Late August at the Train Tracks

“Summer was now in the full glow and luxuriance of its richness”

Charles Dickens

Considering the amount of time we spent playing at the train tracks near the 4th Line, it’s a miracle that none of us was ever hurt.  Sometimes we’d take giant steps on the railway ties, spaced a little too close for a normal stride, all the while surrounding ourselves with that distinct scent of linseed oil used to preserve them. I preferred to walk on the shiny steel rails and test my balance, although the laws of gravity often won that battle, and I’d fall, stumbling onto the coarse gravel below. Although our parents never told us not to play on the tracks, I imagine they were counting on the fact that we’d have enough common sense to head for the ditch if we saw the green signal light come on, or heard the whistle off in the distance. None of us had any intention of playing chicken with a train.

Train Tracks – Perkins’ Side Road, Tay Valley Township

My brother, Roger, and I, visited the train tracks often, and in a summer ritual that went on for years, we’d each place a penny on the rails, and then sit back under a tree near the tracks, and wait for the train. Two country kids, with no particular plans for the day, and no knowledge of the train schedule, content to sit and wait, for as long as it took, to get our prize, of two flattened pennies. We had no idea at the time that we were learning an important skill that would come in handy later in life, called patience.

Arlene Stafford-Wilson and Roger Stafford, giving a bath to Mike, the family pet, at the Stafford house

The gentle slope under the tree near the tracks, where we sat and waited for the train

It’s sad to say, but kids today couldn’t duplicate this little pastime of ours even if they wanted to. There aren’t many pennies to be found these days, and even fewer kids without a mobile phone which they’d likely use to check the train schedules, removing altogether the element of surprise. After sitting under that tree for what often seemed like hours we were so excited to finally see a train come barreling down the tracks. Once the train had passed by, we’d climb down from our perch, and scramble around to find our pennies sometimes scattered in the gravel, or in the grass nearby, and never on the rails where we’d left them.

I always thought late August was the prettiest time to sit by the tracks, surrounded by the Black-Eyed-Susans, the willowy hay, and the milkweeds. There was something magical about the soft sweet scents of late summer, when the leaves overhead were their greenest, the vibrant wildflowers were at their peak, and the boisterous heatbugs buzzed and sang their songs of the season. The sun streamed down like a warm hug from above, beckoning us to play another game, wander farther down the dusty side road, and dream another dream, on those blissful childhood summer days.

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

2 comments on “Late August at the Train Tracks

  1. Jan E Barrett says:

    Lovely essay. I can almost smell the flowers and hear the train whistle!

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