And once again, I have to say, the locomotive was amazing.
Now for those of you who might be reading this entry as the first one on my blog here, this entry is the third in a series of three … each dealing with a different aspect of a truly remarkable experience in my life.
The first entry, on Monday, dealt with primarily the awe of it all. There are a few short, albeit amateurish videos to be seen.
The second entry, on Tuesday, dealt more with the historical aspects of it all. Not just the steam locomotive itself, but the location of the pictures from the day before and a few other shots of the town in the days leading up to the trip through Horseshoe Curve.
And finally, today. Today is all about the people. Their stories. Or lack thereof.
I had hoped to have some pictures by the professional photographer who stood beside me on Monday, to include in this entry. Ah well. The best laid plans …
So please accept my humble shots as acceptable.
In the local newspaper there have been stories of people recently. For example, on August the 18th there was the story of a man who was injured while working on the railroad.
Dominic Strong’s great-great-great-grandfather worked in the railroad yards of Altoona.
One day, there was an accident that led to the loss of one of his arms.
They called an ambulance, but before it arrived, Howard Strong set off walking toward Altoona Hospital, with the injured limb.
And I have mentioned my own Grandpap and his loss of a leg in a PRR Railroad accident.
On August the 20th there was a story in the local paper about the smoke.
Women complained about the coal dust.
Gloria can picture a housewife in her yard with a wash on the line, after a train went by.
“Ruined my sheets,” she said.
But it was wonderful for kids.
And this type of story was also backed up by a memory from my friend Pete, who commented the other day after I posted my blog entry. He comes from a Railroad family as well. A mixed blessing, to be sure.
He said, in part “I can still remember my mother complaining, when the wind shifted the wrong way, about the coal ash from the steam engines settling on the laundry hanging on the line.”
Before we even got to the Horseshoe Curve, we stopped at the local Sheetz store on the way for a cup of hot coffee. And to my surprise while waiting in line, I saw a man who was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the numbers 765 … and the words Engine Crew.
Now if you have read some of my other posts you will know that I am not only friendly, I am fearless when it comes to talking to folks and making friends.
So it should be no surprise to my frequent readers that I struck up a conversation with the man and asked if I could take his picture for my blog.
In talking to him outside, we discovered that he was going to be on the crew after Cresson. That normally they would have exchanged crews in Altoona. And that since the man at the controls had never had the opportunity to guide the train through the Curve, he was going to be allowed to do so that day.
We also found out that the estimated time at the Curve would be in about an hour.
Wish I had had money bet against that.
But back to the Horseshoe Curve itself. As I mentioned yesterday, the Horseshoe Curve is a tourist destination and was a strategic point in the Second World War … and allowed trains to slowly climb the mountains to get over the Alleghenies.
And today I want to talk about the people.
First, I need to talk about the folks down in the Gift Shop / Ticket Counter. Nice as these people might be on any other given day, I’m guessing the stress of the occasion got to them.
That and the price gouging.
Normally, the tickets to Horseshoe Curve are all of $6.00. On this particular day, they all but quadrupled the price to $21.50. The older man in front of me protested loudly when told that it was not only the price, but there was no senior discount for him.
The person I had come with railed at the thought of paying that much money … even if I was to be the one paying it … saying “Why should I give them that much money for something I can see for free here?” … and stayed at the base of the hill.
I paid the money … but not without a few parting comments.
Suffice it to say that beside the incline was a long winding set of steps … with seats every thirty steps or so. This would not be for the faint of heart or the handicapped to try.
So I got into the Funicular, as they called the tram and waited for the ride to begin. On seeing the other car start to descend ours began the upward journey, passing side-by-side in the middle.
Once at the top, I was surprised to see not the thousand people expected for the event, but only a handful of folks. The weather was threatening at that point. As I’ve said before, the weather that day was alternately overcast, pouring down rain, and sunny.
This was actually good as it allowed me to get a spot right along the fence running the length of the tracks … and a great vantage point for the mornings activities. And as I looked around I quickly realized that except for a few young people, most of the folks up there fell into one of two categories.
The Train Geeks and the Camera Geeks.
Oh, and then there was me, the Blog Geek … but I’m thinking I was about the only one of those up there that day.
At this point my phone rang, and my friend down at the base informed me that a nice young man had just tried to take his 7-year-old son up to see the Steam Engine.
“But the tickets are $21.50 and the man did not have enough money.” she shouted. “And they would not let his son in for any less than the full price.”
“The boy started crying and the Dad looked like he was about to … and they had to leave without tickets.”
At this point I said “Go get them and I will pay for their tickets.” And for that matter that was the reaction of the Camera Geek beside me when he heard the story.
