Tales of a Three Year Old Train-Spotter
Story by Blair Paterson
To my fellow Editors
The Outdoor Type
Dear Garry and Dave Esquires,
It has been some time since my last correspondence but I trust this letter finds you well, and feel I must write you both to tell of Sam’s latest expedition as a worldly three year old with a particularly unyielding penchant for trains – that most noble and regal rolling-transport medium.
With his support crew again in tow this adventure was so jam-full of twists and turns the likes of which I must convey with great haste and detail.
The day was bright, sunny and luminescent when Sam donned his black Converse sneakers and showed his usual rebuttal at the prospect of applying sunscreen. The crisis was hitherto appeased, thankfully, as we packed our rations of gingerbread men, bananas, sultanas and hot tea into our dilly-bags.
Our adventure was ready to proceed and the door was flung open to a world which lay akimbo at Sam’s feet.
It was not long, my trusty mates, before we heard the whining honking squeaking sounds of the good old trains a block away. The smell of sparking electricity and diesel soot drew us ever-closer to our day’s purpose; Sam’s step quickened; he let out a shriek of excitement as we downed the laneway towards the rails.
“TRAIN!” he exclaimed like he was on the precipice of some great otherworldly discovery, “TRAIN! TRAIN!!”
“How many trains will we see today?” I dutifully asked, but there was no time to reply because Sam saw our silver quarry streak across the cityscape in front – the 10:51 Intercity Express bound for Central.
The answer was “One train,” and there were surely more to follow.
Once at the end of the laneway, with the many metal ribbons of the busy Western Trunk Line in full view, Sam took heeds and sought my assistance to sit him on the column of an old brick fence so he could survey his surrounds. At which time a Tangara and two Millenniums crisscrossed in quick succession.
“Four trains,” Sam said, right hand up, fingers ready to be risen, “Let’s count: one, two, three, four.”
While trains were the main subject of our adventure there was still time to explore other features. And as another Tangara trundled by, Sam felt it time to push on. He had seen manholes and service hatches before, and he knew some wobbled whence jumped upon. So once off the fence he set into a goodly gait down the street adjacent the track in search of such a cheerful anomaly, dancing effervescently on every lid along the way.
“I saw five trains,” Sam reiterated, but as he did we were both befuddled to see the Indian Pacific roll past pulled by two blue diesel locos straining hard on their tow to keep the long assemblage of carriages underway. Sam yelled and jumped on the spot so high he nearly lost his footing.
We stopped and set up camp on the footpath outside a closed hairdresser shop. We needed to fortify ourselves for all that happened to date so I reached into my dilly-bag, broke out a gingerbread man and handed it to Sam. It was not long before he ridded the brown biscuit of its shiny Smartie buttons and thence devoured it by limbs then head then torso as I supped my tea now at an exquisite drinking temp.
Lucky we were pensive at that moment, because down the street Sam spotted five irate minor birds swooping two irate magpies swooping a poor possum lost in the middle of the day, languishing in the middle of the street, its nocturnal nuances clearly out of whack with the trauma with which it was beset.
My friends, there was naught we could do for the sorry beast which was badly injured, but to high-tail to the vet hospital down the street. Sam is a humanitarian I tell you, but he is also a man thorough with his undertakings. Not only did he want to seek hospice for the animal, he also had his train ledger to keep intact – the number of which had reached double figures.
“Let’s count: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven.”
We entered the vet and the waiting room. To my right an old cocker spaniel looked up before sinking again to its jowls, its master nonplussed with my actions. A moggy-cat showed little distain to my left as a bitsa dog scratched a bald knob of skin on its rump. And a cockatiel sat somberly on a bearded man’s shoulder like it was at a dentist instead of a vet, regardless of having no teeth. Sam summoned me forward to the counter whilst he studied the sun-faded pet toys hanging on a nearby display.
“I saw eleven trains,” he said with great conviction to a purple rubber bone which emitted the dull wince of a whoopee-cushion when squeezed.
“Um, excuse me,” I said to the lady behind the counter, “But there is an injured possum up the street.”
Before I could say anything more she was out of her seat and hurrying her colleague out the door to collect the animal. I garnered Sam from his studies and together we tried as best we could to keep up with the two vets as they strode up the street at a determined clip with towels and cage in hand.
The minor birds and magpies watched with blasé abandon from perches on telegraph wires overhead while the vets went to action. The possum bound out from under a parked car and made for a nearby tree but was an easy catch, its flailing hind leg clearly thwarting any possible escape.
All the while, another three trains whooshed by.
The commotion and excitement was too much for Sam, and as the vets caged the animal and walked off he thought it opportune to take stock, sit down on another fence and return to the job of counting trains.
“Daddy, I saw fourteen trains! Let’s count …”
We sat and ate bananas and sultanas as yet another seven trains passed. The count now exceeded twenty – the number twenty-one a veritable infinity which until then Sam had never before counted, but did so as ‘twenty-number-one’.
Sam cast his eyes down to his feet. “Look at all the ants,” he said. For a brief moment I considered counting the little marching insects with my expedition cohort but then I remembered our recent deeds with the possum and wondered how it was faring. So we packed our dilly-bags and forged back to the vet only to be informed that the injuries were too great and our little mate had been sent on a sleepy journey to the next place; the minor birds and magpies were left to cajole and harass the next poor animal which may succumb to such a misfortune in this hectic, higgledy-piggledy world.
We walked out of the vet with our chins down and our dreams diminished. But such feelings were short-lived. Because the railway was rumbling once more, this time with an old black steam train shiny and resplendent enough to accompany Thomas the Tank Engine on any number of his adventures.
I start singing a Kinks song:
Like the last of the good ol’ choo-choo trains,
Huff and puff ’till I blow this world away,
And I’m gonna keep on rollin’ till my dying day.
I’m the last of the good old fashioned steam-powered trains.
Our twenty-second train was an immediate highlight and our spirits were instantly lifted.
“How many trains now Sam?”
“I saw ‘twenty-number-two’ trains,” said he with all the conviction and dedication of a train-spotter far older than his short years.
And so our adventure turned and headed for home, where trains: ‘twenty-number-three’, ‘twenty-number-four’ and ‘twenty- number-five’ rounded out our bounty and the promise of hot chips loomed large as repose and recompense.
Thus I sign off with great salutations to you both and the prospect of many more adventures in the future. Farewell for now.