Summertime Memories

Summer Time Memories

By Roger Heid

 

It was a fine day in summer of 1956, when our teacher announced we would all go on a very nice field trip, from here to there and back. It would be an all day affair, scheduled for the following Saturday. The more he babbled about it, the more excited he seemed to get. He made it sound like it was an all expenses paid roundtrip to the moon in a NASA luxury space liner.

We, a class of 38 boys in their mid teens, did not share his happy sentiment. Our reaction to all this reflected dire resentment, instead. This man was a nature freak; he also taught Biology. None of us was the least interested to learn all about the evolution of night crawlers and the gestation period of stink bugs. In the aftermath of the last field trip he took us on, we had to write a report covering the classification of all bugs, as if were attempting to win a Nobel Prize for researching the entire gamut of entomology. Just thinking about it, still gave us the creeps.

Things started to look up when he explained that we would not have to walk any great distances, such as crossing the Gobi Desert on foot, in search of some dried up water hole, in order to study the social structure of a colony of sand fleas.

The destination was an ancient town, about 20 miles away. The whole trip, both ways, would be done by bus and the Narrow Gauge Railroad. The cost for the whole affair, including meals, would be provided by some anonymous local do-gooder. Nothing wrong with that!

This was definitely a good thing. We would be spared from stumbling through the deep woods, looking for the mutated offspring of antediluvian insectoids. The ancient town, with the castle and the monastery, did not constitute a problem either. This teacher was not interested in ancient buildings, artifacts and other prehistoric rubble. We would not have to figure out the architect’s grandmother’s girdle size and favorite dish. This could turn out to be a lot of fun, after all.

By mid morning, we were piled up on the Narrow Gauge Railroad station platform, waiting for the train to arrive, and yes, we all behaved in a very civilized manner, in our opinion. We were good students, not a motley bunch of rowdies.

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The train arrived; I must say I had never seen a steam locomotive that small. Well, it was a short train. We boarded in an orderly fashion, quietly occupying the empty seats we could find. I got to sit across a rather stout lady. From the duds she wore I concluded she belonged to the farming community. On the floor in front of her was a basket full of eggs. The train slowly picked up some speed. The locomotive sounded like as if she was dragging a double consist of the Orient Express up the Black Forest. It amazed me that such a diminutive engine could produce that much noise.

The lady smiled at me and said:

“Ja, ja, die alte Schwaebische Anna. She was pulling me to school when I was a little girl.”

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Then my eyes fell on a cardboard sign nailed on a wall between windows. In crude handwriting it announced that it was prohibited to pick flowers while the train was in motion. At first I thought it was a leftover from some prank. I asked the lady if she knew the sign to be for real.

“Ja, ja! It has been hanging there for a long time. You just wait a little. There will be a hill, and the train will slow down to slow walking speed. There is meadow with flowers on both sides of the track.”

“I see. You’d think they would put up a sign that looks more official, don’t you think?”

“Ach nein. They cannot afford that. Business has not been so good. So many people have cars nowadays, and there is also a bus line going since the roads were made better.”

Sure enough! The train slowed down to a mere creep. The Old Anna wheezed like she was suffering from an asthma attack, or something worse. Occasionally she coughed, spewing out clouds of soot, smoke and steam.

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Here was a time to have some fun. Before you could count to ten, most all of us were spread all over the meadows, picking flowers. We totally ignored the conductor who yelled from the top and bottom of his lungs in an attempt to make us cease our heinous activity and resume our seats. The bully in our group stepped up to him and stuck a flower into a button hole on one of his lapels.

“Here, have a daisy. You deserve one for all your hard work, riding the train all day.”

In short order, I also stepped up and put a flower into the button hole of the other lapel.

“Here, my man, have another daisy. You know, this looks very becoming on you, I do declare. Don’t let anyone fool you. You are doing a very good job riding the train all day. You certainly deserve being decorated like this.”

The conductor had a half smoked cigar in his mouth. He accidentally bit the end off, and the rest of the cigar fell on the ground. Out of courtesy to my elders, I bent down and handed it to him. I cannot describe the look in his face. It seemed like a mixture of every emotion under the sun.

The train finally approached the top of the hill. We quickly resumed our seats on the train. I had gathered a fairly voluminous bouquet of flowers which I laid on top of the eggs in front of the lady.

“Here, Lady, I picked these with you in mind.”

She gave me a long look. I noticed some tears welling in her eyes.

“Oh my…. You are such a nice boy. Nobody has ever done that for me. I think that sign should come down. It has never done any good, anyway.”

I got up, ripped the sign off the wall and threw it out the window.

The tour through the ancient town was actually quite interesting, I must admit. Fortunately, there was no zoo in town. We probably would have spent most all of the day in it, possibly winding up having to study the relative annual growth factor of a giraffe’s neck, and write a paper describing our academic findings.

Luckily, our teacher did not notice the bats hanging from the ceiling in a section of a real old structure. Otherwise a study of the chemical composure of their droppings would have been on the agenda.

This train ride I will never forget. This was a heap of fun. I never forget the expression in the conductor’s face after he was so richly adorned.

For the next school year, it was suggested that, during field trips, this biology teacher should take us to towns and cities, whereby the history teacher should lead us through the woods. We figured this action would ease up our extra- curricular work load.

The school administrators complied all right, but it backfired. Now we had write papers on the average wing span of house flies and the age of trees. Can you believe that? Naw! I’m just kidding!

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Fleischman Model of the BR 98.75 – ‘Schwaebische Anna’

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