Railroad Photo Reaction Just Keeps Rolling Along
Louie Scribner misses the days when kids "were totally self-entertaining" - when "we were told to 'go play outside' and we did just that."
My friend Louie, who lives in Southern Pines with his wife, Pat, was one of a number of readers who responded to last week's column about the mini-stir created by Glenn M. Sides' front page photo of Feb. 15. The picture, captioned "Balancing Act," showed a girl stepping along the railroad track in downtown Southern Pines.
While agreeing that walking on a railroad track could be dangerous (more on that in a moment) and that it was technically trespassing, I said the photo had stirred childhood memories of countless unsupervised hours spent doing just that. I also took issue with the idea that portraying an activity in the paper amounted to "encouraging" it.
"When I saw the railroad photo on the front page," Louie emailed, "I thought, 'Uh-oh, here it comes. That's a dumb photo to print.'" But the more he thought about it, the more it made him, too, miss earlier and simpler times.
"There were all-day hikes through the neighborhood woods and creeks," he said, "crossing under the four-lane by following the creek through the big culverts, building tree forts, sneaking in backyard sheds to see what was inside, finding a secluded hideout that we were sure had never been discovered. We had BB guns, slingshots and hunting knives - but also enough sense to stay out of real trouble. We learned a lot in the process."
Jay Utley, who lives at Midland County Club and described himself as "86 going on 8," said he still has a flattened piece of copper that is virtually unrecognizable as the penny that he put on a railroad track in his youth in Michigan.
"I grew up in Royal Oak, north of Detroit," Jay said in a phone call. "And I have a lot of great memories of getting up and walking on the old Grand Trunk track. We'd be waving at these guys on the train. And when they got close, they'd be tooting their horn. They never got upset, and they didn't care. They just thought we were having fun."
Cathy McClellan, of Southern Pines, wrote to say she liked the picture and the subsequent column but knew we would take some heat for them.
"I am 82 years old and grew up in a city," she wrote, "but I loved to be out where there were tracks to walk on and other fun things. ... I feel a little sorry for people who immediately think of all the reasons not to do something that is carefree at the moment. There was no train in sight, and they make plenty of noise when they are coming. Let's not take away the simple joys."
I hasten to add that not everyone was amused. And a couple of correspondents pointed out that, though trains may indeed make "plenty of noise," you might not always be able to hear them.
"If you look closely," wrote Gerry Chupik, of Pinehurst No. 6, "you'll notice that the girl in the picture is wearing earbuds from an MP3 device. That's what really caught my eye and made me think it's kind of dangerous. You know, kids tend to keep the volume turned up high, and she might not have had a chance if a train were to approach."
A former railroad employee who called, though reluctant to let me use his name, sounded another cautionary note about the noise problem.
"The railroad has had a real romanticized past," he said, "and I understand that. But these rails aren't what they used to be. They aren't jointed, and you may not hear a train coming."
Good point. Rails formerly had joints every so many feet, and the wheels passing over them produced that familiar clickety-clack. But with today's smoothly welded rails, as the caller said, "you get a fluid, class movement instead of that chunka-chunka."
That would be especially true if one were wearing earbuds. So please keep that in mind.
But why end on that downer note? Call me irresponsible, but I prefer this sentiment from Marquita Daniels, a former Southern Pines Town Council member:
"A young lady using the railroad tracks as a balance beam! What could be finer on a lovely February day in Southern Pines, when the Northeast and Midwest were shoveling snow from blizzards? Couldn't agree more. ... Guess I'm lucky the railroad police haven't caught me crossing their private property in the middle of the Broad Street block."
Steve Bouser is opinion editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2470 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story