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The Unfinished Railroad, Manassas National Battlefield, Manassas, Virginia

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You are here.  You are at Manassas National Battlefield.  It was the site of the first major battle of the American Civil War and the only place during the war where two major battles took place.  (Although the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina and the first skirmish happened in nearby Fairfax, Manassas was the site of the first major battle.)  It was here where Confederate General Thomas Jackson led a defensive stand.  As a soldier watched Jackson, he quoted, “There he stands like a stone wall.”  Hence the name General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.

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You take a walk on the battlefield.  You walk by cannons.  You walk on the ridges where soldiers stood in battle.  You see the peaceful landscape, a peaceful landscape that was not peaceful during the two wars.  You view the different monuments.  Then you notice something.  You see what looks like a railroad bed.  Did a railroad run through here?  Were trains rolling train here at the time of the battles?  You see an interpretive sign that says, ‘The Unfinished Railroad’.  What was the Unfinished Railroad?

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Some of you are saying, “Well, it was a railroad that was not finished.”

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So, that is what you think it is.  Well, what if you were wrong?  What if you got the wrong answer?  Well, you are not wrong.  You answered correctly.  It is simply a railroad that was not finished.  The next question is what happened?  Why was this railroad unfinished?

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This unfinished railroad was to be the Manassas Gap Railroad.  When the Manassas Gap Railroad began, it went west of Manassas Junction from its connection with the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.  (Manassas Junction is now Manassas.)  The Orange and Alexandria Railroad had connections to the port of Alexandria, Virginia.  For the Manassas Gap Railroad to access the Alexandria ports, they needed to use the Orange and Alexandria rail line.  This required the Manassas Gap Railroad was required to pay the Orange and Alexandria Railroad for use of the line, and they were losing money.  The way to remedy the problem was to build their own rail line to Alexandria.  Construction began in 1850, but work was stopped in 1858 when the Manassas Gap Railroad ran out of money.  The way it looked when construction ended is almost exactly what you will see when you walk along the old railroad bed today, but with a few trees grown on the railroad bed.

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Some of you are saying, “Well.  I guess this railroad served no purpose at all.”

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Well, it did.  It was a contributor in the Second Battle of Manassas.  At one of the raised sections, there was a rock fight, a fight were the soldiers used rocks instead of cannons and guns, between the Confederate Army and the Union Army using rocks from the railroad bed.  There was another section of the railroad bed where Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson where able to fend off a heavy attack from the Union Army.

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Today, the old railroad bed is left in its original state as a reminder of what possibly could have been but never happened.  The old Manassas Gap Line and Orange and Alexandria Line are now under the ownership of the Norfolk Southern Railroad.  The trains no longer go to the ports of Alexandria but now connect to a line now owned by CSX.  Although the railroad was never finished, it is finished in time of history.

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The Manassas National Battlefield is owned and operated by the National Park Service.  The Visitor Center is at 6511 Sudley Road (Virginia Route 234) one mile north of Interstate 66 and a half mile south of U.S. Route 29.  The battlefield is open from dusk to dawn, but the Visitor Center is open from 8:30am to 5:00pm.  Please note that the trails to the Unfinished Railroad are not wheelchair accessible with uneven paths.

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Dreamsville U.S.A.

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Daniel Wallach had enlisted in the United States Army.  He boarded a train Terra Haute, Indiana and was on his way to New York City where he was going to board a ship to Europe to fight the Germans.  As he was sitting in his seat, he was looking out the window at the passing scenery.  The train passed through town through another town and through another town, but then the train made a special stop.

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“Dreamsville U.S.A.  Time to deboard the train,” a man said on the loudspeaker.  “Lunch is being served.”

Daniel was very puzzled.  “What’s going on?”

“We are being served lunch,” said the Sargent.  “You need to go grab a sandwich.”

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He got off the train.  Soldiers were lined up to get a sandwich from a cart where ladies from the town were handing out to each man.  Daniel stood in line.  When he finally reached the cart, the lady said, “We have peanut butter and jelly, bologna, ham, turkey.”

“How much?” Daniel asked.

“It is already paid for,” said the lady.

“By whom?” Daniel asked.

“By you,” the lady smiled.  “By you serving our great nation and fighting to defend our great land from its enemies.”

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“Well,” said Daniel, “peanut butter and jelly is my favorite.”

The lady handed him a sandwich.  “Here you are.  Enjoy.”

He took a bite.

“Wow.  This is the best peanut butter and Jelly sandwich I ever had.”

“I made it myself,” said the lady.

“Well,” he smiled.  “You are a peanut butter and jelly sandwich master.”

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“All aboard!” the conductor shouted.

“I hope we meet again,” he tipped his hat to the lady.

“I hope so too,” she smiled.

Daniel boarded the train, and the train departed the station.

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Sadly, he never saw Dreamsville again as he was killed in action.

As for Dreamsville U.S.A., the ladies served many servicemen on their way to war only to never see them return.  It was their way of repaying those who gave themselves for a nation we know as the United States of America.  Memorial Day is a day set aside to remember these men (and women) who lost their lives for this nation.

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Some of you are saying, “This is such a nice story.  Too bad Dreamsville U.S.A. is one of those fictional towns that you will never be able to visit.”

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Well, you can visit Dreamsville U.S.A.  Dreamsville U.S.A. is the town of Dennison, Ohio located halfway between Columbus, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Although the trains no longer stop here, they still pass through, and you can still visit the depot which is now a museum.  You may not be able to get a free sandwich, but there is a small restaurant where you can buy one for yourself.  It is located in the heart of the town in its original location, the same location where a group of amazing ladies came out to serve great sandwiches to those who served in the United States Armed Forces to include those who never passed through Dreamsville U.S.A. again.  (You can read more about the depot and its history at https://dennisondepot.org/.)

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On this Memorial Day, let us remember those who died in battle fighting for this nation to include those who passed through Dreamsville U.S.A. with some never returning.

