Twice a week I make the trek to the “City.” Not south to Richmond, our capital, which is closer. No, I head north to a place just beyond DC, using trains and automobiles. Had I a pilot’s license, I might look into adding a plane to the journey. Commuting north with my husband’s coworker, I travel to Quantico, VA where I catch the Amtrak to Union Station. From there, the Metro to Silver Spring, returning over the same route in the evenings, finally arriving home with my husband. It is a lovely journey to a wonderful job and the long time on the train provides the quiet time I need to do school work, read, or reflect — a precious commodity when you are a homeschooling mom.

Raised for the first eight years of my life in Hatfield, PA  at  5 South Maple Street, I was born to the trains. Why I remember that address is beyond me. Though I was only 8 years old when we moved, I remember every detail about that home, the most prominent of which, was the train yard directly across the street from our front door. As I walk across the train platform at the huge rail yard behind Union Station, the sounds and the smells take me back to there.

The "people" train we would take to neighboring Lansdale to spend Sundays with Mom-mom.

The “people” train we would take to neighboring Lansdale to spend Sundays with Mom-mom. It hasn’t changed a bit! I took this train as an adult from Philadelphia’s Penn Station to visit my grandmother many years later…

My dad lived in fear of the Yard. It was impossible to keep us away from it. The lure of the trains in all of their mechanical wonder and the incredible things left laying around the yard were too much of a draw. I can’t remember how many tracks there were. At the time it seemed like hundreds, they were everywhere and stretched, for what seemed , to the end of the world. Certainly, far beyond ours. On Sundays, we would travel those tracks to venture outside of Hatfield on the “people” train to Lansdale where Mom-mom would meet us and take us to her home for a visit. We lived for those Sunday adventures both because it was time on the amazing trains and because we had the best grandmother on the planet. (I’ll save that story for another blog post…)

In the Yard, there was a massive warehouse where the trains were worked on, tracks that went through it, and tracks that ended at those triangular wooden stops, one of the many highlights of our playground. As short as they were, we spent hours sledding down them in the winter and rolling down them in the summer with our strap on shoe rollers.  The Yard smelled of tar treated lumber, brake fluid and diesel engines. There was always an odd sort of electrical smell – the kind of smell that greets you when you step aboard the modern Amtrak, and every time you pass between the cars.

You did not need eyes to know you were there, in a train yard. Along with the strong industrial odors, were the sounds. Brake noises and screeches of trains moving through or stopping, air blasts when hoses were disconnected, train whistles and horns blowing warnings and greetings, the sounds of men hollering over the diesel engines, popping, snapping, banging…

This image shows a typical PA rail yard.

This image shows a typical PA rail yard very similar to our “Yard”. A busy place with massive, moving, mechanical beasts!

When the Yard was busy, we were smart enough to stay safely on our side of the street. But sometimes, it was quiet, and then, the Yard was our playground. The Yard defined us, attracted us to all things mechanical and helped to shape our personalities. The Yard was also one of the primary factors in my Dad’s decision to move us as far away as possible. But, you can never really escape it, the sounds and smells of any train encounter will always take you back…


(I found lovely photos of Montgomery County, PA and rail yard photos of coal country PA)