It does not matter where we are if the sound of a train whistle blows my son goes into hyperdrive. He is obsessed with anything to do with trains and as he attempts to see where the train is coming from, I just smile. So many of my own memories revolve around Blue Ridge trains.
From the train tracks that were visible from my Grandmother’s front yard in Hot Springs to living near them all my life in Clyde, North Carolina they have been ever present.
I’m surprised I haven’t created any artwork with trains before now. I suppose I felt that they were cliché. And I am all about being “original” in what I do, don’t ask I can’t explain it.
We all have our quirks and it has taken me a while to realize that just because there are subjects in this area that people are drawn to. For example, black bears, Blue Ridge Parkway sunsets, elk and more it doesn’t mean I cannot place them in my own artwork.
How I see the world is unique and drawing inspiration from what is around me is just fine. No one will create the same way that I do, and I must embrace that.
Nevertheless, trains and train tracks have just always been there. It amazes me from time to time how much we take for granted what is around us. Daily I ignore the sounds of the diesel engines as they pass by but there are people who travel to western North Carolina just to ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
I’m sure there are things where they live, I would be in awe of as well if I were to travel to their hometowns. Maybe we all need to slow down a little bit and take notice of our surroundings.
I remember sitting on my Granny’s front porch and watching the Barnum & Bailey’s Circus train come to a stop while another one carrying coal passed. The cars were super colorful, and it made me excited to see that the circus was coming to Asheville!
Yet, now circuses have fallen out of fashion and are closing to never be seen again.
There are other memories I cherish as well near the train tracks. We used to walk up and down the road near them gathering blackberries in the summer at my Grandmother’s. Then she would make the best homemade blackberry jelly.
At home, I used to sneak up on the tracks and play jumping from timber to timber. That was how I discovered we had a lovely doe who lived near our home. She lived in a thicket near the tracks and we would see her often. She even raised a fawn there. Seeing her was a delight and I guess she was used to the trains and they offered a form of protection for her. Everything else scattered when they came through.
Even in college while studying for my degree in English I found myself reading John Ehle’s novel “The Road.” Which was a historical novel about how the train tracks built to Asheville were so difficult to carve out of the mountainside. Did you know they were built using convict labor?
On another note, I also read Ron Rash’s novel “Serena” which was based on the logging industry in Haywood County. The story was in its own way a retelling of Macbeth set in the Appalachian hills and how they managed to get the logs down and onto trains. Logging is what led to my home county being founded in the first place.
And now I have a nine-year-old son who is beyond fascinated with the great engines and their cargo. I wish I could describe how obsessed he is with them but there really is no describing it. Even though I might not pay attention to the ones I can hear if I listen, there is no way I can ignore him.
Every day he runs through the house making his train sounds. While driving across 441 yesterday into Tennessee he rolled down the window in the truck while going through a tunnel and blasted his vocal horn to let others know he was coming through.
The trains of the Blue Ridge and Appalachians will always hold a place in my heart. From my own memories of childhood to the ones, I am creating now with my son. This painting will be hanging above his bed before long for his birthday which is next month. He was with me when we snapped the reference image and hopefully, he will look back at it when he is older and have fond memories just like I do.