mother and dad had only one car ... and felt lucky to have it. So, occasionally during the week, my mother would bundle me up and buy a ticket or two and take off to spend the day with her mother. 

My interest in trains kind of waned during my earliest years when passenger service ended to small towns in south Alabama. But it picked up again when my friends and I were old enough to visit the Geneva train depot. We were approaching our teen-aged years when I first took an impromptu visit to the engine of a freight train. It had pulled into the depot to unload several cars filled with some undisclosed freight. 

It was during one of these visits that I made a great discovery. The engineer for the train asked if I'd like to take a look around and see how the train was powered. 

It was during that visit that he told me and a buddy that the big diesel engines did not turn the wheels. Rather, they turned the big electric  generators which sent power to run the motors. Who would have thought it. 

But, hey ... I thought it was a big deal to blow the horn on the train as it approached railroad crossings in town.

My next train encounter happened in my early college years. I was the halftime announcer for the Dothan High School marching band. On one band trip, it was decided that the band would travel to Montgomery ... by train. Needless to say, the kids were all excited about this novel way of making the trip to our state capital.

I learned something about train travel that trip. I discovered that you saw the backside of houses, barns, sheds, etc. Things that we never displayed in the front yards of homes were there for the whole train and its passengers to take in. It was quite different ... to say the least.

The train pulled into Union Station in Montgomery about an hour before kickoff at Cramton Bowl. Several Montgomery city buses were waiting for the band and their instruments to be unloaded from the train. The bus drivers drove the kids out Madison Avenue to "the bowl" as many of the locals called it. It was intimidating to play in a 25,000 seat stadium ... although the bowl had seen its better days ... long ago.

I took quite a break from the world of trains until I was traveling in England on assignment when I was working for WSFA-TV News. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed several days of getting around London and vicinity via train. Especially driving passed a nuclear power plant northwest of the British capital.

The I got back into the world of trains on a scaled down version when I was working on a documentary for the Rocky Brook Rocket, which I hope folks in Auburn/Opelika are familiar with. 

My good buddy Rex Roach was hired to create a documentary about the history of the "Rocket." He was kind enough to let me to narrate the documentary, which allowed me to learn a lot about the train, its history and the people who've worked so hard to keep up the train.

I sincerely hope you will join me in putting a train trip on your bucket list and get a different perspective on travel. And if you come into a sizable inheritance you can consider a once-in-a-lifetime trip on the Orient Express. There's no telling who you'll meet on that getaway!

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