Ryan's other love: NKP 190
Recently, my friend Ryan invited me down to meet him at the Brooklyn Roundhouse, in Portland. For those who are not familiar with it, this is the former SP facility that currently houses SP&S 700, SP 4449, and a few other special restoration subjects. Ryan volunteers there on one of the latter: NKP 190, what will be the only operating PA1 in North America, when completed.
As we kicked about the building, Ryan found a large wrench, and noticed aloud that it had been etched to say that it belonged to the American Freedom Train, the incarnation that the 4449 had been restored for in the mid seventies. The tool was older than either of us. It was only then that I finally realized that the restoration project had entered it's second generation. Indeed, amongst the volunteers of the various restoration projects, the members who had seen regular steam service on the railroad were small.
We'd never seen steam operate in regular service. We'd not grown up with it. We were diesel babies, raised on dash two EMD products. Why did we care about these steel monsters, who we have no real connection to?
Despite my best efforts, there is really nothing I can do to convey the reasoning. The love seems to be blind, instinctual. Perhaps it is in the blood. Why else was the smell of cinders so familiar, even when I smelled it for the first time? Why else does the rhythm of the rail feel akin to my pulse? Why else, then, do I hang out in the vestibules of trains, when a comfortable seat it at hand in the car behind me?
For me, the railroad is a foil for history, for travel, for exotic placenames and the everyday America beside the tracks. Like the classic two lane highway, the ribbons of steel are a part of the lifeblood of the Northwest. My love of them has manifested itself in my writing and my photography.
For Ryan, I suspect it's an engineering problem. On the floor of Brooklyn was his Hydrogen powered car, a tri-wheeled machine slightly larger than a go-cart, built as a college project for the Oregon Institute of Technology. There seems little in common between it and the NKP 190 sitting behind it. What they share is the challenge of making the bits and pieces come together to make a smoothly functioning whole.
For others, it comes out in the love of the ride. Some have the goal of riding every mile of track they can, and the more unusual, the better. When the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the NRHS had their summer picnic aboard the Mount Hood Railroad, it made a short tour over the MHRR-UP interchange track in Hood River. "Rare mileage!" Chapter President Arlen Sheldrake said to me, smiling. "Hey, we take all that we can get."
But what does it matter, the reason? The common thread is the love of the rails, and whatever the draw, when someone next asks why, perhaps the best answer is, how could you not?