I grew up a few miles and an energetic bike ride from the shores of Puget Sound. As kids, we used to pack a lunch and spend the entire day dinking around in the tide pools or trying to walk the rails of train tracks built on sturdy rick-rack edging the waterline.
There were two tracks running along the sound. Pretty much it was one north and one south, but we couldn’t always count on which was which. Ignoring admonitions we might derail a train by placing pennies on the track, we often did it anyway.
Vividly, I remember sitting on the beach with my siblings, waiting for the train to pass so we could search for our flattened pennies. We counted train cars as the lengthy parades chugged by, trying hard not to lose count. Many trains were well over 100 cars long!
As the end of the train drew near, we stood, dusted the sand off our bottoms, and waved with our arms extended up over our heads as the caboose approached. Often we were rewarded with an answering wave from the train crew.
Last week I was riding in a car going south on I-5 between Kelso and Portland. We encountered a lengthy train traveling north, and for a moment, I tried to count the cars. Trees between the road and the track ended my attempt, but I smiled as pleasant summer memories on Puget Sound washed over me.
At long last, the end of the train was in sight—but where was the caboose?
“Trains haven’t had cabooses for years,” said my friend who was driving. “You really need to get out more.” He laughed. “FRED marks the end of trains now.”
In answer to my upraised eyebrows, he explained, “Flashing rear-end device.”
Good grief. No more cabooses. No more guys waving back to kids on the beach. My childhood adventures along the sound have suddenly become just another chapter in ancient history.
And another little piece of Americana fades into the sunset.