I work in the American oil field, so I know what it’s like to be away from home and all of the comforts that I take for granted. When I’m home I go into Super Dad mode. I don’t want to miss one minute with my family. I recently discovered that Amtrak passed through my area of North Texas. As a younger man I worked in Europe where the only way to travel was by rail. Once I found out about the train station being close, I became curious as to the schedule of the train, where it goes, and how much it costs.
It turns out that Dallas is a major hub for Amtrak. Trains leave everyday from Dallas and Ft. Worth. The price for my family to travel round trip from Dallas to Austin and back is $220. Think about that. I could load the family up and drive to Austin for a weekend, and probably spend $150 in gasoline plus other items that are needed while driving on the highway. Add in the stress of kids, stopping, potty breaks, possibly getting sick, etc. and traveling on a train is a wonderful option. The train is two hours longer due to stops along the way. These stops provide for a better traveling experience. They listen to the conductor announce where we are and they try to find it on the map. This mixes together mapping, adventure, learning, travel, and family time. My eldest (who is 4) can run up and down the car, I can go to the food car, and restrooms are available. The best part is watching your children’s fascination when they look out the window. We also get to see the central Texas countryside in a way that I’m not used to. Kids see the most amazing things from those windows. We’ve seen tree trunks that are sculpted into statues by artists with chain saws, murals painted on the sides of barns, junk yards with cars from the 20’s and 30’s, and old men sit on the front porch waving at us. There are no honking horns, angry drivers, and big rigs rushing to get their load delivered. We feel the clickety-clack of the rails and fascination in my kid’s eyes.
We don’t realize how much of the world we see as a result of our normal driving patterns. If it isn’t on our normal routes that we drive to, it doesn’t exist. The train provides a more fascinating journey. The people on board the train are there for a reason. They don’t want to sit in a car and drive. They want to nap, have a cocktail, and laugh with other passengers. We’ve met fascinating people on board, from back packers to tenured professors. My wife, a teacher, will many times find other academic minds. She’ll walk down to the bar car for cocktails and discussion with her newfound friends while I watch the kids. She always manages to slip away and bring me a cocktail and then hurry back to her conversation. She’s the best wife ever! The magic of the train car is alive and well, and I personally believe the practice of train travel should be resurrected.
I realize that we live in a car culture and that America has been built around the highway system. But the rails were what built this nation; heading west into the new frontier. This frontier still exists. Although an afterthought usually found in Hollywood movies, riding the rails provides a calming, fun experience for both adult and child alike. I encourage you, if you live near a train line, to hop on it and give it a ride. If you don’t wish to go and stay in a city, simply rent a sleeper cabin and don’t get off. Get out of your comfort zone. You’ll be glad you did.