In June of 1957, my father retired from the navy. From Astoria, Oregon, we returned to the family home in Jacksonville. Atlantic Coast Line diesels were still wearing purple and silver paint. A twenty minute walk down a creek and through some woods put me beside the rails. The mainline was double track. Freight trains abounded, and passenger trains with colorful cars from other roads were a regular feature. Seaboard and Southern abounded on the west side of town also. From the bridges downtown could be seen a colorful show put on by Florida East Coast with its locomotives in red and yellow. Jacksonville Union Station and the Jacksonville Terminal Company always had enough activity to make a long bike ride worth the trouble.
In 1961 the family visited Washington D.C. Trollies ran in the street. We would ride them "next time". My next visit to D.C. was in 1994. I saw only buses and subways.
When I attended North Florida Junior College, I sometimes rode Seaboard Coast Line's Gulf Wind between Jacksonville and Madison. Between 1967 and 1969, the printed paper headrest covers still said "Seaboard". It cost five cents more than the Greyhound. The difference was that the train ride ended at the depot, which required a one-and-a-half mile walk home in Madison. It was a lucky day to catch the occasional ride west along US 90 to the house. The Greyhound on the other hand, stopped at Jack's Saw Shop ( and Greyhound station ). For thirty-five cents extra, I could ride another mile, allowing me to dismount right at my front door on highway 90.
The consist was always an E unit, a baggage car, four coaches, and a diner. The diner was oriented such that the dining area was at the rear of the car, providing a good view of the receding track. A piece of apple pie with a slice of American cheese on it was thirty-five cents. I thought that was too much to pay, and I never got the pie. .
Tampa today has some treasures. The tram system is built on 140 pound rail, curved by machine, and welded into continuous rail. The cars are beautifully maintained. The track was recently extended further into downtown. Further extension is in the works. It looks like trollies are here to stay.
Tampa Union Station hosts several AMTRAK sections every week. AMTRAK reports sell-out seating on every train. It seems like a bright future.
Purple engines are gone, all those beautiful F's and E's. No more mint green, no more green and white, no more red and yellow. Now we see the same CSX and NS that line the eastern United states from the south to the north. Jacksonville Union is gone, now a convention center. Replaced by a glass "AMSHACK" out on the highway.
The trolley and railroad features we have today in Tampa seem secure. So did all of the beautiful trolley and railroad features described above. Go downtown and ride the trams. Soak in the commentary of the motormen as you pass through historic areas. Go to Tampa Union Station and watch a passenger train arrive. Walk along the train shed and stand by the locomotive while two-thousand horse power idles. Can you still feel it yearning to pull, or is it just noise and diesel fumes?
If you love these machines, go bask now in their glory. Fame is a fleeting thing.
Ray June 2014
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