June 14, 2015

Riding the Rails

Last weekend we took a break - a break from sports, chores, and other usual Saturday happenings to enjoy some family time.

That is, some family time minus Bridger.  Which always hurts a bit.  I would love for every fun thing we do to be enjoyed by all of us together, but that is just not possible.  Luckily, Bridger was signed up for his wonderful weekend of respite at Jill's House lodge (where he would much rather be) and Alan was excited that the timing of that respite weekend perfectly aligned itself with a very non-accessible activity he had been dreaming of.

Alan is a train buff.  We have a chunk of our basement real estate taken up by his model train layout that the kids love to run with him, he reads Model Railroader, he can spew off any fact related to locomotives.  Total. Train. Nut.

So, of course, he knew about the restoration of the Norfolk and Western 611 "Spirit of Norfolk" steam engine and the subsequent excursions the locomotive was offering along certain stops of the eastern seaboard. He couldn't resist buying tickets for a fun family train ride.  Our excursion was the 611 engine's inaugural run.

We headed out to the Manassas train yard and Alan educated the kids about all of the components and history of that specific engine and rail company and they were soon just as excited as he was.

We had the kids pose in front of the engine for no less than 3 dozen shots before we boarded, but the picture below is my favorite shot of the day.  The kids were standing with their backs to the engine which was only a few feet behind them, when the pressure had built up in the boiler and the valve had to release the steam.  The subsequent sound was extremely loud and unexpected.  "Letting Off Steam" is an expression that is much more mild than its fierce roots.  Every muscle fiber in Eliza's little body nearly hit the sky and she bolted off of those train tracks with the others tripping over themselves to do the same.  When Lance finally caught his breath to speak (and when Alan and I finally could contain our hysterical laughter to listen) Lance said he thought the train was going to take off with him standing only a few feet in front of its path.

Aboard the train we enjoyed quiet conversation, card games, beautiful views of the Virginia countryside and, the kids favorite part, the Snack Car!

The other "crack me up" moments of the day were when we ventured from car to car on the train and the girls had to cross over the wiggly train joints connecting the cars.  They had mild heart attacks as they would take a deep breath and execute their brave leap over each joint of the connected train car.

The world of train nuts is bigger than I knew.  Along the entire 50+ miles of the ride through the Virginia countryside were hundreds and hundreds of people lined up along the roads, sitting in chairs in pastures in the middle of no where, tailgating in the parking lots of country churches and clustered around every road and rail intersection taking pictures and videos of the historic event.  A helicopter followed us from above filming the entire trek.

I love the friendly attitude with trains.  There is an unspoken rule that when a train passes that you always wave at the strangers aboard.  I imagine the origins of that practice and the energy and excitement that surrounded train stations.  Trains meant journeys and adventures for embarking passengers and the bystanders couldn't help but share in that excitement and wish the travelers well with a friendly wave. That shared excitement continues today.   Sadie said she felt like a celebrity with all of those people waving at her along the excursion.

The entire time each one of us kept saying, "There is NO WAY we could have done this with a wheelchair!", or "Bridger would have hated this!"  Not forcing the impossible  for Bridger consequently makes relaxation possible for the rest of us.

The children savored having an "inaccessible" experience, Alan savored being part of railway nostalgia, and I savored a quiet nap on a gently rocking train car on its way to nowhere.