Yesterday morning, early, as we were making our way to Whitefish I was overjoyed to see so many deer out grazing in the small meadows adjacent to the track. I started counting and was up to six deer before we hit Whitefish. I was impressed by the size and good coloring of the animals assured this was a great place for deer to live.
The “deer” on the other side of the Rockies did not look so healthy, or so I thought. As we passed Browning on the way to Cut Bank, I noticed quite a few more creatures that were lighter in color and smaller in size.
At lunch, the guy that looked like Jimmy Carter suggested the “deer” I had been counting might actually be antelope. Indeed, we passed one at that very moment and it was confirmed that these creatures with the “fuzzy horns” were antelope.
So the count is all mixed up, but by dusk I was up to 16 creatures.
Throughout the trip there have been other kinds of “wildlife” along the rails. These are the “train buffs” who appear in all shapes and sizes and venture out whenever the Empire Builder comes to town. I’m sure “train buff” is an offensive term to them – similar to calling Star Trek fans “trekkies instead of the preferred “trekers.” Perhaps the correct term is “railroad enthusiasts,” so I will refer to them as RE’s.
The RE’s are everywhere, small towns, and large cities, at stations and at crossroads. Some come with cameras, some come with small children, and some come solo. But they are out there all the time. We just left Minneapolis/St.Paul and I saw a guy pulled over by the side of a busy highway, clicking away. In Albany on the way out, there was an entire video crew made up of college kids who were making a documentary. I offered my services for an interview, but was declined. In East Glacier there was an Asian man who had set up a large expensive camera and tripod on the platform and was wildly clicking away as the train pulled out of the station.
And, at literally hundreds of smaller stations and crossing gates along the route, cars could be seen filled RE’s anxious to see the train.
When we were kids at Point O’Woods, the New Haven Railroad passed nearby. At a place we called Little Beach, the rails sat on an elevated causeway next to the beach. This open area gave us the opportunity to see the train coming from a distance and jump up in time to wave.
Even though they still had passenger trains in those days, we mostly were interested in waving to the engineer – who in my mind always waved back. And he always blew his horn as he passed. We thought he was blowing it just for us, but as I got older, I realized the engineer was blowing the horn because of an unguarded crossing on that stretch of track.
Several years ago I was lucky enough to ride the high speed Acela train from Boston to Washington. I was most excited at the opportunity to pass Little Beach on this trip but was disappointed by the fact that at 100+ mph – the speed the Acela makes on that run – Little Beach was nothing more than a blur. I’m not sure the engineer blew his horn, but I am sure that any little kid standing on the beach would still be waving; even if we couldn’t see him.