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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

Fairfax, Virginia and the Railroad

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Fairfax, Virginia is a suburb of Washington, D.C. that is west of the city, and it is the county seat of Fairfax County, Virginia.  The town was established in 1805 and named after Thomas Fairfax.  It played a role in the American Civil War as it was the site of the first land battle of the war (after the first shot fired at Fort Sumter) known as the Battle of Fairfax Courthouse.  A second battle took place here years later days before the battle of Gettysburg which, although the Confederates won the war, impeded their progress in their march to Gettysburg.  Although Virginia was a Confederate state, Fairfax was a Union stronghold.  Blenheim, a brick farmhouse, was used as a hospital.  The Gunnell House was also the site of a night raid by John Mosby (known as the ‘Gray Ghost’) who invaded the home at night and kidnapped a Union officer while he was in bed and rode him out of town on a horse.  With all this history, only the Gunnell House remains in its original location.  Blenheim was relocated less than a mile from its location, and the battlefield was overrun with development.

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You read all of this, and you say to yourself, “This would have been a great town to have a railroad pass through.”

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It would have been a great town to have a railroad, and it was part of the plan for the Manassas Gap Railroad.  A line had already been built between Mount Jackson, Virginia and the junction with the Orange and Alexandria Railroad in Manassas Junction (Manassas today).   A line was proposed to branch off from Gainesville a run a few miles north of the Orange and Alexandria’s line passing through the towns of Chantilly, Fairfax and Annandale and ending up in Alexandria.  This would have allowed the farms of the Shenandoah Valley direct access with the ports of Alexandria without the dependence of the Orange and Alexandria and the Baltimore and Ohio.  Construction of this line began in the 1850’s.  The costs began to be more than expected, and the Civil War happened.  Much of the costs went to funding the war effort.  The line was abandoned without any tracks being laid.

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Although development destroyed most of the original Manassas Gap Railroad bed, there are places where some of it remains.  In Annandale, you can visit the Hidden Oaks Nature Center to see some of the original roadbed, and you can walk on the roadbed at the Manassas Gap Railroad Historic Site.  A small section of the roadbed can be seen in Fairfax on Judicial Drive between Page Drive and Main Street.  There is a section that runs through the property of the Sully Historic Site in Chantilly.  You can also see sections of the roadbed on the Manassas National Battlefield.

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Did Fairfax ever get a railroad?  There was an electric trolley line known as the Washington, Arlington and Falls Church that did run from Arlington to what is now the Old Town of Fairfax.  It arrived in Fairfax in the early 1900’s with the terminus of the line at the Old Courthouse of the corner of Main Street and the Chain Bridge Road.  Service ceased in the 1940’s, and the tracks have been taken up although there are a few remnants of the line in the town.

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With the trolley line gone and the Manassas Gap Railroad abandoning their rail line, how would the people of Fairfax have access to the rest of the nation other than by horse?  The closest rail line was the Orange and Alexandria Railroad which was four miles south by way of the Ox Road.

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In 1851, the town of Lee’s Station was established where the Ox Road crossed the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.  A year later, the town was named Fairfax Station after its proximity to the town of Fairfax.  The town began as a simple train station, but other structures were built to include the Saint Mary’s Church, the oldest Catholic church in Fairfax County.  The church attendees were immigrants from Ireland who came to work on the railroad.  It was just a simple town until the Civil War came.  In 1862, the church became a hospital.  Wounded from the Union and Confederacy were brought from the second Battle of Manassas by train to the train station, and they were taken to the church to be cared for.  Among the caretakers was a lady named Clara Barton.  It was this incident and a few others that motivated her to find the American Red Cross.  There was also a small skirmish that took place here on the grounds of the church.

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When the war was over, Fairfax Station went back to a simple stop on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.  The railroad line changed ownership through the years, but passenger trains continued to stop at the depot until 1973.  The depot was abandoned.  It was about to be demolished, but a local organization known as ‘Friends of the Fairfax Station Incorporated’.  The depot was moved to a location away from the tracks to a safe location, and it was converted into a museum.  Today, you can visit the museum (https://www.fairfax-station.org) and learn about the history of the region.  It is one of only three surviving train stations in Fairfax County, Virginia, and it is the only train station in the county that is in proximity of a railroad line.

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What about Fairfax itself?  Fairfax Station is today just a name.  The trains pass through without stopping.  They stop in Alexandria.  They stop in Manassas.  There are commuter train stops in the county with an Amtrak stop in Burke, but no trains stop at Fairfax Station.  Although Fairfax has grown tremendously through the years, the old town pales in comparison to the old towns of Manassas and Alexandria.  What if the Manassas Gap Railroad completed its line?  What if passengers were able to pull up in the old town like they can in Manassas and Alexandria as opposed to traveling four miles from town?  As for now, Fairfax is just an old town between two larger more popular old towns that have railroads.

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At the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland

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There it is standing before you.  What is it?  You are looking at the Mount Clare Roundhouse.  What is special about this roundhouse?  Before it was the home of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum, it was a place where locomotives and rolling stock were serviced.  You enter this massive room.  You are surrounded by the oldest collection of locomotives and rail cars in the entire world.  The old stagecoaches are next to a replica of the very first train in North America.  The stagecoaches that were pulled by horses that once ran along the nearby National Road is now next to the very first locomotive in the history of North America.  What is this locomotive called?  Well, it was a horse, but it pulled a passenger coach on rails.  Then came the York locomotive.  Well, you see the replica of the original as well as a replica of the Tom Thumb.

