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March 4, 1995

Sen. Nickles has my personal backing in all his efforts to restore passenger train service to Oklahoma, especially since he hopes to have Perry included on the north-south route now being discussed. This dialogue has been going on for such a long time, however, that it has become one of those I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it things.

The last passenger train rolled through Perry in 1979 when the entire state lost this service. Before then, you could board a Santa Fe or a Frisco train here and make connections to go anywhere in the U.S.A. Since that dark day, some kind of plan has been thrust forward regularly to get the service restored. But, in the meantime, the railroad business has suffered more economic losses, casting further doubt on the chances of local folks to regain passenger train routes through here.

The remnants of our old Frisco depot on south eleventh street were cleared away several years ago, but we still have the Santa Fe station at the east end of Delaware. If we succeed in getting north-south passenger train service again on the old Santa Fe line, the city will have to re-open the only good road (Delaware) leading to the station. That part of the street was closed several months ago and barricades now prevent vehicles from using it to reach the station.

You can try getting there from Cedar street, but don't use a vehicle that you care much about. Ordinary suspension systems will fail, leaf spring will snap, wheels and tires will be damaged, mufflers and tail pipes will be stone-punctured, and blowouts are likely to occur if you attempt to traverse the miserable little street between Cedar and the old train station. It is chock-full of deep potholes, ruts, loose rock and an assortment of other hazards.

In the olden days, when traveling by rail was still fairly commonplace, Perry parents would take their youngsters to the train station when a passenger train was scheduled to stop here, and the kids would find delight in waving to the friendly engineers, Pullman porters, conductors and passengers passing through. The train whistle had a warm, friendly sound, and it seemed the engineer would always give it an extra "toot" when some child was looking expectantly at him. It was a thrilling experience.

Riding the train back then was wonderful, too. No highway traffic for Father to deal with, no flat tires to worry about. Mother didn't have to worry about fixing meals. The food service was fine on the dining cars, with their snowy white linen cloths and usually a vase of fresh flowers. The clickety-clack sound of those iron wheels on those iron tracks was soothing and sleep-inducing at night, even if your ticket only allowed you to sit up. Pullman berths were pretty expensive and generally used only for trips requiring several days.

Remembering all that pleasant side of railroad travel, our family took a vacation back East one summer. We drove first to Washington, D.C., left our car with friends there and took an Amtrak train to New York City. We thought wed show our two daughters the joys of passenger trains. We bought tickets to travel from the Capital City's beautiful Union Station to mid-town Manhattan. We had a choice between a very fast, non-stop express train or a sort of local which made several, stops en route. The local had a diner, so we chose it. The journey was something less than successful.

It was late in the summer and the train had no appreciable air-conditioning. If a window could be propped open, dirt and debris blew in. The dining car was hardly the way we remembered from our youth. The waiters were hostile and rude. Only sandwiches were available, and the table cloths were soiled The travel time seemed interminable.

Adding to our summer vacation was a trip to a Broadway play, one which had been enjoying a successful run before we arrived there. It was "Fiddler on the Roof," a musical rich in Jewish tradition and Eastern European/Russian philosophy. All the lyrics and dialogue were in English, however. We dug out our best Sunday clothes from the suitcases and arrived at the theatre expecting to see ladies dripping in ermine and pearls escorted by handsome men wearing white ties and tails. We had not reckoned with the growing trend toward casual attire then flowering. Blue jeans and T-shirts were the apparel of choice for both men and women.

Waiting in our seats for the opening curtain, we became aware that the row directly behind us was occupied by a group of non-English speaking people accompanied by friends who did speak the language. As the house lights dimmed, the orchestra began the overture and the curtains parted on an exciting opening number. But when the dialogue began, our neighbors in the rear had to have a continuous interpretation, loudly delivered, to enable their understanding. How loud was it? Well, none of us could understand the lines being spoken on stage because all we could hear was the version being delivered behind us, and that of course was concerned with words that had already been spoken on stage.

Aside from the music, we derived very little pleasure from the play and, in fact, did not even know the plot until several years later when our own Stagecoach Community Theatre mounted a fine production of "Fiddler" in the Perry high school auditorium. That was a superior version, anyway, thanks to the work of director Steve Smallwood, Russell Thompson's performance as Tevye, Julia Payne as his wife, and all the other talented local folks who were on stage and behind the scenes. For us, the Broadway production was an unhappy experience, thanks to that portion of the audience occupying the seats behind us. In case you're wondering, they were oblivious to our withering looks throughout the evening.

Well, this started off to a piece about restoring passenger train service to Perry, and you see where it's led. Ill say again, lots of luck, Sen. Nickles, but don't forget that we've still got to fix up our street leading to the station in Perry before the conductor can holler "All aboard."