Commentary

Train trip great, whoopee cushion notwithstanding

There we were chugging along in a 1920s style, open-window coach on the Hill Country Flyer train, en route from Cedar Park, an Austin suburb, through the beautiful Texas hill country to Burnet.

It was the day before Mother’s Day and the dozen or so cars appeared to be about 60 percent full, mostly of families.

While it was windy and a bit chilly, the trip was comfortable and the countryside was spectacular with all the wildflower colors erupting from a landscape nurtured plentifully through fall-winterearly spring rains.

Normally, the vintage train would be pulled by an even more-vintage steam locomotive but the nonprofi t Austin Steam Train organization had its 1916 engine in the “roundhouse” for “needed” repairs. Instead, we were towed along by a 1960 Alco diesel locomotive.

Of course, there are “newer” coaches than the 1920s style our last-minute reservation secured — some 1950s climate-controlled excursion coaches and first class pullman lounge cars. Pullman lounge cars provide some privacy, but are more pricey than the $28 open-window coach.

Naturally, there was a “snack coach,” but more about that later. There was also something unusual for a passenger train, a red “caboose,” normally, as the name implies, tagged to the end of freight trains years ago. The caboose was “for rent” apparently and inaccessible from the coach cars, as a sizable family group enjoyed its uniqueness.

Austin Steam Train’s Flyer made the approximate 50-mile trip in just under two hours, per schedule from a 10 a.m. departure, moving at the right pace to enjoy the matchless spring beauty of the Hill Country.

The Burnet layover lasts about two hours from the noon arrival, providing enough time for lunch at any of several restaurants, plus a comedic Wild West shootout between the “sheriff” and a couple of “outlaws.” That touristy shootout features saloon girls, mostly recruited from Hill Country Flyer passengers. Dancehall-gal dresses were provided in a stunning array of glitzy colors.

Hill Country Flyer crew members are all volunteers. Included in the crew are an engineer, fireman, brakeman and conductor in addition to a host/hostess for each car plus several vendors for the aforementioned snack coach.

As one might expect, the snack car also offered souvenirs, including engineer caps and prints of a Ben Sargent-drawing of the steam locomotive. Sargent was there as the volunteer conductor, uniform and all.

We drew the final regular coach car, which was occupied by this large four-generation family that was a cross mixture of the Beverly Hillbillies, sloths and the tattoo champion of a local, dimly-lit beer joint.

It was ascertained that the clown prince of this group actually began the practice of tight, low-slung pants and short tee-top that gave the expected look when he bent over, and that look was the forerunner of today’s teen “jailin’” style. You know, the one where the belt is around the knees and one hand is required 24/7 to hold the pants up. We’ll call crown prince Duh, which seems altogether appropriate.

On the trip to Burnet, Duh and the youngest member of the big (both in numbers and weights) family, a boy of about 10, wove a steady, continuous trail through the six coaches to the snack car and back, always wagging sacks full of snacks — candy, chips, beef jerky and gum.

Everyone went their separate ways for Burnet sight-seeing and lunch. We deliberately chose a place called Tea-licious, knowing no self-respecting redneck would go there.

But, back on the train, it was more of the same plus the return from Burnet shopping netted Duh a whoopee cushion, which was introduced immediately upon reboarding the train. The accompanying chatter and banter grew increasingly obnoxious when finally someone who appeared to be Duh’s mother said something to him we didn’t hear but we heard his response: “Happy bleepin’ Mother’s Day!”

We moved to the back of the coach.

Nevertheless, the trip is worth it. Look ‘em up at Info@austinsteamtrain.org.

Besides, Duh has already had his turn.

Willis Webb is a retired community editor publisher of more than 50 years. Email him at wwebb@wildblue.net.


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2010-06-10 digital edition



The burn ban for Milam County has been lifted. Burning is always prohibited in the county's municipalities.


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