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Trains and More Trains


Many, many, many years ago at Boston University I took a course on Middle Eastern History with a young professor who is now Professor Emeritus – foreign policy in the Middle East. I am not really sure why I took the course other than it was something totally new and different but I ended up writing the final paper on the construction of the Berlin to Baghdad Railway. I do remember enjoying the research. From 1899 to 1914 and eventually 1940 this immense project was fraught with politics, finances, and confusion. The reasoning behind such an enormous and long linking between two geographical areas was that Germany would get oil and Turkey would trade for needed goods. Abdul Hamid ll was the last sultan to have absolute control over the Ottoman Empire from 1876 to 1909 when he was deposed. The alliance with Germany and Kaiser Wilhelm ll which included the Baghdad Railway construction was unsuccessful. There is still discussion today as to whether this undertaking helped bring about World War l.

Trains are back in my life! I am now a frequent traveler to Philadelphia on Amtrak. As I travel I am always curious as to what everyone is doing! Many have laptop computers watching a movie, listening to music or checking email. Books, tablets, and all manner of carryon entertainment abound. I watched a man check his laptop consistently and report to his wife across the aisle what was happening to several of their stocks on Wall Street. I see many people reading books on their tablets as well as reading a real old fashion hardcover or paperback book! I watched a young woman check on her little dog in a carry-on. She was very good about alerting any seatmate of the dog because of allergies. I watched a woman knit a scarf and became mesmerized as she did her “yarn overs” differently than I would! Train travel is interesting if you just look around.

The best return trip was my most recent one. The train was crowded and I took an empty seat aside another empty seat that had a sweater and a bag of books on the floor. For several stations no one appeared and I began to wonder if the person left the train and forgot the items! But no! A woman about my age came from the café car and I first mentioned the book she had “The Orchardist” by Amanda Coplin and away we went. She was in a book group and she loved “The Orchardist” and we started comparing titles. She was widowed and was moving to be nearer her daughter – a subject I am pondering to be near my son. We talked at length about making changes in our lives and she assured me I would know when the time was right for change. Then she told me how hard it was to get tickets to “Hamilton” playing in New York! And to top it all off I told her I had a house in Maine and her family does too on a lake near where my brother lived! What a great train companion she was but she got off in Stanford, Connecticut!

I do not know when my next train trip will be! I decided to check our book collection on the history of trains and train travel and found several interesting titles. “Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America” by Sam Roberts (385.14 Rob), “Orient Express: the Life and Times of the World’s Most Famous Train” by E.H. Cookridge (385.22 Coo), “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star” by Paul Theroux (915 The), “To the Edge of the World “ – story of the trans-Siberian Express by Christian Wolmar (385 Wol), and “Nothing Like it In the World – the Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869” by Stephen E. Ambrose (385.097 Amb).

However, if you have no interest in the above titles I have listed you might enjoy the current fiction bestseller “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins or perhaps the mystery “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie.

Margot Sullivan is a part-time reader’s advisory and reference librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the June 9th issue of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.

Alli Palmgren

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