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The great thing about being in this roundhouse looking at these locomotives is that each one of these locomotives, as well as the other rolling stock, have great stories to tell.  The ‘Thatcher Perkins’ pulled Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train.  The Cass Railroad shay locomotive pulled logging cars for the mountainside to a little milling town of Cass, West Virginia.  The Central Railroad of New Jersey’s 592 is a humpback locomotive known as an ‘Atlantic Humpback’ because it ran mainly along the Atlantic seaboard, with its cab in the middle of the boiler as opposed to being behind the boiler.  Even if you are not an expert on locomotives, you will appreciate the William Mason and the J. C. Davis for their fancy artwork.

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The thing about the collection at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum is that the collection cannot fit in the roundhouse.  Fortunately, The Passenger Car Shop remains, and you can find some great rolling stock there.  What do you see?  Well, you cannot miss the Number 490 of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway known as the ‘Hudson’ with the bright yellow paint.  (Sadly, the luxury passenger cars behind it are not available for board, but it would have been great to ride back in the days of operation.)  You have the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Number 5300 known as the President Washington.  However, this locomotive is dwarfed by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Number 1604, an ‘Alleghany’ locomotive which is one of only two of these types of locomotives that remain.  (The other is at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.)  If you need to come down to size, you have the Central Railroad of New Jersey’s Number 1000, a switcher locomotive use to move rail cars at a yard in New York City.

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Just when you thought that you have seen it all, you have not.  Of course, what is visiting the museum without riding along the first mile and a half of track laid in North America?  No, it is not pulled by a horse but a vintage locomotive with vintage rail cars to include a parlor car where you can ride in luxury.

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The Baltimore and Ohio Museum is the site of the Birthplace of American Railroading.  Every step you take here and in the surrounding neighborhood of homes which housed the railroad workers is a step into history.

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A Little Message

Hello  Everyone.  I  am  letting  everyone  know  that  with  everything  being  shut  down,  I  plan  to   on.  However,  some  things  will  be  put  on  hold  until  everything  gets  reopened  again.  As  for  now  you  will  be  getting  other  things  from  me  so  I  hope  that  this  can  go  away  soon  and  get  back  to  normal.

Pennypacker Mills, Schwenksville, Pennsylvania

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About a little over thirty miles northwest of the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a small town known as Schwenksville.  In this town is where you will find Pennypacker Mills.  Who is it named after?  It was the home of Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker who served as the governor of the state of Pennsylvania from 1903 to 1907.  However, it was not named after the governor.  It was named after the brother of his great-great-grandfather Peter Pennypacker who owned and operated the mill.  Samuel bought the property from a cousin who was a descendant of Peter Pennypacker because he was interested in the family history, and it was a great was a great location in the country.  (The land was also the site of an encampment for George Washington and his army during the American Revolutionary War.)  When you visit Pennypacker Mills, you will see the home the way it was in the early part of the twentieth century.  With the well landscaped grounds, you may find yourself going back in time when you visit this place.

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Some of you are saying, “This is great.  I am pretty sure that this is probably a very nice house.  However, there are no railroads at this place.  Therefore, I will not be campaigning for this place.”

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You have a great point.  There are no railroads at this site.  So, what does this place have to do with the railroad?

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As mentioned, Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker lived at this home.  While here, he traveling to Philadelphia where he also had a law office.  How did he travel?

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Some of you are saying, “Duh!  He was chauffeured in his limousine.”

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When it comes to those of great wealth, that would be a common answer.  However, Mr. Pennypacker was not your average traveler.  He traveled by train.  How?  If you were to visit Schwenksville today, you will not find any railroads, but you will find a rail trail.  It is a short walk from Pennypacker Mills to where he boarded the train.  When you visit the town, you will see a train depot that is now an ice cream shop, and a mural of a locomotive.  Is this old depot where Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker boarded the train?  Well, no.  That depot was built in 1943 as a replacement of the original depot that burned down in 1942, and the original depot is what you will see in the mural.  Maybe you will want to hike the trail as it runs along a creek.  What other connection is there with the railroad?  Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker is the grandson of Matthias Pennypacker, the president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad.

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Now you have a reason to visit Pennypacker Mills.  It is owned and operated by Montgomery County Parks, Trails and Historic Sites who also own the rail trail.  (The rail trail is part of the national rails-to-trails initiative.)  It is located at 5 Haldeman Road in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania just off Pennsylvania Route 73.  It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00am to 4:00pm and Sunday 1:00pm to 4:00pm.  (Closed Mondays and state holidays.)  Admission is free.  (Donations gladly accepted.)  Parking is on site.  Along with the mansion tour you can also walk the grounds.  You can get more information and read more into the life of Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker at https://www.montcopa.org/928/Pennypacker-Mills.

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There are two other historic homes you can visit while you are in the region that are part of the Montgomery County Parks system.  The first is the Peter Wentz Farmstead in Worchester, Pennsylvania located on Pennsylvania Route 73 east of Pennypacker Mills.  Unlike Pennypacker Mills, there is no railroad history or connections at this site.  You can get information about the Peter Wentz Farmstead at https://www.montcopa.org/929/Peter-Wentz-Farmstead.  The other site is Pottsgrove Manor in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, the home of ironmaster John Potts.  Does Pottsgrove Manor have a connection to the railroads.  Yes, it does… in a not-so-good way.  The Colebrookdale Railroad passes near the mansion.  During one trip in 1877, a stray spark flew out from the train and landed on the roof of the grist mill causing it to burn to the ground.  Do not worry.  The railroad and the manor have long since reconciled with each other, but you can still visit the mansion, and you can watch trains from the front of the house.  The Colebrookdale Railroad is in the process of building a stop in Pottstown that will be a short walk to the mansion.  You can learn more about Pottsgrove Manor, when you can visit and more about its history at https://www.montcopa.org/930/Pottsgrove-Manor.

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