Wednesday, June 4, 2014
The Royal Oak Train Tower
Growing up in south Royal Oak, westbound Lincoln Ave was the gateway to almost everyplace I went. This tower stood behind Redford/Cashway (formerly Erb) Lumber on the Grand Trunk line just east of Main Street. It was like a beanstalk and remained a lost fascination of my youth until I came across this photograph.
Passing it in a car was one thing but the one and only time I got the courage to walk up to it, I was enthralled while I looked at this fortress. I wondered if it was where “the engineer” slept or how far down the tracks you could see from its majestic perch. Detroit maybe? Chicago?
As a kid I was more aware of the trains at night because my young life was filled with walking to school, eating lunch, playing kickball at recess, getting home on time for supper and riding my bike around my neighborhood as I played with friends and passed the time with people who have disappeared (or happily reappeared here on facebook)
As I got older I could figure out if the train was heading north or south by the frequency and strength of the train whistle. If it was northbound I’d hear the first faint blast down in Ferndale at the intersection of Hilton and Nine Mile. As it moved north I would hear its rumble getting closer and it would continue blasting its horn as the volume increased while it passed the crossings at Hudson, Lincoln, Main St, Fourth Street and finally Washington Ave. There might be one more toot as it passed the old commuter substation near where Vinsetta Blvd crosses 12 mile, but otherwise it faded as it made its subtle ascent toward Birmingham.
If it was heading south, the sound of the steel wheels on the rails would hang in the air, like distant traffic and after the first horn wailed, it would get louder as it gained speed and rolled into downtown. Most people don’t know that there is a topographical difference of about 140 feet in elevation from the north to south tip of the city. This is but one reason for the difference in speed of the trains coming and going.
I can still hear trains from my house but it is different now. How I hear them defies logic, as the closest open space where they pass is about a quarter mile away where the tracks cross Normandy. The front of my house faces west, toward Woodward, yet somehow their sound weaves its way between the houses, and trees and I can hear it out of my front window.
I still dream of trains and of that time of my youth, when the train tower became haunted at night with ghosts of all the Hobos who walked the tracks while it remained a mystery shrouded in secrecy during the day because nobody really knew with complete certainty what went on inside.
The train tower is but another one of the landmarks of my youth that the modern age has claimed. It’s gone, but not forgotten and still a permanent snapshot in my mind.