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Original Text and Graphics Copyright 2015 by David Griffin,

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Utica's Union Station

For the longest time as a kid I wondered what a "Union Station" was.  The name was on the bus my mother would take me on when we went downtown.  Finally, I asked and was told it was "where all the buses go."  As in "a union of buses" I guess, but I wasn't old enough to form that thought.

Trains eventually ate into the canal business.  It was easier to build a spur to a small town than dig a canal there.  And of course trains were faster ... something that was becoming important in America.

Union Station's gorgeous interior.

The "Limited" didn't stop in Utica, but charged through each night at about 10 p.m.   I remember going down to the station with my father to watch it come through on a summer night.

Fast Train

Nothing is like a train.  It has a serious presence, not unlike a woman with a purpose.  It comes right up to you, stops, breathes on you, seizes you.  Some keep you waiting.  Many are hard to catch, and most are never on time.  Some leave before you notice they’re gone. Others may be going too fast to jump off.   Each is unique and beguiling in her own way.  And it’s not her strengths or failings you remember.  Rather, it is the way you were captured.

On a summer evening in upstate New York in 1954, my father brought my older brother and my ten year old self down to Utica’s Union Station to watch the Twentieth Century Limited thunder through the city  without stopping.  Inaugurated in 1902 and running daily until 1967, the Limited carried fathers and brothers and grandmothers and lovers from New York City to Chicago, and another set back each day, arriving at Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan well after midnight.

At nine p.m., she exploded through Utica’s station at full throttle, pounding down the platform at seventy miles per hour to where we stood.  I felt my father's hand grab on to the back of my shirt collar, an oddly comfortable feeling.  A tornado could not have wrested me away from his strong grip, so tightly did he hold me safe.  When the train burst past us a mere ten feet away, the enormous sound and the blast of air were magnificent. A lighted blue eye on the end of the last car quickly sped away from us down the track to wherever trains go.  She had taken my breath away and won my heart.

Eleven years later, the redheaded girl meeting me at Grand Central Terminal was quickly winning my heart. 

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Workers get set to install the clock a the top of Union Station.

Cars from the Adirondack Line.