Little Black Train

Leaving Palmetto Island meant that we had to make a directional decision. Heading south would mean more beach time, but a long road back up to Austin and then Dallas where we’re scheduled to meet up with Corrinne’s family. We decided to skip the Texas beaches for now. Temperatures have been rising beyond comfortable in the afternoon anyway, and one of the big appeals of Texas beaches is boondocking, which we can’t do yet because we still have no water tank.

So westward we go.

I’ve recently realized through a few internet conversations I’ve had with friends and family, that no one believes that we drive (whenever possible) back roads. It seems that when I say back roads people think I mean staying off the interstate in favor of state roads (usually two digit highways with four lanes). But no, that’s not how we roll, so to speak.

Admittedly, sometimes those highways are the only option, but when possible we go much smaller than that, stringing together routes using county roads, random streets and the occasional barely-a-road dirt track. I generally feel like a driving day should include at least one moment where we collectively think “there’s no way this is right” and then continue on anyway. To give you some flavor of what it’s like here’s an otherwise not very good photo from somewhere along our drive out of Palmetto Island, through Louisiana:

Driving the Atchafalaya basin photographed by luxagraf

Traveling this way is unquestionably slow (that 35 mph stretch above was probably at least 15 miles, not exactly covering ground in a hurry), but the advantage is that you get to stumble unto things you’d otherwise never find, like the wonderful railroad museum in DeQuincy Louisiana.

Coming into the otherwise unremarkable DeQuincy LA, I spotted a couple of train cars under a large metal covering. It looked interesting, but it was late in the day and I was pretty sure everyone was tired. I drove on past the first obvious turn toward it. A couple of red lights later though I saw a sign that said “railroad museum” and I thought what the hell, this is why we’re out here, randomness, even when you’re tired. I pulled down a small side street and parked the bus.

I popped in the Iron Horse pub where what turned out to be a few off duty railroad workers were enjoying a drink, or ten, and asked if the bus was okay where it was. Now, the thing I know about the bus is that it’s really hard to tow so it’s not like I’m worried about it disappearing, but I dislike offending the local citizenry so I always like to ask when I park it in places where it takes up a good bit of the available street.

travco outside the train museum dequincy louisiana photographed by luxagraf

Of course one does not simply point to the bus, ask a question and walk away. So I spent ten minutes or so hanging out, fielding engine questions (Dodge 318, nope, not the 440, that comes along in ‘72, 8.2mpg) and learning a tiny bit about railroad work. Most of the people there were not just railroad workers, but second and even third generation railroad workers. I also noticed a sign that said all canned beer was just $1 whenever a train went by the tracks just out front. This was the second time that having children has forced me to a different itinerary than I would have naturally picked. Left to my own devices I’d have never made it to the museum, but I bet I’d know a lot more about railroad workers.

train museum dequincy louisana photographed by luxagraf

Eventually I extracted myself and headed across the street to the museum. Corrinne and the kids were already inside what turned out to be the old station house. There were switches and time tables — most people don’t realize this but time zones, and accurate time keeping only exists because railroads demanded it1 — along with old typewriters, a telegraph, even a Burroughs adding machine.

train museum dequincy louisiana photographed by luxagraf
“Dad, what’s that?” “Early email.” “What’s email?” “A way to write letters without mailing them” “Why?” “No idea.”

train museum dequincy louisiana photographed by luxagraf

train museum dequincy louisiana photographed by luxagraf
Because of the Poliovirus. Ironically a day later we would discover that Texas SP bathrooms lack soap dispensers. Health codes, hit or miss.

The kids, particularly Elliott, were drawn to the back room with the model railroad set up. Humans have come up with a lot of different ways of moving themselves around, but trains seem to catch kids’ imaginations in some way that most others do not.

train museum dequincy louisiana photographed by luxagraf

Eventually we started to head outside when the woman behind the counter intercepted us and gave us keys to the padlocks. “I have to go pick up my daughter from school,” she said, “just make sure you lock up when you’re done and put the keys in the mailbox.” We had free run of the place, which was cool, but I was more impressed with the trusting of strangers, how often does that happen in America anymore?

We went in the railcar, poked around the engine a bit and looked in the cabooses as well. The kids seemed most enthralled by the mini train that gets used during the local “railroad days” festival. Sometimes you need something that’s more your size.

train museum dequincy louisiana photographed by luxagraf

After looking around we locked up, dropped the key in the mailbox and headed on down the road.


  1. Most of what I know about what we call “time” — and just how downright strange and culturally-bound it turns out to be — comes from reading the excellent, A Geography Of Time, by Robert Levine.