Our daily vigil was noticed by a conductor on one such daily train, who would step out between cars and fling a handful of mints wrapped in foil emblazoned with the Monon logo. His timing would either have us ducking the shining missiles or holding up traffic as we gathered our booty from the street.
Leaning out precariously between coaches, with his immaculate uniform and cap highlighting a dark bronze face and a smile that said volumes about the man, he would fling his prizes and follow with waves as he roared by at fifty miles an hour, leaving us dizzy from the motion and noise. We found ourselves anticipating, not so much the candy, but the man, who to this day I regret never having been able to thank for his contribution to my childhood.
Due to the volume and quality of work being performed at the restaurant, and to get us out from underfoot, management decided to deport us to a relative in Norfolk for a few weeks. In those days children could safely travel unescorted. We were turned over to the porters and conductors and royalty couldn’t have received better treatment. We were pampered unmercifully and personally escorted to our seats when changing trains, where the second crew assumed responsibility for our safe travel. While the first train was pulled by the powerful, relatively new diesel, we were carried on through the night by a huge sinister looking steam engine. The sound of a melodious steam whistle and the hammering of driving pistons will be forever etched in memory. Progress be hanged.
The passage of these magnificent machines the exuded such power and seemed to be alive and only slumbering when at rest compares to the dying gasp of the last whale on earth. What other period can evoke such melancholy feelings of a time when children could safely travel such distances under the care of people who smiled at you from under hats with glistening badges on the crown and who tucked your blanket under your chin to ease your fears? Home didn’t seem so far away.