Train Lovers, Welcome Aboard

3 Snapshots from Memory

  • Aunt Ruthie Longenecker takes us to Philadelphia, my first recollection of a train trip. I feel the rocking motion of the Pennsylvania Rail Road train car we occupy, the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails, and the prize of the big city zoo at the end of the trip: lions and tigers and elephants, oh my!
  • When I pick raspberries with Grandma Longenecker, I hear the train’s clatter-clack over segments of track speeding from Lancaster to Harrisburg. With our round aluminum kettles laden with berries and handles that cut into the palms of our hands, we stand just 50 yards from the track, feeling the vibration of the passing train through our shoes, gazing in awe.
  • Years later, the young Beaman family bridges the gap between Florida and Pennsylvania via Amtrak’s Silver Meteor. The miles disappear behind us effortlessly. Parents and children eat, read, stretch our legs as some passengers wonder “Who’s that little kid running in the aisle?”

Train Trips Engage the Senses:

  1. Rocking motion as the train speeds along
  2. Sound of the wheels on the rails
  3. Smells of warm exhaust, food in the dining car,
  4. Surprising views as train wends its way through towns, countryside
  5. Spontaneous, easy conversation sometimes with strangers

Alexander McCall Smith, known for his light mysteries that kindly expose the foibles of his characters, describes the mystique of train travel in his recent novel Trains and Lovers (2012):

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“I’m thinking that’s a fishing boat.”

It was. He saw it from the train, but not for more than a minute or two, as the line followed that bit of coastline only for a short time before it suddenly swerved off, as railway lines will do. The view of the North Sea was lost, and trees closed in; there was the blue of the sea one moment and then the blurred green of foliage rapidly passing the window; there was slanting morning sun, like an intermittent signal flashed through the tree.”

Train Poetry

Of course, nostalgic verse has been written about train travel, Sara Teasdale hearing and seeing from In the Train the “restless rumble,” the “drowsy people” and the “steel blue twilight in the world (1915).

Edna St. Vincent Millay reflects on viewing the distant steam locomotive in Travel (1921)

The railroad track is miles away,

And the day is loud with voices speaking,

Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day

But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn’t a train goes by,

Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,

But I see its cinders red on the sky,

And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make,

And better friends I’ll not be knowing;

Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,

    No matter where it’s going.

You can hear the rocking rhythm of the train in W. H. Auden’s lines from Night Mail – This is the night mail crossing the Border / Bringing the cheque and the postal order.

The Destination

Arriving in Pennsylvania from Philadephia more than ten years ago, grand-niece Heidi runs to meet Aunt Ruthie at the tiny Amtrak terminal in Elizabethtown – exchanging cold, wet weather for a warm, welcoming hug.

Aunt Ruthie meeting Heidi_2002-_300

Your experience with train travel . . . tell us about it.

A response to the anecdotes or poetry here? All replies welcome.

Coming next:

Moments of Discovery #2 – Daddy’s 1912 Report Card & Mother’s 1989 Dodge Spirit


Laundry at the Longeneckers

     We have to try it again. Here’s another shirt,” Jane said as she plucked one of Dad’s blue work shirts out of a plastic bag full of shirts—clean, sprinkled and rolled—all ready to iron. “Start with the yoke,” she directed.

I grabbed the damp shirt out of her hand and flopped it onto the ironing board. “I know where to start,” I huffed. I knew to start with the yoke, then iron the collar, then the left sleeve and cuff, front and back, then the right sleeve and cuff, front and back, then the right front, taking particular care around the buttons . . . and with the button hole placket where it was so easy to iron in wrinkles.

So begins Carol Bodensteiner’s chapter “Laundry Lessons” in her memoir Growing Up Country, a chapter that describes to a tee the washing, drying, folding, sprinkling, and ironing of laundry, chores that were also observed in the Longenecker family.

Mother’s work week was regulated by the pendulum of ritual. Certain tasks were done on certain days in her 1950s household. If it was Monday, she washed clothes, on Tuesday she ironed them, and so on through the week to Friday, the big cleaning day.

Her wringer washer and a rinse tub was pulled out to the middle of the “washhouse,” a room next to the kitchen every Monday. Sometimes I helped by feeding clothes from the rinse tub into the washer wringer, a tricky task for a child. At least once I got my arm caught in the wringer. Of course, my screams and yells summoned Mother to fly out of the kitchen, bang on the release apparatus to make the two rollers fly apart. After the fright and the pain subsided, I was amazed my arm wasn’t as flat as a paper doll’s.

When I was tall enough to reach the clothes line, I hung up wash clothes, towels, shirts, and dresses, instructed to “hide” underwear in one of the inner lines so neighbors wouldn’t see. To this day, if there is a sunny day with a breeze in Florida, I hang sheets out to dry.

Sheets on Line

On Tuesdays, Mom pulled the ironing board out of the wall, set up the iron and away I went, attacking first the easy stuff like hankies. I nourished my sense of order and accomplishment letting the point of the heavy, hot iron smooth out all the wrinkles in the garments that followed: school blouses and skirts, finally graduating to Daddy’s white, starched Sunday shirts.


Same ironing board with vintage iron
Same ironing board with vintage iron

We never ironed sheets though one Mennonite woman we knew, Pearl Longenecker, sat down (probably on Tuesdays too) in front of her ironer, a white appliance shaped like a miniature piano, with a hot roller that smoothed each crease in her sheets and pillow cases, pressing them into lovely squares and rectangles to fit her closet space.

Grandma Longenecker’s ritual matched our own though it took place on her back porch. Like Colonial American women before her, she made her own soap cooking together grease and lye in a big metal tub, stirring the whole mess as it boiled. Though the smell was pungent and slightly disagreeable, Grandma smiled as she cut the congealed mixture into squares and rectangles, knowing the grease and grime would be erased from her laundry on wash day. If there were spots that wouldn’t come out with lye soap, she spread the stained garment, usually white, on the grass because she was sure “the sun will draw it out.” And it usually did!


Share your laundry rituals, past or present. Something historical–or hysterical!