It’s said that memory can be triggered by the smallest of things: A sound, a scent or a brief glimpse of something that feels familiar.

This hopper car sits there in the sunlight of a quiet November afternoon. One of hundreds of thousands; it’s an unassuming car that we cease to pay attention to because it’s so common. Common though it is, this one caught my attention.

I have memories of freight cars parked on the sidings near home. Yes, there was plenty of the spectacle of fast paced mainline action, yet, the images of solitary objects that one could approach and study up close at length, formed a strong connection to my imagination and shaped my ideas and meaning of railroading and this craft.

A spectacle of sound and fury that is over before it begins.
A quieter conversation, like catching up with an old friend you haven’t seen in a year and a half.

A lone freight car idling away on a siding suits my temperament. It’s complexity and form is digestible to my mind. It’s purpose simple to understand and absorb into the imagination. For me, there is a simple humility in such compositions that invites a deeper, more thoughtful conversation. The older I get, the more I treasure a quiet conversation with a good friend, opposed to empty and transient small talk that is over before it’s even begun.

It’s important to take time for such encounters. In a few days, perhaps even hours, this car will be gone, on its way to the next assignment. Hard to say if I’ll ever see it again.

We make much of the spectacular: the heart pounding thunder of a speeding manifest, or the sheer scope and scale of railroading that spans a continent. In contrast to all that, I’ll take a relaxed, simple encounter like this over the roar of a party any day.