A Memory’s Railroad

No one will argue that cities and towns are growing, living things – developing and changing, destroying and building. Some things stay becuase they’re landmarks while some places get torn down because of financial or development reasons or signs get taken down because they’re no longer needed. Some of the most insignificant things that were torn down or paved over may not have made any kind of impact on anyone, but they become part of involuntary memories – the things one realizes when they’re gone.

There’s this long-defunct railroad that, I think ran right along Mission Blvd, right through the old and long-gone Macy’s warehouse, right across Chestnut, through the lumber yard and down until it probably reached the commuter train station. All my life I’ve always remembered the railroad being there as I’ve driven down Chestnut. It wasn’t anything I’d give a second thought to every time, but somewhere in the back of my head I was aware of feeling the bumps as the tires of the car drove over them. It was always something to expect whenever I needed to get anywhere. Chestnut’s a main road, pretty much, to get anywhere north or south.

Sometime around last year I discovered a section of new pavement cutting across Chestnut. The old railroad was completely covered. Even the sections where the railroad reached the other side of the street were buried under gravel. I drove to wherever it was I was getting to, just kind of remembering seeing the cargo trains in front of the Macy’s warehouse when I was little. I even remembered the railguards -when they still existed- coming down when they’d roll by. I was slightly bummed after recalling these mundane memories. But I lightened up shortly after realizing that the railroad wasn’t completly paved over. Somewhere around the town’s lumber yard (I’m afraid I can’t recall the street at the moment) the railroad still exists unpaved. And what’s interesting are the RR signs still painted on the street along with the X-shaped railroad signs still posted on the sidewalk. I gave myself this unusual, ‘archaeological’ mission to do a project on this slowly-fading landmark.

That railroad, as insignificant and as defunct as it is had a history. Where did it begin? What did it transport? When I discovered the paved sections of the old railroad, I remembered Ray Bradbury’s short story: I See You Never where Mrs. O’Brien realizes that the one person she’s so used to seeing will never be seen again. I know it wouldn’t be too long until all the remnants of that old railway are gone for good.

The photos below were taken with nothing more than a disposable, black and white camera.

Paved railroad

This is one section where it cuts across Chestnut on the other side of the street. It’s completely covered in gravel, pavement, dirt, grass, what have you.

partially paved

This is across the street from the city’s lumber yard. It’s sloppily, partially paved.

RR merge

This was an interesting find right on the parking lot of the lumber yard. The railroad merges with another set of tracks. I’m assuming most of those tracks are long gone.

RR crossing sign

An amazing find. Right around the lumber yard was this railroad crossing sign still posted. But the sign’s partially covered by the electrical post.

It’s still a work in progress. As I’ve mentioned I discovered a few more railroad crossing signs in the same area. I’ve mentioned this project to one of my old professors – whose exhibit on monuments inspired me – and she suggested doing research on the history of this railroad. So many ideas have been running through my head – this project isn’t going to be as small as I originally thought…I’m both happy and overwhelmed – but most of all, feeling very motivated.

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One thought on “A Memory’s Railroad

  1. Very nice photoessay. The pictures have a tragic quality about them.

    I did my master’s thesis partially on local railroad history. Fascinating stuff…a local library or historical society might hold answers about the rail line you’re studying.

    Hope to see more pics, too!

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