On a happier note, it’s summer time!
The gas prices may be going through the roof, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find a way to get out on the open road, even if just for a few days. And not by car. There is always the Sunset Limited! A TRAIN! Yes, there are still Amtrak trains that run across this country.
A dear friend (okay, I’ll name names, Paula Turner) is getting married out at Fort Davis in West Texas in July! Several of us determined to go out there to be with her for the destination wedding. And no, this is not Desert Valley. I’ve attended writing camps at Alpine during July, and because it is mountainous and high, it is lovely. Maybe not cool, but certainly not the sweltering heat of Houston. Well worth a trip.
Paula is one of those wonderful “non-traditional” students who has been around the block a time or two. With sons and daughters, and now grandchildren that she has helped care for, she has still found time to work full time and come back to school to finish her BA and begin work on a Masters. She has been a student of mine twice, I think, and was instrumental in helping with our Walter P. Webb History Society.
Over the years, we’ve become BFF’s, to use a term from our Millennials, which neither of us are. Multi-talented, she was always everywhere and did everything. During Folk Festivals or reenactments, she taught me to do Dutch Oven cooking. She was always right beside me, stirring, chopping, dicing, in the heat and smoke of the open fires. She helped with cooking for the volunteers at the Folk Festivals, cooked for several hundred reenactors at Liendo Plantation, and helped teach Dutch oven cooking to the American History teachers who came to “camp” at Sam Houston State University during several summers.
She was indispensable for our reenactments. I will never forget her putting students in costume for the evening ball at Liendo Plantation. We stumbled around in the dim light in those big Civil War tents, laughing and dodging each other, ducking around hanging lanterns, and corraling anxious students as we tried out one costume after another on the girls. We probably should have had them choose their costumes earlier, but we never knew what students were coming on these escapades.
By lantern light, she and I tied, buttoned, hooked and pinned girls into the outfits. Never mind that some of the lovely costumes had—OMG–zippers, a no-no for reenactors and many were made of shiny, satiny, (oops, again), polyester. Paula coiled and curled and pinned the girls hair up in proper nineteenth century style. Admittedly, we did use hairspray, not lemon juice which would have been more period accurate, and added silk flowers, ribbons and even some sparkly jewels. The girls looked beautiful
Never mind that the students were going to rip those dresses to pieces as they waltzed across the grass with our guys—in top hat and tail coats or Civil War uniforms. The girls, and guys, tended to forget the ladies wore long flowing skirts. Inadvertently, the boisterous young men promptly stepped on the hems of the skirts, tearing them from their moorings. Paula was always ready with safety pins and needle and thread to put them back together.
As sometimes happens to those of us of a certain age, she has found a wonderful guy to marry. A long-time Huntsville attorney, he, too, has been married before and has various progeny but none nearby and none with whom she has to contend. He is (blessings on him!) happy to put up with her over-hauling his house with paint and new furniture and renovating the kitchen. He will retire soon, and the happy couple will, without doubt, enjoy traveling, maybe buying a condo in Galveston, and revel in living the good life, which she certainly deserves. I am pleased as punch for her.
Except that she is getting married in Fort Davis—five hundred and eighty miles away in the high desert of West Texas. Five of us, all friends from many years, were determined that she should have attendants at her wedding. But how to get all the way out there? Five –okay, I’ll admit it—elderly ladies cooped up for ten hours in a car did not sound like fun at all.
Enter the Sunset Limited, part of Amtrak’s (hopefully not) vanishing fleet. Fewer and fewer people today get a chance to enjoy long distance travel on trains. The northeast is full of commuter trains, or subways, or metro lines, but it is not nearly the same thing. What is that song about the “train has to disappear in railroad blues”? Fortunately, there are still a few trains around to enjoy.
I have always loved trains. I think most people who have been on one, can’t help enjoying them. How delightful to listen to the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails, to feel the breeze blowing in your face as you lean out the windows, the fun of swaying down a hallway to the dining car, or luxuriating in the bar car.
Several of the ladies who are going on this jaunt remember taking the trains from Trinity to Houston or to go shopping in Dallas. It was the best way to get around Texas at the time. There weren’t great expressways and four- or six- or eight-lane highways back then. The train was the civilized, proper way to get from the country to the big city. It was an all-day trip, but it was easy and comfortable. And it wasn’t expensive.
I remember, as a child in Mexico, the excitement when our parents allowed us to take the Cuernavaca Train all by ourselves. Back in those days it was safe, and our parents figured we couldn’t get lost on the train. I’ve forgotten who all went, but I’m sure there were several Gottfried’s involved. I think my Virginia cousin also went, much to her amazement that we were allowed to go alone. Sadly, that is not even a remote possibility now-a-days.
The little train was (and may still be for all I know), one of the few remaining narrow-gauge railroads in Mexico. It was a practical, commuter train for many of the local natives who lived along the route up into the mountains of Mexico. For us, it was heaven. We got to play up and down the aisles, run from carriage to carriage, lean out over the deep canyons on the terrifyingly high bridges we crossed. At some of the stops, we bought food from the local vendors, something that horrified our American visitor. To this day, I associate sweet raisin tamales with that little train.
I’ve also had the good fortune to twice take the Copper Canyon train through the steep mountains and deep valleys of northwestern Mexico. One of the gentlemen from Carriage Inn where Mom lived had that on his bucket list. I wanted so badly to help him take that train. Perhaps, when I get my little tour company started again, I will find a way to get him aboard that train.
So, when all of us decided to go out to the Fort Davis mountains to attend the wedding, what better way than by train? The trip takes fifteen hours, five hours longer than the car trip, but what luxury to be able to sleep on the train! And to have an elegant dinner and cocktails or champagne in the bar car. I don’t know if the trains today turn all the seats into double-decker bunk beds with the curtains for privacy, but it is fun when they do. And they do it while you are at dinner, so you can feel very Agatha Christie-like.
Our group is more interested in privacy and comfort. If we can, we will probably opt for those cute little bitty roomettes with their own bathroom and fold-away beds. I hope they still have a few of them available. Expensive, but worth it.
Once out West, we will rent a car in Alpine and make the short drive to Fort Davis where we’ve booked rooms in a Bed and Breakfast for the three days we’ll be there. Since we will have a car, we’ll even get to explore the artists’ colony at Marfa or the museum at Alpine or visit the giant telescopes at Fort Davis.
Although the wedding will be marvelous, the trip itself will be worth the price of admission! This is why I want to start my tours again. What could be more fun than helping people have a wonderful, memorable time while seeing the vastness of Texas?
Look for my tours starting again soon.