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The  photos  in  this  articles  are  from  the  Dennison  Depot  in  Dennison,  Ohio.  It  was  here  where  this  story  took  place.  It  is  no  longer  a  active  depot  but  has  been  preserved  as  a  museum.  It  also  has  a  small  cafe.

What Does ‘CSX’ Stand For?

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There you are in your easy chair sitting at your favorite train watching spot watching those trains go by.  You see ‘NS’ trains which stand for the Norfolk Southern Railroad.  You see ‘UP’ trains which stand for the Union Pacific Railroad.  You see ‘BNSF’ trains which stand for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.  Then you see ‘CSX’ trains.  You wonder what ‘CSX’ stands for.  The ‘C’ and ‘S’ could stand for common words, but what word could the ‘X’ stand for?

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This is a good observation.  Is there an answer?  Yes, there is.

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The CSX Railroad is a merger of many railroads to include the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the first commercial railroad in the United States of America of which many of the oldest rail lines in the nation are still in service today.  The ‘C’ stands for the Chessie System, a railroad that ran from West Virginia to Maine to Illinois.  The ‘S’ stands for the Seaboard Coast Line, a railroad that main ran from Virginia south to Florida mainly along the Atlantic seaboard.  Then there is the ‘X’.  What does the ‘X’ stand for?  The answer is that the ‘X’ does not stand for any word.  It stands as a symbol of the two railroads coming together to form one railroad company.

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Today, CSX operate trains in much of the eastern half of the nation and parts of eastern Canada on the oldest rail lines in North America.  You can read about the history from the very beginning in 1827 of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to the present day to include mergers with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway at https://www.csx.com/index.cfm/about-us/history-evolution/, and it is definitely worth your time.

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So, the next time you are watching trains at your favorite train watching spot and see a CSX train arriving, remember that CSX stands for many great historic railroads under three letters.

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The  first  photo  is  a  train  is  at  Point  of  Rocks,  Maryland

The  second  photo  is  a  locomotive  at  the  old  train  station  in  Brunswick,  Maryland

The third  photo  is  a  coal  train  at  Shenandoah  Junction,  West  Virginia

The  fourth  photo  is  a  locomotive  on  display  at  the  Lake  Shore  Railway  Museum  in  North  East,  Pennsylvania

The  fifth  photo  is  at  the  old  train  station  in  Harper’s  Ferry,  West  Virginia

The  sixth  photo  is  a  train  crossing  the  Potomac  River  between  Harper’s  Ferry,  West  Virginia  and  Knoxville,  Maryland

Here Comes the Steam Locomotive

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Number 3 Hocking Valley Railroad Nelsonville Ohio

You can see it coming from miles away.  You are waiting.  You see the smoke going high into the sky.  It is coming closer and closer and closer.  You hear the whistle blow, and it blows again and again and again.  Then, it is here.  You see the steam locomotive speeding towards you.  In a flash, it passes you.  The steam blows all over you.  The train rolls by, and then you see the caboose.  The steam is all above you.  The effects are staying with you, but it is a great feeling to have.

B&O 5300 George Washington Baltimore Maryland

C&O 2732 Science Museum of Virginia Richmond Virginia

There is some about the steam locomotive that catches everyone’s attention.  Unlike the diesel locomotives of today, there is a uniqueness to the steam locomotive.  Even those who are not fans of the railroad are fascinated by the steam locomotive.  Every steam locomotive has a special uniqueness to them.  From the smokestack to the boiler to the wheel alignment to engineer’s cab to the tender, the steam locomotive has a special place in many hearts.

Duluth Massbe & Iron Range Number 604 Greenville Pennsylvania

Empire State Express Number 999 Museum of S&I Chicago Illinois

The steam locomotives are magnificent.  The steam locomotives are amazing.  The steam locomotives are a sight to see.  Steam locomotives… are high costly maintenance.

N&W 611 Carpenters Overlook Gap Pennsylvania

New York Central Railroad Number 3001 Elkhart Indiana

The steam locomotive could pull cars for only a hundred miles.  Why?  Because many of the steam locomotives were powered by coal, the silt from the coal filled the boilers.  Every hundred miles, the steam locomotive had to be taken out of service to a roundhouse or shop to be cleaned.  The process took at least a day or more as each tube in the boiler had to be individually cleaned.  One hundred miles was a great distance for the nineteenth century and for the first half of the twentieth century, but it is just a short drive today.  The diesel locomotives can go much farther before maintenance is required which is why the steam locomotive was replaced.  With trains able to go farther without stopping, that meant fewer stops, and products got to their destinations much quicker.

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Norfolk and Western 1218 Roanoke Virginia

For now, the steam locomotive is mainly seen of excursion trains.  Yes, you can still see the steam.  The newly built steam locomotives now use water instead of coal requiring less maintenance.  Regardless, you just cannot wait to see that steam puffing out those clouds of smoke.  There is nothing like seeing a steam locomotive rolling down the line.

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The Greenbrier Presidential Express Clifton Forge Virginia

 

The  first  photo  is  of  the  Number  17  William  Simpson  York  locomotive  of  the  Northern  Central  Railway  in  New  Freedom,  Pennsylvania

The  second  locomotive  is  the  Number  3  of  the  Hocking  Valley  Scenic  Railway  in  Nelsonville,  Ohio

The  third  locomotive  is  the  Number  5300  President  Washington  of  the  Baltimore  and  Ohio  Railroad  on  display  at  the  Baltimore  and  Ohio  Railroad  Museum  in  Baltimore,  Maryland

The  fourth  locomotive  is  Number  2732  of  the  Chesapeake  and  Ohio  Railway  on  display  at  the  Science  Museum  of  Virginia  in  Richmond,  Virginia

The  fifth  locomotive  is  Number  604  of  the  Duluth,  Massabe  and  Iron  Range  Railroad  on  display  at  the  Greenville  Railroad  Park  in  Greenville,  Pennsylvania

