Monday, February 13, 2017

Livingston Dream Book #6

On the north side of town, past the railroad tracks you can still feel the pulse of old Livingston, railroad town. The Northern Pacific Railroad shops are a statement to that as are the 100-year old vernacular styled cottages and unadorned homes. The old school which was built out of concrete block was converted not long ago into a community museum. This is where I meet Robert, a 90-year old railroad aficionado as he’s leaving the building. Wearing overalls and a brakeman’s hat, he sports a wide and generous grin to anyone who crosses his path. He’s here to teach anyone who wants to hear it, about how Livingston was once a thriving railroad town. With a railroad pocket watch that he keeps looking at impulsively and then putting it away every time he hears a distant freight train moan, he tells me he arrived here in the late 1940’s after serving in World War II. He worked as a drummer for awhile before settling in here. Images of a slicked back haired Gene Kupra comes to mind. But he explains he was a different kind of drummer. They were traveling businessmen, who were constantly riding the rails, stopping in towns large and small, to drum up business for their companies, hence the name “drummer”. His liquored-up eyes shine when he starts telling me the tales of yesteryear. How he found a job working for the railroad as a watchman. How he fell in love in the spring of 1955 to a first grade teacher that taught in the old school since turned museum for which he volunteers. His wrinkled face saddens and his hands start trembling as he mentions his wife’s passing in 1999. He looks at his railroad pocket watch again for a few seconds and takes a deep breath before putting the pocket watch in his overall’s pocket. We start walking south in the direction of the tracks. The smell of burnt rubber, coal fire and diesel becomes more prominent. He takes to the top of a hill near the Northern Pacific Railroad shops and in silence directs me to look straight ahead. From where we stand we can see the Mountains capped with snow, the Yellowstone river flowing south, the outline of town with the railroad that built this town from the ground and we almost can hear the sound of semis whining by on the interstate. The sun is setting just to the west of the mountains and it gives the sky a blue and orange hue. A freight train moans in the distance. Robert looks at his railroad pocket watch one more time. From my vantage point next to him I can see why he keeps looking at the watch. A picture of his wife is engraved in the watch’s dial. This time he holds the watch in his hands. I don’t need more than this to know that this must be his daily end-of-the day ritual for a long time now. He squints his eyes at the Mountains, still holding the pocket watch in his right hand, almost squeezing it for dear life and I swear I can notice a glimpse of a single tear rolling down his right eye. Or maybe that’s just me. 

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