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My boyfriend, Derek, while patching a leak near the chimney of his home in Hamilton County, called me from his roof last Sunday.
“I just heard a steam whistle,” he said. “Is today the day the train runs to Roane County?”
Chattanooga’s steam engine was making a rare passenger excursion on Norfolk Southern tracks along Walden Ridge. On that day, it was set to go into Harriman, turn around and head back.
I thanked him for the reminder, did some calculations to estimate about when it would come through here and gathered my gear to get some pictures. One of those photos — of the train crossing the trestle over the Emory River — was on the front page of Wednesday’s edition.
When I first got into position at a rail crossing in Cardiff, it was just me and the crows. Then Jack Martin, who owns a farm out there, pulled up in his pickup truck with his German shepherd in the back.
“You’re the lady from the paper, right?” he said.
I confessed I was, and he and I got to talking about trains, farms and dogs. A couple of diesel freights passed by, but still no steam engine.
Martin moved on.
I waited alone again for a while, but soon more vehicles stopped and people with cameras got out.
They’d read about the train and wanted to get a picture. Others, seeing the stopped vehicles all up and down Hwy. 27, stopped just to find out what was going on, then stuck around to see the train itself.
When we heard the steam engine whistle, there was no mistaking it. People raised their cameras in anticipation, shot wildly for the few seconds we had as the train came around the bend and passed, and then many moved on to anticipated next shot up the road.
For me and many others, that was the nearly full parking lot at Christmas Lumber in Harriman, where you could watch the train cross the trestle over the Emory River.
I love trains and take comfort when I hear them in the distance from my ridgetop neighborhood.
As a college student, I used to have to drag a canvas bag stuffed with laundry across the track to a laundry facility off campus. I often had to wait on foot for a train to pass, and would have to look away because the passing railcars seemed to have the power to pull me in.
I also loved it when I lived in Cumberland Gap and trains would enter or emerge from the old tunnel there.
Not everyone feels the same way.
“It’s just a train,” said one of the younger reporters in our office who didn’t seem to understand the fuss.
But it was good to stand shoulder-to-shoulder last weekend with people who hope trains always will keep running.