Riding Along The Gulf Of Mexico, Published 18 May 1945Here we are on the Piedmont Limited, going a mile a minute down toward Mobile, Alabama. The tempo changes however, once. we move into that alligator pasture known as the mouths of the Alabama river. Here you see trees sweeping low over the water, swampy bayous that are neither land nor sea, and you view a terrain utterly foreign to Canadians. Then the Diesels keep on picking their way across different strips of water which are so identical that you would think you are always on the same river, and that all this was just some rehearsals for a picture. Ultimately, you do reach higher, drier land on the west side, although it is not much higher, nor much drier, at that. Then the train picks its way down along Mobile water front, and that's a real treat. On the left arc the grey freighters of the Allies. High up on the ways are ships yet to salute the sea, as riveters work furiously to get their craft into the ocean.
I would not be who I am if I did not mention that the Gulf Mobile and Ohio Railway (The Rebel Route) had its yard engines out the other window, while farther over was the Alabama, Tennessee, and Northern station, of which more shortly.
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Mobile is the only other southern city, except New Orleans, that seems to show the Creole influence. Here once more you see the Spanish grille work, those beautiful steel scrolls which neither age nor rust can mar. Then too, you have the narrow streets, alive with color.
Mobile is really the Azalea Capital, and had I been there earlier, I would have walked in a world of pink. However, there was still the Battle House (only other one I know was at Magog, and it burned down last year), and the park, and the brisk main street, and the inevitable chain stores. Mobile's better than I am making it out to be, but I must get along.
This Alabama. Tennessee and Northern that I mentioned is a small railway with one passenger train a day. It operates an oil electric car up to York, Alabama, and beyond, but its main business, as with nearly all railways, is from freight. It cuts a good many east and west railroads and acts as a transfer line. I had never ridden this railway, so promptly taxied out to the offices, where Superintendent Marsh told me to help myself, and promptly called in the crew of the yard switcher, a Diesel, to give me a spin. Engineer Ben Wilson and Fireman Paul Todd were most co-operative, and so a minute later we were hurtling through space up to the oil depot. Being used to steam, it did seem funny for a truck to back up, and service a locomotive with oil. This may be all right for kids, but old time railroaders like Assistant Clerk of the Commons Boyce and I shake our heads at such goings on. Better we say, the most decrepit yard goat than these svelte, austere, cold Diesels. You could love an old steamer like C.P.R. 2211, but you couldn't warm up to a Diesel any more than you could enthuse over a man's Adam's Apple.
However, I had my ride, about two miles of it, on the A.T. & N., and the 91st railway was achieved.
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Back in downtown Mobile, I revelled in the waterfront, its trim coastguard cutters, its lighthouses, and navigation marks. But I think I got a bit more moved when I saw a British freighter. There she stood, grim, dirty, gray, but undaunted and unsunk. There she was, symbol of Britain's strength, a memorial to her doggedncss. but above all, a sign to all that Britons, never never will be slaves.
You can take your Diesels and yard engines and Yankee ships, but when it comes to something that really will stir the blood, quicken the senses, and make you proud you are what you are, Masefield and I can exult alike over the "dirty British coaster with the salt-caked smoke stack, butting through the Channel in the mad March days." It was the British ship that really made my day seem like something.
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A moan to my right told me that the twin Diesels of the Crescent Limited were coming, and so once more, I was on my way. To those who don't know this part of the world, I can tell you that it is a very interesting run along the Gulf of Mexico, with mile upon mile right beside the sea. Far out on the horizon were the Chandelier Islands, themselves only a few reeds high, and then there were miles of indeterminate stuff along the shore that was neither sea nor land. You leave Alabama behind finally, then get into Mississippi. We are now on the fashionable Gulf Coast. The Pullman drawing rooms disgorge their fashionable passengers at Biloxi, Gulfport, and other seacoast resorts. Swift, smart trains run as locals along here, stopping every few miles to let the haute monde off.
What I couldn't help thinking was that, across that water, out the window, only a few hundred miles, was the southern coast of Mexico, a fabulous land of forgotten civilizations, Maya, ruins, and bizarre people. I also wondered how many Nazi submarines were between them and us.
The train moved swiftly into the land of everlasting bayous, and as dusk settled. I wondered how many crocodiles and alligators were enjoying the nocturnal coze beside us. Then the world grew bright far to the west, and I knew we were close to New Orleans. Our train went right down the middle of a street, and the name of that street, believe it or not, is Elysian Fields.