The  sixth  locomotive  is  Number  999  The  Empire  State  Express  of  the  New  York  Central  System  on  display  at  the  Chicago  Museum  of  Science  and  Industry  in  Chicago,  Illinois

The  seventh  locomotive  is  Number  611  of  the  Norfolk  and  Western  Railway  at  a  photo  shoot  on  the  Strasburg  Railroad  in  Gap,  Pennsylvania

The  eighth  locomotive  is  Number  3001  of  the  New  York  Central  System  on  display  at  the  New  York  Central  Railroad  Museum  in  Elkhart,  Indiana

The  ninth  locomotive  is  Number  475  at  the  Strasburg  Railroad  in  Ronks,  Pennsylvania

The  tenth  locomotive  is  Number  1218  of  the  Norfolk  and  Western  Railway  on  display  at  the  Virginia  Museum  of  Transportation  in  Roanoke,  Virginia

The  eleventh  locomotive  is  Number  385  on  display  at  the  Whippany  Railway  Museum  in  Whippany,  New  Jersey

The  last  locomotive  is  Number  614  The  Greenbrier  Presidential  Express  of  the  Chesapeake  and  Ohio  Railway  on  display  at  the  Chesapeake  and  Ohio  Railway  Museum  in  Clifton  Forge,  Virginia

VINTAGE: The Gettysburg Railroad

I  wrote  this  many  years  ago.  Sadly,  the  train  is  no  longer  running.  I  hope  that  you  enjoy  it.

 

Welcome to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  It is here where many major roads meet.  If you ask most people what they know about Gettysburg, they will tell you that the Civil War happened here.  It is true that a major battle of the Civil War happened here.  In matter of fact, the battle was the turning point of the war.  The battlefield surrounds the town.  However, there is more to this town than people know.

The town is a major crossroads for many traveling routes.  This is one of the reasons why this became the place where one of the greatest conflicts of the Civil War happened.

Even today it is a crossroads, but not for war.  It is a major tourist attraction.  I could spend a long time telling you about this town.  Instead, I am just telling you about one of the best kept secrets of Gettysburg: the Gettysburg Railroad.

Just a few blocks from the center of the town is the train station.  It is about thirty-five minutes before the train is scheduled to depart, and the train pulls into the station.  It comes to a stop, and people are there waiting to climb aboard.  There is a locomotive on each end of the train.  This  allows the engineer to simply go from one end of the train to another without having to detach the  locomotive, operate it through a series of switchbacks, and then reattach it a the other end to make  the return trip to the station.  This is where people take an opportunity to take pictures of the train next to the locomotive.  The time comes when people are now able to climb aboard the train.  Moments later, you hear those famous words, “All Aboard!”

Currently, those who have yet to board the train are now hustling to get aboard before they miss the train.  Once everyone is aboard who is coming on aboard, the engineer toots the whistle, and the train starts to pull away from the station.  The trip on the Gettysburg Railroad has begun.

As the train rolls along, the conductor tells everyone about the very sites as the train passes by.  He just happens to be a man who has lived his entire life in the town.  He begins by talking about his various encounters through his years.  From time to time he tries to tell a joke.  He talks about the various points along the battlefield.  He mentions a place called Herrs Ridge before he talks about His Ridge.  As the train goes along, people are enjoying the scenery and not his attempts of humor.

As the train departs from the station, the first place the train passes through is the rail yard.  There are box cars, hoppers, tank cars, and other rail cars kept here.  You may wonder why these types of cars are stored in a yard on a passenger line.  The reason is because the railroad is not just a passenger line.  It is also a freight line that serves farms and an apple factory.  When the passenger train is not running, the freight trains take over.

A railroad enthusiast would be focused on the various rail cars and locomotives in the rail yard.  Other sightseers would be looking out at the athletic fields of Gettysburg College which are situated next to the train yard.  You can get a good view of one of the games, but you would only be able to see a few minutes as the fields begin go out of sight.  At this point, you get a good overview of the college before passing on to the next sight.

The train enters the first day portion of the battlefield.  You look outside and see the various monuments.  The one that you notice right away is the one of the Pennsylvania Regiment, which is a statue of a soldier holding his gun.  On the left side, you see a ridge where the Union Army fired down on the Confederates only to be overtaken and forced back.  Unfortunately for the Civil War enthusiast, this is the only portion of the battlefield that can be seen from the train.  You will have to get into your car to see the rest of the battlefield for yourself, and, if you have not seen it, it is worth seeing.

The train continues to pass by houses and farms.  People sit out in their front yards and in the field and wave as the train passes by.  The conductor talks about the various crops that are planted.  He even points out some oversized marshmallows that are piled up in a field near the tracks.  The oversized marshmallows are bales of hay covered with white plastic.  Unfortunately for the conductor, nobody gets a laugh out of that one.

The train continues down the line.  It passes by open fields, forests, and then crosses over a creek.  This is the only bridge crossing on the trip.

The train arrives at the town of Biglerville.  The town is known for being the Apple Capital of the United States.  The Motts Apple Factory, where apple sauce, apple juice, and other apple products are made, is right next to the rail line.  You see where the rail lines go into the factory to ship the products all over the United States.  You see the box cars and other cars there that are used to brings products in and out of the factory.  It is also at this very place where the train stops and heads back to Gettysburg.  The train has finally reached the end of the line.

The train arrives at the station, and it is time for everyone to get off the train.  At the time, the ride is over, but there is still another little excursion.  This one will take you inside the one locomotive.  This is a train lover’s dream.  You just happen to be standing near the locomotive, and the engineer invites you to climb aboard.  You get into the cab, and you get an engineer’s view of the railroad.  You look out over the tracks in front of you and imagine that you are heading down the line.  It is then time to get out of the locomotive, but you do not exit the same way you went in.  The engineer takes you through the engine room.  You see one of the huge diesel engines that pulls the passenger cars along.  You then make your way off the train, and you stand there looking at the train before you.  About a minute later, the train starts to pull away.  The train is heading back to the yard to prepare for its next trip.  At this time, you can say that your day on the Gettysburg Railroad has come to an end.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is a town that is rich in history, being the turning point of the Civil War, a major crossroads, the site of Abraham Lincoln’s famous address, and the Eternal Flame, The Gettysburg Railroad is another part of the town’s history.  You will want to make it a part of your history as well.

