I’ve always had a sort of absolute enthrallment concerning steam locomotives. Most young boys do I suppose, but what strikes me as particularly discernible about my relationship with these mechanical marvels is that even as I teeter on the cusp of manhood, they still awaken in me an overwhelming passion and longing melancholy. They continue to do so unlike anything I’ve ever enountered, trumping even lovers and personal connections. In fact, I would go so far as to say that my deeply profound and vaguely familiar experiences with steam locomotives have intensified, rather than faded, with age.
Naturally, my disposition regarding railroading leaves me to confer heartily with the claim that steam locomotives are living entities. As engineers too have claimed, every engine has a personality, a character, and most certainly a soul all its own. Indeed, steam engines are far more alive than many give them credit for. Alas, one must experience this magical vitality for themselves if they are to fully appreciate the depth of these spirited claims.
Perhaps it is merely because I’m historically displaced. I’ve always been frequently informed, and I suppose I quite agree, that I belong to a marginal group of individuals the contemporaries refer to as “old souls.” I imagine I take this quite a bit more literally than most, though the figurative nature of the term is certainly true of me as well. Alas, not a day passes by when I’m not overcome by a chronic nostalgia for a life I’ve managed to somehow never lead. I tend to feel as though I missed a direly important train, and I used to think I missed it too; whenever I’d imagine myself as a bootlegger or young professor making his way in the world, I could practically taste the sense of belonging and desire such that it hung so heavily in my chest. And though those feelings have far from subsided, I see now my phantom memories of that gilded era are not potent because I missed it, but because I witnessed it.
In my never-ending quest to explore and understand myself, I return time and time again to the analogies of steam, pistons, fire, coal, wood, and whistles. That these things feature so prominently in my attempts to describe myself I no longer view as coincidences, for it was not until relatively recently that I arrived at a similar conclusion to the one all of you have undoubedtly just come to. While I’ve never been a proponent of reincarnation, I must admit that I am sympathetic towards the stance that the life of one, be it man or machine, may be prolonged in loving memory. In this light I do believe us capable of recognizing the fragments of the past, quite alive and well, hiding behind the eyes and smiles of our “old soul” peers. It is furthermore that in coming to this conclusion I’ve discovered a lively and cherished part of myself. Though I may not be able to lucidly recall the adventures of my past, my character chugs on in the rhythmic panting of my heart and in the fiery glow of my eyes. My history and all the deeply bewildering surges it has plagued me with now screams like a whistle from here within these very words. Recognizing this all has further gifted me with the ability to better appreciate my life as a gilded second chance and a golden opportunity. I have been given the potential to once more pursue my tracks until I reach the end of the line and then push on ever further into the thrilling unknown that is life. Every breath I take is a musical reanimation of what happened once long ago, and dare I conclude, not a sigh of this new life has yet to be wasted.
Engine No. 168: The Flickersmith