Through the hot and humid summers of our youth, it was legions of greyhound Geep 20s and hi-hood GP9s that cut a swath along the high iron, a pall of blue smoke lingering on a God-awful stagnant and hazy south Texas afternoon, drifting over the car tops in the wake of its passing, and all the colorful emblems flashing by on the sides of the rocking high cars filling us with wanderlust and leaving us wondering where that Northern Pacific boxcar was going and just what it was carrying.
With a coloring book spread open in our laps and roadside bingo cards strewn about the back seat, the view of the action was grand through the rolled-down window of the old Ford station wagon. And absent any modern conveniences, the dog days didn’t seem nearly as smothering as they do today.
Long gone are the station wagons and the 1st Generation Geeps, save for a few rebuilds plying their trade in shortline or grain elevator commerce, and the Second Generation is hanging on by a thread, but still hanging; the SD40-2 and its variants were the best-selling diesel locomotives for a lot of very good reasons.
But the days of Fast Forties splitting a pair of Centennials on the VAN running through the Cajon, or a brace of Armor yellow Snoots plowing through Laramie with redball merchandise clasped tight on their drawbar have rippled away into the mirage of oblivion. Like survivors of the Journada del Muerto, the travelers from La Grange found not the Seven Cities of Cibola, but only a humble dwelling in heavy yard service and the mundanery of picking them up and setting them out on the maid-of-all-work locals.
And today, Friday June 21st, thirty-seven minutes shy of the precise arrival of the 2019 Summer Solstice over Union Pacific’s Lockhart Sub, amid a warm southerly breeze saturating the already hot air with moisture off the Gulf of Mexico, the queen of EMD’s Tier-3 compliant Fourth Generation toils along the rolling farmland of central Texas with a southbound train of double stacks near MP43 at Maxwell, looking nothing at all like her prehistoric 4-axle Geep ancestors who roamed the high iron back in the Jointed-Rail Age.
How times do change.
Perhaps at the Railroad Street crossing, or maybe at Ranch Road 12, there’s a kid strapped in the backseat of the air-conditioned family SUV, engrossed in the all-important happenings on his I-Pad screen or DVD player. And as the lights flash and the crossing gates come down and Mom pulls up to a “No train horn” quiet-zone crossing, something might register with the youngster and beckon him to look up and see the grimy form and tattered flag of SD70ACe 8412 slide across in front of him.
Perhaps the word “Cool” might be uttered, and he’ll watch long enough to wonder what is in all those multi-colored boxes stacked two high, and as they glide past maybe he will ponder on where they all are going.
And if he does, perhaps 50-some-odd years from now he’ll write a story about it.
We shall hope for that.