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By Staff | Jun 17, 2011
  • Fer-ro-e-quin-ol-o-gy n: the study of railways in general, but especially locomotives.
  • Foamer (plural foamers) n: avid hobbyist; somebody who is very devoted to a hobby, especially a railroad enthusiast.

I want to be upfront here and state that my wife and I are neither “foamers” nor do we worship at the altar of the iron horse. But that doesn’t prevent us from enjoying an occasional ride on an antique choo-choo.

Our most recent experience along those lines involved a short-line railway called the Boone And Scenic Valley Railroad. This rail expedition deep into the wilds of the Iowa boondocks was aboard the Boone And Scenic Valley’s dessert train, so I guess you could say we rode a chew, chew choo-choo.

Our rail voyage had to be booked in advance. This meant my wife and I could take advantage of an unforeseen benefit – we were able to say, in all truthfulness, “We better get going, we have a train to catch!”

Heretofore neither my wife nor I had ever been able to make that statement. We used the heck out of it, telling friends, acquaintances, convenience store clerks, and even random strangers we stopped on the street that we had an important railroad appointment to keep.

Ironically, we nearly used too much time telling people we had to be on time and arrived at the train station with only moments to spare. We had scarcely taken our seats when the train pulled away from the depot.

We settled into our own private sleeping compartment, which had been outfitted with a folding table and chairs. As the rumbling railcar slowly picked up speed, it was easy for us to imagine that we were back in an elegant, bygone era.

My wife and I sometimes think we were born too soon. Passenger rail service had died off in our area by the time we came along, so riding a train is a rare treat for us.

There was a set of buttons on the bulkhead of our railcar, one of which was labeled “porter.”

We could envision mashing that button and having a man in a crisp, white jacket instantly appear at our door, a fresh dishtowel draped over his arm. We would make our request and he would hustle off to fulfill it; perhaps a glass of wine for the lady and a snifter of brandy for me.

In this imagined scenario, we would be served a sumptuous meal in our private compartment. We might remark on the exquisiteness of the pattern on the dinnerware and the high quality of the linen tablecloth.

As we dine, a nighttime cityscape – skyscrapers glowing like gigantic Chinese lanterns – slides past outside our window.

The reality is that we ate cheese and crackers and grapes served on paper plates. And our speed could best be described as “stately.”

When asked, one of the crew said that we would top out at about 8 mph. But none of that prevented my wife and I from daydreaming, nor did it diminish the pleasantness of our experience.

The train at first passed through unremarkable Iowa farmland, but the terrain gradually turned steep and hilly. A wall of trees had taken root beside the tracks, at times creating the impression that we were traversing a leafy green tunnel.

The land began to drop away ever more sharply as we rumbled into the Des Moines River valley. Soon we were dead even with the treetops; moments later, the treetops were below us!

As we trundled over the Bass Point High Creek Bridge, I encouraged my wife to glance down at the view of the trees and the creek 156 feet below. She, being somewhat acrophobic, refused.

I decided to go to the small hallway where our railcar joined the one ahead of us. My efforts were rewarded with an unobstructed, sweeping vista of the verdant valley, Bass Point Creek lolling lazily beneath my feet, a silver sliver of the mighty Des Moines shimmering in the distance through the emerald tangle of timber.

As I leaned over the half-door to obtain a better view, I noticed a sign that said Watch Your Step. Indeed. That first one would be a doozey, involving more than 50 yards of empty air.

The bridge behind us, I continued to lean out and look. The sense of power and momentum was intoxicating. “THIS is why little boys want to be engineers when they grow up!” I thought as the wind tousled my hair.

I eventually strolled back to our compartment, where my wife and a slice of cheesecake awaited. She promptly began mopping my mug with a napkin.

“What have you been doing?” she asked. “You have foam all over your face!”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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