Friday, January 12, 2007

Drivin That Train....

This is a dup. of my CB site:

Tuesday, I got to drive a train – a big one with over 100 freight cars attached. There were stations to pull out of and crossings to blow the horn at and changing grades that required braking and changes in throttle position. It was fun. The only problem was that the world kept jumping forward and back and then broke completely. Yep, it was just a simulation, but one that had a full set of controls, just the same as in the cab of one of those big diesel/electric locomotives that you see pulling the real freight trains around.

I had a chance to do this because an old friend works for the railroad training new recruits on how to be conductors. Others at the same location train the engineers, which is how I wound up in the drivers seat. It was fun to give it a try, but deceptively difficult to judge the behavior of a train that is dynamically affected by dips and valleys, the pull of the engine and the tug of the brakes. There was no “butt accelerometer” to tell you if you were going fast around a corner, or beginning to slowdown after applying the brakes. It did give one pause to consider the possibilities when trying to brake a train with hundreds of thousands of tons of inertial weight behind you as you approach a stopping point.

In the training classrooms there was plenty of evidence of what can happen if the wrong decision is made – giant steel wheels with large portions missing after being ground off by the rail in an emergency stopping maneuver, blown valves from the air brake system, pictures of science experiments gone wrong involving large masses and inertia. Maybe in another life (or in a previous one) I could find myself playing with trains again. I certainly have a fondness for them.

In this life, I was a sailor. Over a ten-year period between the late sixties and late seventies, I was a merchant marine on the Great Lakes. For the most part, I sailed on steamships that employed ancient triple-expansion steam engines using coal for fuel. This is the same principle that powered the steam locomotives that my grandfather fed coal to as he traveled between St. Paul and the Northwest coast back in the teens and twenties. I remember him telling me as a boy how they made their breakfast while on the road. They would stick one of the coal shovels into the firebox and heat it up red-hot. Then they would pull it out and lay it on the floor of the locomotive cab and crack some eggs right on the shovel blade. It had been purified by fire after all and made a handy griddle and plate all in one. When you were done, just go back to shoveling coal with it and don’t worry about cleaning up. Quite an elegant system if you ask me.

And, seeing how he died in his sleep, in bed at the age of 93 or so, it couldn’t have been very harmful to him. Simpler days back then I guess. Things don’t seem so simple now and to tell you the truth, I am struggling a bit. Not too unusual to feel this way I suppose, given what has transpired over the last year, but hard none the less.

Being a single parent is harder than I would have thought. I am facing two teen birthdays over the next month and I am already encountering my lack of preparedness as the “boy’s” BD looms large. I don’t have a party planned, a gift bought, a dinner menu set. Man, how I miss her.

Missing her is hard too. Being single is hard. And dangerous. Too easy to fall into holes of one kind or another.

I am thinking of my own health too. There is so much unknown right now that I have to work very hard at maintaining an even keel. I hope this doesn’t come across as whining. It is not written as such. This is more me trying to spill something out and leaving a marker of how I felt on this particular day. Sometimes it is helpful to look back after a while and see that changes have been made, or conditions changed. There are some times when I don’t know if progress has been made until I see how things were a month before.

Well, this is as far as I go today. The train has stopped at the station. There will be a brief layover.


Blogger lime said...

what an interesting post....i loved the backstory tied in with the new experience with trains and the glimpse it gave.

and no, nothing came across as whining....just a thinking man asking himself some very honest questions as he continues to feed coal into the furnace so he and his family can keep moving forward.

peace, my friend

12:24 PM, January 12, 2007  
Blogger John Cowart said...

Hi Phaedrous,

I check your blog site just about everyday for updates to see how things are going with you. Your train adventure sounds thrilling and that egg cooking technique sounds cool.

All that you're going through sounds super-tough but you sound like a winner.


6:54 AM, January 14, 2007  

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