A Ride in Her Caboose

Old Caboose Sophia West Virginia

It was a day.  There was nothing particular about the day.  It had twenty four hours that began and ended at midnight.  Each hour had sixty minutes in it with each minute having sixty seconds.  There was day and night with morning, afternoon and evening.  It was within a week, a month and a year.  It was just a day.

I was in a park.  It was a park that was like any other park.  It had trees and walking paths and benches and a fountain.  I was sitting on a bench reading a book.  It was peaceful and quiet.  Then there was a toot.  I thought I was hearing things as there were no train tracks anywhere near the park, but I looked in front of me and saw tracks rising up out of the grass.  I glance and see a steam locomotive made of shiny solid gold approaching.  It began to slow down as it came closer until it arrived.  I watched the locomotive pass by, and it was pulling a solid gold caboose, and a very lovely lady wearing a white shirt and black jeans was sitting on the back steps.

“All aboard,” she winked.

Mesmerized by her beauty, I went aboard.  I went inside, and I was amazed.  She rubbed her bare feet on the plush carpet.  The seats were red velvet.  The bed had shiny blue sheets.  The table was set as if it was inside of a parlor car.  The walls were wood panel.

“Come on up,” she said as she was climbing up to the cupola.

I climbed up, and I sat on a leather sofa chair.  She was sitting across from me, and her chair began to recline.

“I bet you never seen this on a caboose,” she said as she was fully stretched out.

“This is nice,” as I reclined myself.

We rode through the countryside, and we entered into a tunnel.  The lights went dim, and a disco ball came out with the spinning lights.  When we exited the tunnel, the lights were bright again.  I looked outside, and glanced out at the snow covered forest.  The trees were covered in heavy snow.  The train began to slow down.

“We are coming to our stop.”  She gave me a wink.  “Time to get off.”

She climbed down from the copula, and I climbed down behind her.  She opened the door.  “I have something to show you.”

Before I could say something, she stepped outside.  No coat and no shoes?  She obviously did not have a problem.  I stepped outside feeling the frigid air on my skin.  She was already a few steps away walking in the deep snow.

“Follow me,” she said as she trudged through the deep snow up to her knees.

I went after her, and I caught up to her as we came upon a fountain, but it was not your typical fountain.  It was a wine fountain.

“Dip in.”  She handed me a wine glass.

I took the glass and took a dip, and then a sip.  It was very refreshing.

“I am glad you like it.”  She smiled as she was sipping her glass.

Snow began to fall.  She started to dance around kicking the snow around.  It was a glorious site to see her smiling looking up into the sky.

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We arrived back at the park.  I stepped off the caboose onto the ground.

“That was fun,” I told her.

“We can do it again.”  She blew a kiss at me.

“Sure,” I winked at her.

She waved at me as the train started to pull away.  As it was departing, the tracks sank into the ground.  This was a very special day.

 

The caboose is from the town of Sophia, West Virginia.

I Miss That Caboose

B&O Caboose Ohio Village Columbus Ohio

There you are in the car.  You come upon the railroad crossing.  The lights come on, and the gates go down.  You here the horn.  The locomotives come, and then many train cars roll by.  Then, there it is.  You see the caboose.  The train is now gone.

C&O 90219 Caboose Clifton Forge Virginia

For over a hundred years the caboose was at the end of the train signaling that the train had gone by.  While the locomotives pulled the train, the caboose was at the end.  Because the trains were long, the engineers in the locomotives could not see the end of the trains.  Men in the caboose were there just in case something went wrong they could radio the engineer and vice versa.  With new technologies, the caboose became obsolete, and they were removed from the end of the train.

C&O Caboose Rainelle West Virginia

What happened to the cabooses?  Some were sent to museums.  Some were sent to parks where they are displayed in the parks or by old train stations or by rail trails.  Some became hotels.  Some were sent to the scrap yard.  Some were just left to rust.

Delaware and Hudson Caboose 35886 Whippany New Jersey

Let us remember the old caboose.  Let us remember the railroad days of old.  May the old caboose never be forgotten.

Red Caboose Red Caboose Park Wyomissing Pennsylvania

 

The first caboose is Number C-2824 from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad on display at the Ohio Village in Columbus, Ohio.

The second caboose is Number 90219 of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway on display at the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Heritage Center in Clifton Forge, Virginia.

The third caboose is Number 903503 of the Chessie System on display in the town of Rainelle, West Virginia.

The fourth caboose is Number 35886 of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad on display at the Whippany Railway Museum in Whippany, New Jersey.

The last caboose is on display in Caboose Park in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania.

The Phantom One

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It was the middle of the afternoon when I boarded a train in Salt Lake City, Utah that was bound for Las Vegas, Nevada.  I had been on many train trips, but I had no idea that this trip was going to be so much different than any trip that I had been on before.

I was the only person sitting in my car which I thought was going to make it a very quiet trip.  I always enjoyed looking out at the scenery as I went by regardless of whether it was an urban place or a rural place.  I continued to look outside until night came when all I could see was pitch blackness.  At that time, there was nothing to see but the inside of the train.  I slowly began to get sleepy.  My eyes were getting heavy.  It was about this time when I felt the train make a very abrupt stop.  A train would normally not stop that quickly.

