Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Train to Florida #blogboost

It's been an experience, raising a son and experiencing him as both a child and an adult.  Sometimes, I like to look back at some of my fondest experiences.

In 2006, it had been 30 years since I last set foot in Florida.

Now it was time to go back.

How much had things changed since I lived in Tampa, Florida between 1974 and 1976?

I remember a lot about what is now called "old Florida" from living there, and from visits in 1966, 1969 and 1972 as a teenager. I remember Busch Gardens in Tampa when it was a free brewery tour followed by a free trained parrot show. I remember Disney World when it first opened (my first visit was 10 months, I believe, after its opening) before you needed a bank loan to visit.

So how did I prepare for this nostalgic visit? By researching it to death. I discovered various Tampa landmarks of my years there were gone-Mirabella's, Maas Brothers - and others had been bought up or had name changes. The Tampa skyline definitely was not what it was (or, more like it, what it was not) back in 1976. But absolutely nothing prepared me for what was to come.

And to get to Florida?  I am scared of flying (a long story).

I remembered seeing ads for the Auto Train in the early 1970's when I still lived in New York City.  It still existed.  So we booked it, myself, my spouse and my then-16 year old son, and our car.
Lorton Auto Train terminal, March 2013

Here's a post I wrote in 2018 about riding on the Auto Train.  It's named the Auto Train, by the way, because you must have a motorized vehicle (which rides in separate cars) to ride on the train.

Once the train pulled out of the station in Lorton, Virginia, there was the amazing sense of getting ready to complete a journey that had started in 1966. Forty years earlier, an Atlantic Coast Line train had brought me home from Tampa, Florida during an airplane strike. Now, in a way, I was taking the return train.

In Fredericksburg, Virginia, we passed near Civil War battlefields we had visited years ago. At Quantico, we went right through the marine base and watched helicopters in flight. We passed over a beautiful lake and had close up views of the countryside. In Richmond, Virginia, we passed so close to a highway we could see the faces of drivers heading in the opposite direction. It was so tempting to wave!
A train (not the Auto Train, but on the same tracks) traveling through Ashland, VA, April 2017

We passed people going home for their supper hour. In one town (Ashland, Virginia) we passed right down the middle of their main street, with driveways backing right into the path of the train.

Even after darkness fell,  I peered out the window every time lights and the start of whistle blowing announced a town. We passed through southern North Carolina as I fell into a fitful sleep. The train seemed to speed up. When a train passed in another direction it felt as if the train would rock right off its tracks.

Finally, we pulled into a well lit station - our one stop, to change crews and do maintenance only: Florence, South Carolina. We stayed there a while, and then traveled on.

At some point I woke up in time to see a huge, well lit billboard for a Crab Shack on Tybee Island and didn't know if it was part of a dream or not. (It was not a dream).

The next thing I knew, it was 6am and time for breakfast. We were traveling through southern Georgia.

As darkness made way to light, my son and I gazed upon a southern green scape. What a feeling it was to share this with my son, pointing out the southern vegetation and  landmarks as we came across them. How awesome is it to share a piece of your life with your teenage son?

The sun was already high in the sky as we crossed over the St. Mary's River into Florida. It glared down with the promise of a broiling August Florida day. After breakfast, we slowly wound through Jacksonville, Florida.  Jacksonville is the largest city (in area) in the United States and the Auto Train gives a very good view, taking a good 20 minutes to pass through.

To my delight I saw names I had not seen in 30 years...Kash and Karry, Winn-Dixie. They had survived the 31 years since I had been last in Jacksonville.

South of Jacksonville, we saw many shade houses on farms, and the conductor announced these were fern growing areas. Certainly nothing you would have seen from the Interstate.

Finally we got to Sanford, and the circle started in 1966 was complete.

It was the last time my spouse, my son and I would take a common vacation until August 2017, when we traveled together (well, in separate cars) to see the total solar eclipse in Columbia, South Carolina. I asked my son if he remembered the trip to Florida.  He did, and said he wouldn't mind traveling on the Auto Train again. 

I hope he does one day.

Have you ever traveled long distance by train?

Day 5 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge #blogboost


  1. I applaud your decision to use the train. It is an efficient way to travel and less harmful to the environment than most other forms of transportation. Bravo!

  2. The longest train trip I’ve taken has been from NYC to Washington DC. I used to do this trip for business, the company preferred to book my trip on the train. Drew and I did it once for a vacation, too. I’ve driven to DC, I’ve flown to DC. The most interesting view of the countryside comes from the train.

  3. I loved reading the story of your trip on the Auto-Train those many years ago.

  4. When we lived in Alabama, we often took the train for those adventures. Once we took the 5-8 hr trip to New Orleans...sure, it was faster to drive, but you know, there is nothing like a train ride, smiles.

  5. Alana, this is a great story! I'm originally from north Florida, the Jacksonville area, to be exact. I left that area back in the late 80's when I graduated high school. I've been back a few times, but it's really cool to go back and see how things have changed (or not changed). I never rode on an auto train, but I sure did some traveling on a Greyhound bus!

  6. I have never traveled long-distance by train, but I would love to travel across the country in one. I have a feeling the views would be amazing!

  7. You should get on that, planning a trip to take with your son. Before you know it, he'll be so busy it won't happen.

  8. I have never heard of an Auto Train. Sounds like a term from the 50's talking about a futuristic vehicle.

  9. The longest trip that I took by train was from Buffalo, New York, to LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The ride from Buffalo to Chicago was challenging. It was all night, and the train was kept cold. I shivered all night and didn't sleep much! I couldn't understand why I felt like was in the refrigerator! The Chicago to LaCrosse part of the trip was fun. I had switched trains and this was a daytime ride! In the dining car, there were two men who entertaining everyone for the entire trip. They talked about the places that we were passing... the history, favorite foods, sports, etc. I was so excited about Wisconsin! I wished that I could spend more time traveling through that state! Little did I know that, two years later, I would get my wish, when I joined a group that took a very long walk... from Chicago to Saint Paul, Minnesota!

  10. Alana,

    I have not traveled by train but it does appeal to me. I know DD#2 who now lives in Maine has traveled to Boston and NYC by train which seems like a cool option. It's fun to go down memory lane literally or mentally. Thanks for sharing yours with us!

  11. Trains are very relaxing to travel in.Flying may be faster but not so much fun.


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