January 22, 2002
When the Union Pacific locomotives came through Perry the other day with the Olympic flame on board, a handful of us assembled at the old depot on east Delaware street to await the arrival at the announced hour. We waited for a considerable length of time before two men in a pickup truck drove to our location and told us the train was behind time, probably as much as an hour and a half off the schedule. “It’s so late because it’s a UP train,” they snickered. It was nearly noon so, knowing that we had plenty of time, we opted to go home for lunch and then return. So did all the others.
Eventually the specially made-up train did arrive. It was not the usual freight hauler that we see here every day. The dual locomotives were brightly painted yellow and black with appropriate symbols, telling the world that the flame was en route to Salt Lake City, Utah, for the 2002 Winter Olympics. It was quite an interesting spectacle. The flame itself was on a gondola-type car with a large cauldron on top. The train made a slow, snaking transit through Perry on the tracks that are now owned by BNSF – the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad. Then it disappeared headed south to Oklahoma City before returning late in the afternoon to this general area for a westward trek, again on the BNSF. Despite the brevity of the moment, it was truly thrilling and I’m glad we had the chance to see the train and wave at the engineers. It gave everyone a little thrill, something this country can use right now. It also brought back a lot of memories, none of them having anything to do with the Olympics.
The old Santa Fe station is a dreary place these days. Now you cannot buy a ticket at the iron-grilled window. In the waiting room those hard wooden benches are nowhere in sight. It’s not a place where you can leave Perry for Chicago or Dallas, or greet incoming friends and relatives from Kansas City or Fort Worth, or other points in either direction. Mail is not brought here by rail, and none is dispatched by that means. All of the excitement is long gone. Perry has no passenger railroad traffic now.
A brick sidewalk just north of the depot was once used by passengers boarding or leaving the Santa Fe passenger trains that passed through Perry on a regular schedule. Much of the brick walk now is gone. Adjacent to the walk was a hard-surfaced street where motorists could park while awaiting arrivals. Many parents brought their young children to the station just for the thrill of seeing a train. A standing joke locally was that Stillwater citizens and Oklahoma A.& M. athletic teams had to come to Perry to catch a train. Conductors always waved and engineers shrilled their whistles when they saw an audience on the platform.
There’s still a question about the possibility of resuming passenger rail service in Oklahoma, and the location of tracks that the trains will use are also uncertain. In the meantime, we’ll have to be satisfied with an occasional treat like the one when the 2002 Olympic flame train came through Perry the other day.