I began to figure that something was wrong.  I looked outside, but I saw nothing but pitch blackness.  Although I did not see anything, something did not feel right.  I remained calm, but my mind was getting very boggled wondering about what could be happening.  I heard the door open towards the front of the car.  I peeked over the seats in front of me, and I saw something that was very out of the ordinary.  I saw a person standing in the doorway wearing a black cloak with his or her head covered.  The person walked towards me and came to my seat.  The person looked at me, and I saw that the face was covered with a black mask.  I could not tell whether it was a woman or a man.  This person spoke to me in a very disguised voice and asked, “Sir, can I sit with you?”

The voice terrified me.  I had a huge gulp in my throat.  Here was a person of whose identity I had no idea of, but I wanted to show kindness.  I replied saying, “Sure.  Have a seat.”

The person sat down in the seat across from me.  I reached out my hand to the person and said, “My name is John.”

The person reached a hand to me and saw that he or she was wearing gloves. We shook hands, and the person replied to me saying, “I am very happy to be sitting with you, John.”

I asked the person, “What is your name?”

The person replied, “I must ask you to not ask that particular question to me.”

I began to feel very uncomfortable around this person, but I was able to stay calm.  I asked the person, “Is there a reason that you wear the hood, the cloak?  Why are you completely covered?”

“Sir,” said the person in the same very disguised voice, “That is a question that I cannot answer.  Let us just sit and have conversation as we enjoy the ride.”

“Alright,” I replied trembling.  “What is it that you would like to talk about?”

“That I do not know,” said the person.

I was feeling very uneasy, but I did not want to show this person any unkindness whatsoever.  I was able to ask the person, “Since you cannot tell me who you are or what your name is, can I just refer to you as the Phantom One?”

The person was extremely stunned by the question.  The person looked at me and said, “That is very amazing.  Nobody has ever asked me that before.  Most people see me, and they either go away, or they push me away.  There are those who would have me thrown off this train.  You, on the other hand, have chosen to give me a name.  Because of your excellent kindness unto me, I will gladly accept that name for myself.”

“I just wanted to know who I was talking to,” I said to the Phantom One.  “I have talked to many people on my journeys, but I do not recall talking to anyone who completely covers his or herself for a reason that they will not tell me about.”

“Who I am, what I am, and what I do will never be known to you nor to anyone else,” the Phantom One said.  “Who I am, what I am, why I am dressed this way, and the facts about me will always and forever be a mystery not just to you but to everyone who comes before and after you.  This is something that you and all others must understand.”

I remained silent in my seat.  The Phantom One continued on saying, “You have shown more kindness unto me than any other person that I have encountered.  I will always remember that about you.  As for now, I am approaching my stop.  I will be getting off this train.  I do not know if we will see each other again, but if we do, so it be.  I say farewell to you.”

The Phantom One stood up and waved at me, and I waved at him.  The Phantom One then walked towards the front of the car to the door where he opened the door and walked right through it.  I felt a huge weight lift off me.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I then grew very tired, and, seconds later, I was fast asleep.

It was morning.  I woke up just as the train was pulling into the station in Las Vegas.  I looked out of the window and saw a very beautiful woman wearing a black cowboy hat, white shirt with a black vest, and black jeans standing barefoot next to a black Corvette convertible.  I made my way to exit the train.  As I stepped onto the platform, she was standing there next to me.  She asked me, “Sir, do you need a lift?”

I was very confused.  I asked her, “Do I know you?”

“Do not ask questions,” said the woman.  “Just get in the car.”

At this very point, I saw my story about the Phantom One starting over again.

 

 

The  story  was  originally  written  for  a  writing  course  I  had  taken  years  ago  with  the  Long  Ridge  Writing  School  in  Connecticut.  With  all  of  the  current  downtime  with  no  trains  running  or  museums  open,  I  thought  that  it  would  be  a  great  story  to  share  with  you.  Enjoy!!!

The  locomotive  in  the  photo  is  from  the  New  York  Central  Railroad  Museum  in  Elkhart,  Indiana.

Having Fun on the Rails

ec52d18d87c5617496bd1f1039cb2b3bWe know what some of you are thinking.  You see those railroad tracks before you.  You first thought is, “Can I balance myself on those rails.”

3e3c7c3592dc1ba2ff609f87c689911aYou think, and you think, and you think.  You put your best foot forward… on top of the rail.  Then you lift your other in the air.  You walk the rail like you walk a balance beam.  You make progress, but you fall off.  You just get back up and continue.  You go a little way.  You turn around and walk back.  You step off feeling good about yourself.

e72219d18276f9c3e6eca27ece7bf67eSo, you are not a balancer.  You just want to stretch yourself to see if you can tough both rails.  Some stretch their legs.  Some put their feet on one rail and their hands on the other.  Some of you try to lay your head on the rail and lift your feet in the air.

c268bd7a7eeb6cde36bedde5c4b5e2c4Then there are those who just want to have fun.  You just do a pose in the middle of the tracks.  You do a ballet pose, or you just stand there.

8178f1e6498d4ca9694c4f1fc6566576Whatever you do, you just like having fun on the rails.

34166dc4e616ec138dc01463330c6b22As you are enjoying your time on the rails, be mindful of a few things.  First, most rail lines to include major rail route have laws against trespassing on the rails or on the land on the sides of the rails.  If you see a sign that says no trespassing, stay off the rails.  Punishment can include imprisonment.  Second, some rail lines that are privately owned may allow you to have fun on their rails.  (Please note that some may have the restrictions as the major lines.)  That does not mean that you can let your guard down.  If the line is active (meaning trains still use the line), you must always be on the lookout for trains.  Any active line is dangerous regardless of how much usage it has.  (There is an old saying, ‘Always Expect a Train’, and that saying remains true to this day.)

10cd60e349225a5bc309dc692b9e0be1You best spot is an abandoned line.  You do not have to worry about any trains.  How do you know if it is an abandoned line?  You can look for tracks that are out of place.  If you see a section of the stones or dirt washed out from underneath, it is abandoned.  If you see the railroad crossing paved over with blacktop or dirt, it is abandoned.  If you see the trestle is in disrepair, it is abandoned, but be mindful of the trestle as it could collapse.  If you are not sure, the best thing is to avoid the tracks for your safety.