“It’s too late” she said. “They have already left.”
Now I’m as much for free enterprise and the American Dream as the next guy, but seriously folks, would it have killed you to be nice to a little boy?
OK. I’m getting down off my soapbox. Back to the cast of characters.
If I recall correctly, this triggered the pulling out of children’s and grandchildren’s pictures by all assembled.
There was the obligatory gift tent containing all things Steam Locomotive 765, along with the group of men … for they were mostly men there … Railroad Geeks who had to tell their tales of Authentic Railroad Experiences … each trying to outdo the other.
Except maybe Lionel Boy. But I’m not betting on that.
And everyone started snapping pictures or movies or both when the smoke was spotted in the distance. Although a few of us mistook oncoming car lights for oncoming train lights. There was, after all, the smoke and the sounds. Ah the sounds.
Well they had to do something to pass the time. Especially once the rain started. I am thinking that they held up the train in Altoona once the rain started pouring down on me.
And again, those of you who are constant readers know what rain does to my naturally curly hair. And once again I point you to Pictures of Holly to see that I don’t always look like Our Lady of the Perpetual Jheri-Curl.
Gosh, there are no pictures from anyone to show you just how bad my hair was. I just got an email from the Professional Photographer saying his pictures were not quite ready to upload.
OK, tomorrow when I get them, I will post a few here in an addendum so you can see what real pictures of the event look like.
And although most of the Camera Geeks came prepared with various and sundry protective gear for their multi-thousand dollar cameras. There was one gentleman, Potato Chip Guy, with a camera on a tall tripod, who felt that it was appropriate to shelter his camera with a bag of Doritos.
True Camera Geeks scoffed.
And now on to the cast of characters beside the Camera Geeks. And there were plenty.
First let me introduce Aussie Man … on the right in the picture here.
He spoke with a decidedly Australian accent, although some might have thought it English. And of course he was wearing English Tweed.
Now I’m no expert on body language, but I could tell from over where I was standing that he was pontificating … and the other man was, shall we say, less than agreeable.
I am guessing the young ladies in between were not amused. Although I did not ask if any of them were named McKayla.
For some reason I was thinking he looked like some movie star by his demeanor, but I did not go up and ask.
This was funny for a variety of reasons.
Not the least of which was the fact that both man and dog were wearing full leathers … with the Harley Davidson emblem.
I particularly was impressed … or not … with the lack of posterior parts to his outfit.
If you look closely at the picture to the left here you will see the man on the bench watching me watching the Harley Guy. And Harley Dog.
And my friend below said that Harley Guy … and Harley Dog … both came riding up on … you guessed it … a Harley Davidson Motorcycle.
And last but not least, the ticket booth down below clearly stated “No Pets Beyond This Point”.
So what is Harley Dog? Family?
Like I said, funny for so many reasons.
Several people, including one in the Funicular group directly ahead of me came with their wheelchairs.
And there were plenty of folks with canes and whatnot.
It warmed my heart to see people who had probably once ridden on Steam Locomotive powered trains there.
There was no fear of cameras and they all were thrilled to see the displays that were available.
They were also the first people to seek shelter when the rains started.
Silly me, I thought I would outlast it.
When I was in school as a child, my naturally curly hair ran riot.
And the other children called me Medusa.
As in Medusa with the hair that looked like snakes.
But this young man’s hair, or hair piece … I’m not good at identifying things like that … stood a full four inches off the top of his head.
He waxed poetic about all things Railroad until several folks were … shall we say … underwhelmed?
But he looks friendly enough I suppose.
And last but certainly not least of the characters there was Vest Man.
Now I do not have a picture of Vest Man. It is my hope that with tomorrows attachments from the Real Photographer that I will have a picture of Vest Man and a few others to show you.
Suffice it to say that he had a vest. The vest had flair. Like in the movie Office Space. Lots and lots and lots of flair.
Buttons, badges, ribbons and all other kinds of paraphernalia.
Can’t believe I don’t have a picture of him.
Then on the way down the hill on the tram, after it was all over, there was a woman who was having a full-fledged panic attack. Totally fearful that the small enclosure would somehow come loose from its tracks and come crashing to the bottom.
Lots of praying and sweating and panicking and crossing and such.
I felt genuinely sorry for her. I have had panic attacks. Another story for another day. Not fun in the least.
And last but not least there is The Widower.
A very nice man I met up on the top of the mountain. Who bought me a hot dog when it was all over. And pronounced himself “unencumbered” having lost his wife a while back.
And expressed an interest in taking me out to dinner.
Never expected that.
It was a good day all around.