The Texas Zephyr by bill When I was growing up in north central Texas I walked to school every day. The most vivid memories I have of that time were those memories associated with junior high school and waiting on a passenger train to load and unload its passengers. Now the school I attended was about three and a half miles from my house and it took about an hour to walk if I just struck out and walked, which I couldn’t do that because I had to cross a railroad tracks. From my section of town there were two streets that crossed the tracks on the way up town and on across town to my school. One of those streets crossed the tracts far to the north of where I lived and that route added an extra half hour of walking time. The other route was Seventh Street, a major traffic artery to the east side of town where I lived and most mornings Seventh Street was blocked by a passenger train. I would wait on that train ten, fifteen, even twenty minutes each morning. Some boys in a hurry to cross would crawl under the train. One morning as I stood by the tracts waiting for the train to load its passengers and move on, an ambulance came up on the blocked crossing. It sat there several minutes with its lights flashing and its siren wailing but the train did not move. Finally the driver turned around and went off to find another passage across the tracts. Another time, a boy about my own age became impatient and started to crawl under the train just as it lurched forward, moving. I held my breath and turned away because I had done this several times and I knew how hard it was to crawl under the train in a hurry. The boy didn’t make it. The train ran over his leg, severing it just below the knee. After that I was afraid to try again. On my way to school most days the train blocking my path was a long silver train with a silver engine and a black streak that ran its entire length. It was the longest passenger train to come through our town. It was said to be one of the fastest trains on the tracts. I would stand there beside those tracts, my lunch box in hand, looking at the people seated behind those windows staring back at me. Sometimes one of them would wave and I would wave back and I wondered to what far off destinations they were going. I could see myself seated behind those windows, in the club car, having my breakfast, impatient that the train did not get under way again, taking me to some distant place. The newest trains had names and this sleek, shining train was the Texas Zephyr. One morning standing there looking in, I saw a porter in his neatly pressed uniform and his distinctive cap lean over and light the cigarettes of a gentleman and his lady. How I longed to ride that train. Some years later, en-route to Ft. Lewis, Washington I rode the Texas Zephyr. The trip took almost four days and it was a royal experience. Out northwest of Denver the train struggled as we climbed ever higher, seeking out a pass that would let us cross over those majestic mountains. In Wyoming west of Laramie the train was halted by deep snow. We sat there one evening and all night waiting for a repair train to come from the west to clear the tracts. We got off the train and threw snowballs at each other and some of us walked back down the tracks several hundred yards and were amazed how steep the grade was. Off in the valley below we could see a herd of elk and a stream that ran through the valley and from where we stood the stream was no bigger than a string and there were a dozen shades of green among the grasses and the shrubbery and the trees and I marveled at such beauty and God’s grand creation. I did not sleep that night, instead I played gin with some colonel‘s wife. We would play gin for an hour or so then get up and stretch our legs then play some more. Occasionally, the porter would come by to refresh our drinks and to light my cigar. All night there was a party-like atmosphere on the train with much drinking and singing and merry-making. The passengers got to know each other. At one point that night I got off the train again and walked forward to the engine. The engineer invited me up and he showed me around his domain there in the engine compartment and we talked a while. He told me about his job, how long it took to stop the train when he had a full head of steam and how boring it was to constantly keep his eyes on the track ahead of him. I asked him if he had ever seen anything on the tracks blocking his way. He said he’d seen trees pushed over on the tracks by rock slides and an occasional boulder on the tracts, and once a stalled vehicle. That had caused an accident; he had hit the stalled car but no one was hurt because its occupants had crawled out of the car when they saw him coming. He said he was gone from home days at a time and he didn’t like that. He gave me a different perspective on trains and railroading. Later that morning as we passed through a small town in Utah, I saw a small boy, lunchbox in hand, standing by the tracts peering in at us. I waved to him and he waved back. I could imagine what he might be thinking. I rode the Texas Zephyr several times and it was always a grand experience, yet no other ride on the Zephyr was quite as memorable as that first journey. But that long silver streak with all its comfort and all its speed had somehow lost its mystique. My earlier memories faded and it became just another mode of transportation. Still, when I heard the railroad was retiring the Zephyr I was glad I had experienced those rides for I knew there would never be another.