9f8c09efa575cc1cf085f185f946c0a7Although it is great to have fun on the rails, it is far more important to be safe.  Oh, you do not want to be hanging from a moving train over a huge drop.

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PLEASE NOTE that the photos in this article are from Pinterest who own the copyrights to all of them.

The Lady of the Jersey City

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I saw such a horrible sight.  My father, my mother, my two sisters and myself were in a long line.  For what?  We saw the most destructive thing.  We saw… the train.  What is the train?  The train is the thing that takes you to where we will be tortured to death.  Why were we being tortured to death?  My father told me that it was because the men did not like us.  Why do they not like us?  My father did not explain it to me.  I was only four years old.  My two sisters were older than me.  We did not understand what was happening.  The bad men took our mother and father away from us.  They were shoved into one box car while my sisters and I were shoved into another.  We were afraid that we would never see our mother and father again.  The doors were shut, and we saw total darkness.

We felt the train come to a stop.  The doors were opened.  We were pulled out of the train and then thrown to the dirty ground.  They grabbed my sisters and pulled them away.  Will I ever see them again?  I was grabbed and yanked away and then thrown into a truck with other boys my age.  We were shaken as the truck was taking me into a place surrounded by rows and rows of barbed wire.  I was grabbed and thrown to the ground and then stomped on five times.  I was yanked up and dragged to a cell where I was thrown onto the muddy floor, and I heard the door slam.

“Oh, how I would shoot your brains and watch them splatter,” the man said through a small opening.

For day few days I heard sounds of whipping and beating and shooting.  I heard the loud screams of young boys being tortured and tortured and tortured until… the screams ceased.  One of the men joked, “I just wish we could just bomb this place and kill them all at once.”

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“We need them to feel the pain of death.”  Another man replied.

This went on for a few more days.  It was one morning.  The sounds of whipping and beating and shooting… became sounds… of ‘boom’.  There was another ‘boom’ and another.  There were many booms.  There was shooting, but the screaming… seemed to be coming from the men who were doing the torturing.

“Put your hands up.”

I heard, but it did not sound like the men who were torturing.  I heard the door unlock.  I looked back.

“You are now free,” he said.

We were all gathered in a place outside of the barbed wire.  I watched as the bodies of the dead were being covered.  Other men were destroying the barb wire.  I watched as the train arrived.

“Listen up.  Your captors have been destroyed.  You are no longer being tortured.  You are now free.”

It was another ride on the train.  This time, the doors were kept open, and we were not packed in but had a little room to move.  The train stopped, and we were escorted off.  I looked back and said the train.  I cursed it again and again and again and again.

I was walking around in a large tent.  Everyone was looking to be reunited with their loved ones, but I could not find my sisters or my father and mother.

“Boris!”

I looked around frantically.

“Over here!”

My heart was glad as I saw my sister, Greta, waving at me.  I ran to her but stopped.  I looked at her bandaged feet.

“What happened?”

“They burned my feet,” she replied.

She began to unwrap the bandage, and I saw the boils and burn marks on her feet.

“Where is Ursula?”

Greta wept and sulked.  I knew that she did not survive.

“They cut off her head,” she puffed out, “and they used it like a ball.”

A man walked over to them with a grim look on his face.

“I am sorry,” he said.  “At least you found your brother.  Sadly, that is all the good news I have.”

I sat next to my sister.  We snuggled and wept.

“If the Americans did not arrive in time,” the man added, “Greta would have been burn up.”

“Thank you,” I said to the man.

The man went away.

“We have no place to go,” I said hugging Greta.

“Maybe so.

I marveled at her words.

“I met another family,” she added.  “They told me that they are going to a place called the Jersey City.”

“The Jersey City?” I wondered.  “What is the Jersey City?”

“I have never heard of it either,” she added.  “They saw that a very wonderful lady lives there.”

“Wonderful lady?” I was getting confused.

“I have never heard of her,” Greta continued, “but she welcomes people to this land called the Land of Freedom.”

“Land of Freedom?” I was wondering.  “Does this land exist?”

“I do not know,” she replied, “but I think we should go and meet this lady.”

“How will we find her?” I asked.  “This Jersey City could be a big city.  We may never find her.”

“If things be true,” she said, “she will find us.  She has a torch with a fire that is very bright assuring everyone that the way to the Land of Freedom can be seen by everyone who desires to come.”

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It was a foggy night as we were on a ship being swung side to side by the waves.  We have been at sea for two weeks in a small cabin on the lower deck with only a small porthole to see outside.  I heard stories of seasickness that could be acquired by those who were on a long ship voyage, but Greta and myself were feeling fine.  Her feet still had a few burn marks and blisters, but she was able to walk on her own with little pain.

“Knock, knock!”

I stood up and answered the door.

“I hope you all are well,” the man smiled.  “Sorry to disturb you on this night, but we will be arriving at our destination in about an hour.  It will take time to deboard the ship.”

We had little luggage.  We departed the cabin and climbed to the main deck of the ship making our way to the front.  Ahead of us was foggy, but the lights became brighter.  The ship rocked up and down and up and down and up and down until… the rocking slowed, and we slowly swayed side to side.

“She is almost in sight,” the father of the family we were traveling with shouted from behind us.  “We are nearing the Land of Freedom.”

“Will she see us?” I was wondering.

Through the fog, I saw this light that was high in the air.  As the fog was clearing, I saw a flame that was shooting into the air, and I saw a torch with a hand surrounding its base.  I wondered who that person could be.

“There she is,” the father shouted.  “The Lady of the Jersey City.”

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The fog started clearing, and a beautiful lady holding a torch high to light the way to the Land of Freedom.  She looked at us and said, “Welcome to the Land of Freedom.  Those who seek your destruction are not welcome here, but I welcome you.  You are now free.”

