For our first Christmas together I got Fred a train set. HO scale. As a Jew, I was going for the Christmas cliché. Each year that followed, I bought him an expansion set—more trains, more tracks, more town buildings—always from Ryder’s Hobby Shop in Ann Arbor. This was long before we moved to the East, but it eventually occurred to me that the little town I was building with the train set was an iconic New England town. It was Northampton.
Ironically, Northampton hadn’t had passenger train service since 1987. For years, there has been a train running north from NYC into Vermont (the aptly named Vermonter), but it took a jog through Palmer and then Amherst, to avoid deteriorated tracks. The train ran to Springfield, but there was no service to the rest of the towns up 91: Holyoke, Northampton, and Greenfield.
Thanks to stimulus money (hurray Barack Obama) and lots of work by our legislators (especially the now retired John Olver) we have a passenger train again! With newly repaired tracks and crossings, the Vermonter will finally come straight up from Springfield. Service doesn’t start until December 29 (and the first run to Penn Station is already sold out), but there was a ceremonial run today.
This afternoon, a crowd of giddy locals and media joined Mayor David Narkewicz, city councilors, and the Expandable Brass Band, and waited for the train’s 2:20 arrival. It actually showed up early, at 2:00. This was a much better precedent than a late arrival. The train stopped at the new Northampton platform and Governor Deval Patrick, and a bevy of officials and media, disembarked for a quick ceremony. The governor was rather funny (someone is certainly enjoying his last few weeks in office) and graciously accepted a NHT t-shirt designed and sewn by Tess Poe, owner of Beehive Sewing Studio + Workspace. Within minutes everyone filed back on the train along with the mayor, city councilors, and other lucky folks, for a trip up to Greenfield (and we hope, back).
Now, if I’d like, I could walk a few blocks—15 minutes at most—and hop a train to NYC. From there, I could go to Chicago, and even Los Angeles. With some political maneuvering, we’ll eventually be able to take it to Montreal as well. It’s pretty expensive to even go to New York, and the schedule is still limited, but it’s a start.
We never set up Fred’s train set. We didn’t have the right space in our apartment or in either of our houses. It’s all tucked safely in the boxes, most of them unopened. We’re going to set it up during the Christmas vacation, lack of space be dammed. If Northampton can make it happen, so can we.