What is it with trains? My family were big on trains; my grandfather, father, uncles and great uncles all worked on trains. Some were drivers, guards, signal men and station staff and all enjoyed their time on the trains. But what is it about trains that makes us remember something? I hear stories when my family gets together about life with the trains; it has a different feel to it and seems warm and very friendly. The way it is spoken of is a way of transport that brought a lot of people together in a way that seems to invoke something deeper… Some may say it’s been lost now but the memory and feeling still remains.
As a family, we visited the Tenterfield Railway Museum a few weeks ago and it was like stepping back in time. It was like stepping into someone’s home that you knew they really loved and cared for. We were actually stepping into an old railway station with old trains, equipment and memorabilia but there was tangibly something more you could see, smell and feel. We stayed for hours and I contacted one of my family members, my father, to explain what I was seeing. In that moment, the conversation touched on what he remembered and my mother also joined in. The memories and experiences brought me to an awareness where I felt there was more to it than just what I was seeing in front of me and I could remember my childhood experiences, experiences that I was now also seeing my children see. It was more than just nostalgia or the old days, this was a real experience; a real feeling that wasn’t only from days gone by but was still alive in the museum and conversations had. But what was it?
When my father detailed his experiences and when it was brought together with what I was seeing in my children in the museum and feeling myself, I could see that what was still ‘alive’ in the museum was a person-ability, a relationship that went beyond a simple mode of transport. It was a time when people took the time to take more care, have more respect, not only for things but more importantly for relationships. It wasn’t that this ‘time’ or era wasn’t without its problems as well and I am not saying that, more that in this era or in this quality of transport was a relationship. A relationship that hadn’t moved or been lost because these trains were no longer on tracks. In fact, it was a quality of relationship that transcended eras and time, and it seemed all else. The quality of relationship that was in this past era in trains and in my parents that I could recognise was also sitting in front of me in the children at play in the museum.
So, what was it about trains in this past era that lit people up in such a way or quality that even years later within a museum it still could be found, even if on the outside you weren’t looking for it? Let’s go further as my father explained: he was a train driver and when he was travelling around the countryside many people would wave at the train, they would stop what they were doing and come out of their houses or even cars and simply wave at the train. At times, it was the same people coming out of their houses time and time again with no less enthusiasm each time. Each time the driver would sound the horn, there would be smiles all round. The stories went further as my father told of how when he used to drive into a particular local town, he would sound the horn near our auntie’s house which would be a sign for her to put the kettle on. The drivers would stop at the station nearby and walk to her house for lunch, to then return to the train and drive on. These stories are told with such fondness, such regard, that you are warmed physically inside at reflection and part of you pictures what this was like. So what was it about trains, that you could still see in a retired station and still get from a retired train driver?
For me it was the relationships, a relationship between people, a time to truly connect.
Sure it had the physical look of a train but it was a signal or a way to bring people together, an excuse almost. You only need look at how older trains were designed, they were designed for people to interact, to stop and take time to chat and catch up. This is what trains gifted us, a time and space for the world to go by and for us to connect. While some trains and drivers have passed us by, the feeling and or connection still remains, and strongly at that. You only need visit Tenterfield Railway Museum or speak to a retired train driver and you will see, things may pass us by or come and go but what remains is our connection to each other. A connection so strong and real that if it’s lost or not in your awareness you need to slightly touch it for it to be felt and alive again. Whether trains return or not isn’t the point, it’s the feeling we had and still have just under the surface that we need to return to.
It’s not about bringing back or living in another era, it’s about returning to what is true, a connection that goes way beyond the physical, the one we are all from.