The ship docked.  We were the first to step off.  Greta stopped.

“What is wrong?”  I was very confused.

She looked down at the ground.  She bent over and unlaced her shoes.  She removed her shoes and then the bandages.

“I wanted to touch the ground of the Land of Freedom with my own feet,” she said.  “I want the dirt of this land to cling to my soles.”

“It feels good.  Doesn’t it?”

I was surprised that the Lady of the Jersey City was standing next to us.  I was amazed by her beauty and her crown on her head.

“You are now free,” she welcomed us… again.

“We are here,” I was very concerned, “but where do we go?  We do not know anyone here.”

She reached back and showed us two tickets.

“The train is over there,” she said.  “It will take you where you need to go.”

I trembled with fear.  I glanced at Greta as she was shivering.

“Oh no,” the Lady of the Jersey City assured us.  “It is not that train.  You are free on this train.  Come, I will show you.”

She took us over to the train station.  It was big and beautiful unlike the train stations were saw back in our homeland.  She escorted us into the station.  The ceilings were so majestic.  We walked into the terminal.  We had never seen trains so shiny.  There were windows were large.  We had never seen windows on a train before.

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“Welcome Lady of the Jersey City,” the conductor said.  “Are you riding with us?”

“Not me,” she replied.  “These two children have come from the land of tyranny and destruction.  This is their first ride on a train in the Land of Freedom.  They have never been on a train that had windows, tables, seats or beds.  Can you give them some assistance?”

“Gladly,” said the conductor.

“Thank you,” said the Lady of the Jersey City.

“Thank you,” said the conductor.

“Thank you,” Greta said to the Lady of the Jersey City.  “I hope that we can meet again.”

“One day,” she replied.  “For now, get on the train, go and see the Land of Freedom.”

We waved farewell to this amazing lady that we had only met for a short time, but she had done so much for us.  We wondered if we would ever see her again.  The conductor took us aboard the train.  We paused remembering the train where we were shoved into a dark boxcar seeing nothing but pitch blackness unable to move as we were packed in.  This train was so much different.  The conductor took us to our seats, but we were amazed at the bright lights and shiny brass, and our seats were a red velvet.  We looked out our big window at the other trains that were waiting to depart.  We were terrified at first, but our fears slowly slipped away.  The train departed.  We looked back to see the Lady of the Jersey City standing on a podium holding up her torch.  We were going to miss her, but we were in a new land, and we were on a new and different kind of train.  We were not going to be tortured or separated or thrown into a small cell.  We were able to look out as the train went along.  This was a train in the Land of Freedom.  Unlike the trains in our homeland, we were able to see the land we were now a part of.

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Greta spent only two years in this Land of Freedom.  The burns and boils on her feet caused an infection in her body of which she was unable to recover.  I kept her ashes in a special urn hoping to someday return to the Lady of the Jersey City.  Being that we were the only members of the family to reach this land, I thought it would be proper for her ashes to remain here.  I myself was able to have a family of my own in this land.

It was not until many great years later that I was able to return to the Jersey City.  There were many ways to get there, but I wanted to go the same way I departed: by the train.  Through the years, I grew a love of the trains in the Land of Freedom despite having the horrid memories of the trains in my homeland.  My children were afraid to for me to travel alone, but by granddaughter, Zynga, came with me.  She had just turned twenty-one and had always wanted to see the Lady of the Jersey City.  She was a great bundle of joy, and she always enjoyed being with me.

As the train was rolling along, I looked outside the window at the snow covered ground.  Zynga was sitting across from me wearing her furry hat, heavy coat, gray jeans and her bare feet on my lap.  I grabbed each toe and say, “This little piggy going to the Jersey City.  This little piggy riding the train.  This little piggy having fun.  This little piggy enjoying the ride, and this little piggy going wee wee wee on the train… with grandpa.”

I loved to hear her giggle.  I only wished that my sisters and my parents could have seen her.

“Do you know why I like trains?” She smiled at me.

“Why?”

Looking out the window she said, “Because I like looking out the window to see the great things outside.  What would happen if the train did not have windows?”

I paused for a moment.  “The reason that some trains do not have windows is because there is no beauty to see outside.”

“That must have been horrible,” she sulked.

“Oh,” I said to her, “you cannot imagine the horror of being on a train without windows.”

“It looks like we are almost there.”  She peeked at her iPhone.  “I cannot wait to see the Lady of the Jersey City.”

“Attention passengers.  We will be arriving in Jersey City, New Jersey in five minutes.  Passengers deboarding should begin making their way to the exits.”

Excitement filled her smile.  She jumped up.

“Put your shoes on.  It’s freezing out there.”

As the train was slowing down, everything was unfamiliar.

“What’s wrong?”  Zynga asked as she was putting her sock on.

“This is not the Jersey City.”

I was very concerned as everything looked different.

“This is the Jersey City,” she said as she put her shoe on and started tying the laces.

“This is not the Jersey City.”

“It is.”

“No, it is not.”

I called out to the young conductor, and he came.

“Sir, we are on the wrong train.  We are going to the Jersey City.”

The train pulled into the terminal, but everything looked unfamiliar.

“This is Jersey City,” the conductor replied.

“But you are mistaken,” I said.  “This is not the Jersey City.”

“It is Jersey City.”

“It is not the Jersey City.”

“Grandpa, this is the Jersey City.”

My anger was starting to grow within me.

“I know the Jersey City.  This is not it.”  I shouted at them.

“Old man, do not…”

“I know where he wants to go.”  An older conductor appeared.  “I know what he is looking for.  I can arrange for a cab to take you there.”

Tapping the young conductors shoulder he said, “It has been a long time, but I know where he wants to go.”

We were in a cab passing by some grassland.  We turned on a street.  I was amazed at I saw her, the Lady of the Jersey City, standing high on her podium just as I saw her when I first came to this Land of Freedom, but it was a different land.  I saw a structure in ruins, but it looked familiar to me.

