Cass Scenic Railroad

Most of a lifetime ago in a village far, far away the Kansas City Southern Railroad ran trains through my home town headed south to New Orleans or north to Kansas City, and a hundred points in between. Our town of 800 living souls had a rail terminal where passengers could buy tickets and board or disembark from their comfortable travels (at least compared to airlines). Freight trains rumbled through at all hours of the day and night, but the fast passenger came through like clockwork at 7:30 a.m. southbound and 5:55 p.m. northbound. The passengers were pulled by diesel locomotives but some of the freights still followed coal-burning steam engines. For them, Mooringsport Station had a fully functional water tank, a necessity for steam powered engines.

 

Taking On Water
Taking On Water

My mom taught school and dad worked construction. Five out of seven days each week of my early years were spent with my grandmother “Big” (named for the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof character Big Mama). On school days in 1952 I’d hear a steam engine coming and cry out “Noo-noo nain!” In a minute Big’s old ears would catch the sound, and she’d mimic it with words reflecting the historic place of the railroad in American life: “Black and dirty, makin’ money. Black and dirty, makin’ money.”

 

Why the EPA Hates Coal
Why the EPA Hates Coal

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We Are Tested

 

This past weekend we faced a fully-booked Saturday and a near-full Sunday. Saturday came with three unprecedented challenges. The large pavilion was hosting a wedding on a day when the rain forecast called for an inch within an hour of “I do.” The smallest pavilion was rented by an old bat who, despite 20 signs forbidding parking on it, had appealed for the right to drive her car over our soaked turf to everyone from our corporate management to the US Forest Service. The middle pavilion was to house a surprise birthday party, and the only rub there was she wanted to zip past us at 30 mph as if on a minor highway. Our worry: children cross the road as wisely as deer, and we have plenty of both.

 

Saturday we awakened in the cold sweat of fear and loathing. We imagined the worst, as the worst had begun the night before. Around 6:30 p.m. six cars and pickups blew past our checkpoint going 45, drafting like they were running Daytona. Nobody paid us any fees nor notice. Such conduct is like staggering onto a cop’s parked cruiser and puking all over it.   We simply had to go get them. This was the advance guard of the next day’s wedding, come to set up for it. During our brief conversation it became clear that there would be a rehearsal at this pavilion tonight that had not been paid for. We collected payment from Daddy Red Truck, but only after reassurance from Mother of the Bride that “I’m a good Christian woman” and “We will be out of here long before you close the park at 9 o’clock Saturday night”.

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The Church Group and a Two-Handed Dunk

We were tent campers back in the 80’s. Home was north Louisiana and most of our weekend escapes were to the cooler climate of Arkansas. Our favorite camps were Albert Pike, Mount Nebo, Cassatott, and Lake Greeson. We canoed the Ouachita, the Buffalo, the Caddo, and the Mulberry Rivers. We hiked all kinds of trails, usually following our daughter Stephanie the Pathfinder, who even in kindergarten had an uncanny knack for finding trail markers – and more usefully — restrooms in stores and restaurants.   When possible we’d catch a ranger talk, then interrogate him (lady rangers were then rare) upon its completion. An often-asked question was “Which groups of campers cause the most trouble?” Sometimes the answer was “Motorcycle gangs”, but more often we heard “Church youth groups”.   That second one always prompted a follow-up. “How can church kids be more trouble than bikers or drunks”? We would then hear a variation on this theme: “Most of those kids live tightly controlled lives, but when they break free, they have all kinds of steam to blow off. Without their parents around they just run wild.”

 

Our first church group function was held in the Big Pavilion at Stuart this Sunday. We get advance notice of reservations, and you should have heard me and Kat wailing and gnashing teeth upon receipt of those tidings.   Even Pink was making funny noises, but she’s an incredibly intelligent dog – her vocalizations may have been glossolalia.

 

The Process Begins
The Process Begins
The Dunk
The Dunk
Been There and Done That!
Been There and Done That!

Come Sunday, the caterers fired up 50 pounds of charcoal at 8:00 a.m. The menu was roast pork loin, baked beans, potato salad, with assorted desserts brought by the church ladies. The sermon began at 10:30 and ended with benediction an hour later. It was more than a youth function; this was the annual church picnic for all its members. (Sound effect: big sigh of relief.) There was no beer or wine in sight, nor in the garbage. The Alliance Church cleaned up very well afterwards, and only the caterers were rude (they insisted on parking on the grass), but Kat laid down the law, and soon, them old boys sho ‘nuff got the religion!

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