Summer is progressing happily, on the whole. I have not been X-ing off the days in my calendar as desperately as I thought I might. The girls have been healthy and mostly content, and I seem to be out of whatever funk last had me in its evil grip. All is well.
The Sandyshoes family likes to ride a train ride from time to time. We've really enjoyed Connecticut's Essex Steam Train in years past. That's about two and a half hours from Cape Cod down 95S. It's a nice little train ride which you can opt to combine with a riverboat excursion on a lovely stretch of the Connecticut River. That makes for a beautiful day for sure, but lately it's a bit more sitting and riding than I can fairly expect of my children. It was great when they were very small and not so mobile, but in recent years we've kept it to the train part. I'm sure we'll add the riverboat back in eventually. At the train station in Essex there is a nice gift shop and a good collection of Thomas the Tank Engine toys for kids to play with. Children also get a little prize after the train ride; it's a nice touch. The people who work there genuinely love steam trains, and their pride really shows.
Staying closer to home this year, we hit the Cape Cod Central Railroad (pictured) yesterday for a ride on their "Scenic Fun Train," a two-hour trip from Hyannis to the Cape Cod Canal and back. Some days they stop in Sandwich as well. We took the nonstop round trip, but I'd actually recommend the stop. Start in either Sandwich or Hyannis, disembark at the other end and stroll around for an hour or two, and catch the next train back. That's a nice mix of activities, whether you're a tourist or just playing one for the day. And otherwise, I have to say, the ride seems at least a half hour too long, especially in the heat. The breeze doesn't get through the passenger coaches as well as you'd think it would. An upgrade to the air conditioned "parlor car" is $10/person; we opted not to take it, and heard later that the a/c hadn't been working anyhow.
The Cape train uses diesel engines, so there isn't all the romance and history associated with the steam train experience. The employees are cheerful and nice -- someone comes around to do face painting for children, and the conductor passes out crayons and train pictures to color -- but the reverence for the train itself, for its own sake, isn't as palpable.
During the ride, a Scenic Fun Train commentator speaks about points of interest from Hyannis to the canal; on the way back, they play a collection of train songs (The City of New Orleans, et al.). I love the tour guide stuff. There are some things you just don't learn in other ways. ("Locals call this property 'the gentleman's farm.'" Really? We do? Fascinating.) Also, I like to see if people from other places appear interested in any of it. The commentary includes general information about cranberry bogs and kettle ponds, marshes and dunes, the towns of Barnstable, Sandwich and Bourne, the Sandwich Glass Factory, the Cape Cod Canal, and obligatory mentions of the Kennedys and the Pilgrims.
As for scenic - I don't know how long they're going to continue to be able to make this claim. Frankly, much of the ride isn't all that scenic, simply because vegetation has grown thick and tall on both sides of the track. I don't think they'll get trees cut down for the sake of a better distant glimpse of Cape Cod Bay. There are a couple of superb marsh views, but they go by quickly. Even the Cape Cod Canal is only visible in flashes, because the trees are so thick between it and the tracks. So you have the train yard, and Barnstable Municipal Airport, and a "very exclusive" golf course (oooooh), and the former county jail... and then nothing much for a long stretch. Former farms, mostly residential subdivisions now.
It's perhaps most telling that they include a little old lady named Sally as an actual attraction. "Coming up on the right is Sally," says the commentator. "She comes out to wave at every scheduled train. We'll see if she's out. Yes, there she is! Wave at Sally!" And sure enough, there's an elderly lady waving slowly at us from her backyard as we trundle by, clickety clack, clickety clack. "She comes out for every scheduled train -- she must have a lot of energy!" says the commentator.
I don't know how much energy it takes to step into the backyard and wave twice a day, but I'll certainly give Sally the benefit of the doubt. Frankly, it's more than I want to manage myself, in this heat.