P-47S fly over in squadron box formations, four checkmarks apiece RedWhiteBlueYellow on the un-amended form of the whitish sky, squadron after squadron: it is either some military review, or another war. A plasterer is busy around the corner, smoothing over a bomb-scarred wall, plaster heaped on his hawk luscious as cream cheese, using an unfamiliar trowel inherited from a dead friend, still, these first days, digging holes like an apprentice, the shiny knife-edge not yet broken to his hand, the curl of it a bit more than his own strength could have ever brought it to … Henry was a larger bloke…. The fly, who was not dead, unfolds its wings and zooms off to fool somebody else.
—-Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow
“The ambiguous role of the car crash needs no elaboration—apart from our own deaths, the car crash is probably the most dramatic event in our lives, and in many cases the two will coincide. Aside from the fact that we generally own or are at the controls of the crashing vehicle, the car crash differs from other disasters in that it involves the most powerfully advertised commercial product of this century, an iconic entity that combines the elements of speed, power, dream and freedom within a highly stylized format that defuses any fears we may have of the inherent dangers of these violent and unstable machines.”
― J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition
“Quite possibly there’s nothing as fine as a big freight train starting across country in early summer, Hardesty thought. That’s when you learn that the tragedy of plants is that they have roots.”
― Mark Helprin, Winter’s Tale
“Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!”
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick
“The train bore me away, through the monstrous scenery of slag-heaps, chimneys, piled scrap-iron, foul canals, paths of cindery mud criss-crossed by the prints of clogs. This was March, but the weather had been horribly cold and everywhere there were mounds of blackened snow. As we moved slowly through the outskirts of the town we passed row after row of little grey slum houses running at right angles to the embankment. At the back of one of the houses a young woman was kneeling on the stones, poking a stick up the leaden waste-pipe which ran from the sink inside and which I suppose was blocked. I had time to see everything about her—her sacking apron, her clumsy clogs, her arms reddened by the cold. She looked up as the train passed, and I was almost near enough to catch her eye. She had a round pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty-five and looks forty, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever-seen. It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that ‘It isn’t the same for them as it would be for us,’ and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums. For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her—understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe.”
― George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier
Years ago, when my kids weren’t much more than toddlers, I made a discovery down along the edge of Fair Park – The Museum of the American Railroad. Along one side of the Art Deco complex of buildings was a strip made up of a half-dozen sets of steel rails with an amazing collection of rolling stock. They had everything from an old station to restored dining cars to some of the largest steam engines ever made.
The kids loved the place. They would clamber around an on the huge masses of steel. Their favorite thing, of course, was to climb up into the cab and sit in the driver’s seat, looking out and around the giant boilers. You could see their imaginations working.
The only problem was that it was a terrible location. A weedy, hidden spot, neglected, unknown – the powers that ran Fair Park obviously didn’t want the trains there and had no appreciation for the unique and amazing history on steel wheels. I kept expecting to read that the place was melted down for scrap.
Nevertheless, over the years, there were rumors of renewal and movement. For a while I read about a spot in downtown’s West End where a developer would use the trains to anchor a new complex. But the ups and downs of the economy always killed the ambitions and plans and the railroad museum began to get more and more run down.
There is nothing worse than watching a potential jewel, especially one in a city that is so sorely lacking in any history whatsoever, slowly corrode and die. It was obvious that the city and the Fair Park management were waiting until the place was so far gone they could kill it once and for all without fear of reprisal.
Then, a couple years ago, I read that the City of Frisco was coming to the rescue. When I moved to North Texas, Frisco was a small town, far to the north of the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex. Over the last few decades the urban sprawl has vomited itself out across the cotton fields and swallowed Frisco whole. Now it is a huge shiny new city and hungry for signature attractions. What could be better than a museum made from a collection of antique locomotives? They already have a nice local museum up and going. So they put together a piece of valuable property right in the new city center and started plans for a new railroad museum.
When I first read about this a couple years ago my first thought was, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” I had seen this act before. However, I underestimated Frisco’s ability to get something done, and now, a short few years later, the site is ready and the rolling stock ready to move out to the suburbs.
The other day, I rode down the Dallas Santa Fe Trail from White Rock to Deep Ellum, and took a left turn under the mixmaster and into Fair Park. I rode around and took some photos. One stop I had to make was to see what was left of the railroad museum. It was sealed up with only a watchdog to bark at me through the wire. There weren’t any signs of activity that day, but I’m sure they were working on getting these huge old hunks of steel ready to move.
I’ve been following the news, trying to figure out when the big steam engines are going to move. I’d love to see these things on their journey – the first time they’ve moved in decades. That is so cool.