Saturday, June 14, 2014

Remembering Earlier Mass Transit

Some of my earliest memories involve going to the train station with my folks to pick up my dad’s sister or nephew. She came in from D.C. for the holidays, while he came from parts unknown for the same occasions. Sometimes it would be the Greyhound Station, rather than the train. I suppose it had to do mostly with scheduling for my aunt, but point of origin for my cousin. I don’t remember ever going inside the train station, but I remember long wooden benches in the bus station. I think I remember a small restaurant in the bus station, too.

Back then, you didn’t have to go to a terminal to catch a bus, though that was their preferred method. You could actually flag down the Greyhound anywhere along its route and the driver would charge a fee commensurate with the distance remaining on the route. My great aunt, who lived halfway between here and the state capital, often flagged down the bus to come and visit her sister, my maternal grandmother. My wife remembers her mother flagging down the bus only three miles from town many a time when she wanted to go see her mother, back before they had a car.

Our city buses of that day were the same as the Greyhounds in appearance, complete with “the black smoke a-rolling up around the taillight,” as Roy Clark used to sing. I remember them passing through the downtown in those ancient days when we still had a downtown, and me coughing if I got a snoot-full of fumes.

My wife, though, is a few years older than me, so her memories go back beyond mine, of the 60’s and 50’s, and into the 40’s. She remembers riding around town on the old street cars. In fact, her mom has even taken her several miles up along the Ohio to the next city on the wrong side of the river, where she saw a certain doctor and did a little shopping on occasion. The whole ride was on the street car, including crossing the river on the regular highway bridge. Since the street car had separate tracks from the train, their steel rails crossed a couple places along the way.

Times change, of course, and the availability of automobiles to the average worker (and a local airport) first rang the death knell for the old street car, then the rail service to our area. Next, city buses disappeared and finally, Greyhound closed their local terminal. Air service to this area has almost disappeared now. But buses, of a much smaller variety, reappeared here a couple decades or more ago, though the service just hung on by the skin of its teeth for many years. Now, though, with rising gas prices and a free-falling local economy, those buses are seeing a great increase in ridership. We all would have been better off if they’d have found a way to save the street car and rail service, I think, but I’m sure many folks are thankful for those buses. © 2014



Sixbears said...

As I prepare for another trip to take my wife to Logan airport in Boston, I wish there was a good mass transit option in my area. I hate driving into Boston.

Gorges Smythe said...

From whaat I've heard of Boston, I can't blame you. But then, I don't like driving through any town bigger than 5,000! lol

HermitJim said...

I have a cousin that lives in Boston and he hates the traffic as well!

I would still like to take a train ride like in the old days. Only had one and that was a long time ago!

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

I have never lived anywhere that had mass transit, too far out I suppose. There used to be a train station in Pacific (near me) but that closed down decades ago.

Gorges Smythe said...

I've never ridden on anything but tourist trains, myself, Jim.

I come from a town of about 40,000 along the Ohio River, Kathy. The river location may have had an influence.

Janet, said...

What a nice, nostalgic post. I've never been on a train before, except for Cass Scenic. I would love to travel somewhere on one. I love the sights and sounds of them passing by. I've been on the greyhounds a few times and they are nice as well.

Pumice said...

Interesting memories but even more interesting as a comment on economic prosperity. Freedom of movement is precious and we are losing that as we lose our cars.

Grace and peace.

Gorges Smythe said...

I've never ridden a bus on a route, Janet, but I have been on a couple charters. I think we made a mistake letting the railroads do away with passenger trains and letting them tear up tracks. We were subsidizing them anyway.

Don't think that isn't part of the plan, Pumice. EVEYTHING is part of the plan!