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“What are those ruins?” I asked the cab driver.

“That is the old train terminal of the Central Railroad of New Jersey,” he replied.

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I was very sad.  “What happened?  Why did the trains stop coming here?”

“People don’t come by ship anymore,” the cab driver replied.  “When the boats stopped coming here, there were no more people.  When there are no people, there are no people to ride the trains.  If there are no people to ride the trains, the trains no longer stop here.  The main terminal building has been preserved and is the visitor center for the park.”

The cab stopped in a cul-de-sac that was close to the terminal.  Zynga and I stepped out of the cab, and we made our way to the front of the old terminal.  Despite the cold, there were a few people walking around.  A frigid wind was blowing from the river behind us.  I glanced over to see the Lady of the Jersey City standing tall with her torch held high.

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“This was where we entered to go to the train.”  I was remembering the day I came with Greta.

Zynga studied the building.  She lifted her foot to unlace her shoe.  She removed her shoe and started to peel off her sock.  I was about to grab her foot to stop her, but she shoved my hand away.

“I want to do this.  I want to feel that day you and Greta passed through here.  I need to do this.”

It was crazy to me, but I thought that it would be wrong to stop her.  She removed her other shoe and sock.  I noticed that she was shivering as her bare feet was on the cold concrete ground.  She slowly stepped to the entrance of what is now the park visitor center.  She studied the door and went inside.  I came behind her.  She ran across the room, but I looked around.  It was almost exactly the way it was when I first came here.  A small scale of a blue locomotive was on display.  A grand piano was ahead of me.  I trudged through… and I saw the old platforms… empty.  Steel bars were between me and they place where I boarded the train.  As I stepped closer, I saw nothing but the bare concrete.  It was a very sad day for me as I remembered that very day that I was sitting and looking out a window.  I peeked at Zynga who was looking through the bars.  She closed her eyes.  She took a few steps along the bars.  She threw down her shoes and jumped into an opening into the bars.

“What are you doing?” I shouted.

The security guards charged towards her.

“No!  Let her go.”

They stopped dead in their tracks.  Standing nearby was the Lady of the Jersey City.

“Please,” she pleaded.  “Let her go.”

Zynga had pulled herself through, and she saw the Lady of the Jersey City who motioned her to go on.  The security guards escorted me to the gate where I could freely walk in.  There was no way my old body would get through those bars.  I watched as Zynga was taking short steps on the bare concrete where the trains once came.  This old place that was once full of trains was a rusted bare shell of emptiness.  We came to Zynga who was slowly pushing her beautiful toes into the concrete.

“Listen.”  She had that bright smiley face.  “Do you here that?”

I assumed that it was just some fantasy she was having, but I noticed something.  The tracks were appearing.  There was the sound of a whistle.  I did not believe that this was happening, but it was.  The train was backing into the terminal.  The conductor was standing in the doorway.

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“All aboard!”  he shouted.

The train looked exactly like the train I first boarded.

“Can we ride?”  Zynga was jumping all over me.

“Will you be riding?” the conductor asked the Lady of the Jersey City.

She handed the conductor five tickets.  Turning to the security guards, she said, “Why come to the train station and not ride the train.”

Everyone climbed aboard, and the train pulled away.

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The train returned to the terminal, and we deboarded the train.

“Thank you for riding,” the conductor waved to us.  “I hope to see you again.”

We walked back to the end of the terminal.  We turned around, and we saw the empty rusted ruined shell with nothing but the bare concrete floors.  Zynga bent over to pick up her shoes.  When she stood up, the Lady of the Jersey City said to her, “I hope that you enjoyed your ride.”

“I did,” she smiled.  “Thank you.”

“Your grandfather’s first train ride was not like this,” The Lady of the Jersey City added.  “You are privileged to ride the train in the Land of Freedom.  In the land where your grandfather is from, there was no freedom.  The trains there are trains of tyranny and bondage.  Their trains did not have windows because they wanted to hide from you the vast destruction that they themselves have caused.  They tell you that they are doing what they do to do what is good for their own-made society, but they refuse to let you see what they have done.  Many risks their own lives and even leave family and their friends to escape the trains of tyranny and destruction to ride on these trains in the Land of Freedom.  Those who survive enjoy the freedom of riding a train where you see beauty.  The trains in the Land of Freedom have windows so that you can see the vast beauty of being free.  I must warn you that there are those who come to this land not to enjoy the freedom but to destroy it.  They want trains without windows so that they can destroy you.  You must defend this freedom from those who seek its destruction.  If they continue to enter the Land of Freedom, it will be a land of freedom now more.  Please, keep this land free for those who want to be free.  As I hold my torch to light the way, may you reward them by letting freedom reign here.  As your grandfather’s time grows short, may you continue to keep the trains of freedom running.”

They hugged each other.

“I must return to my place.  I bid you farewell.”

“Thank you,” I said to her.

As we rode in the cab, I watched as the old train station went out of sight.  As for the Lady of the Jersey City, she stood high on that podium holding up her torch to light the way.  As for me, she was always going to stay with me, and she was always going to be with Zynga.  As long as the Lady of the Jersey City lights the way, many will come to ride the trains into the Land of Freedom.  The trains may be gone, but the truth is… the trains still come to the old train station in the Jersey City… and as long as the Land of Freedom remains a land of freedom, they will keep coming.

Statue of Liberty Jersey City New Jersey

 

 

 

The photos of the box car and the men in the barracks are of the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, Virginia.  The photos of the old Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal and of the empty platforms are from Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey.  The photo of the American Freedom Train locomotive is courtesy of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.  The ‘Lady of Jersey City’ is courtesy of the National Park Service and Liberty Island, Jersey City, New Jersey.

 

A special thanks to:

The Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, Virginia

Liberty State Park, Jersey City, New Jersey

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum, Baltimore, Maryland

The National Park Service