Author’s note: This happened last year, but just like a train arriving, it’s better late than never!
Checking tickets on a train generally sounds like a boring job, but I just met one conductor who lives a life of adventure and danger.
Remember that scene in Indiana Jones where he ran across the top of train cars? Or all the Westerns where they did something similar? That’s how train rides go in my head.
Unfortunately, reality generally gets in the way. The train chugs along the tracks, and I sit in my seat while a mustached conductor unhappily examines my ticket. Eventually he wanders through a little portal into the next car. I close my eyes and go back to my daydreams.
Not this time.
We recently took a narrow gauge train up into the hills of Hungary. My over-the-top excitement for riding the rails dropped when I saw that 90 percent of the other passengers were under the age of ten, and they had apparently had never eaten anything not made of sugar.
But, there was good news. For a reason that I still don’t understand, the last car was completely empty! That’s pretty impressive for a crowded train that only has four carriages – and three are populated by hyperactive 8-year-olds.
The old train still had Christmas lights strung around the windows from December. There was a giant, wood-burning stove which proved that the train dates back to before modern heating. We opened a few windows, and took our choice from the wooden bench seats.
I was fascinated to see the little locking gates on the balconies at the front and back of the train cars. More noticeable was the fact that there was no way to walk from one carriage to another.
Unexpectedly, the train lurched to life, and some beer-drinking construction workers sprinted to get on before it left (again, avoiding our private car!). No steam whistle sounded, and the conductor didn’t even yell “all aboard,” but what can you do? It’s the curse of life in the 21st century.
One benefit of the last car is that we were the first to get our tickets checked. The conductor mysteriously had no mustache, but I let that slide. He quickly examined our tickets, did a highly technical marking system (in other words, ripped the corner with his fingers), and prepared to move on to a death-defying stunt!
So, we stopped him.
We demanded to know if there’s a restaurant at the end of the line. Like any true hero, he told us there was, and gave directions. (We learned later that he was wise as well as brave, the meal was great.)
Then he marched out the front of the train, hung off the side, closed the little gate to the front platform, and swung around to car #3 like an acrobat.
Ok, ok, we were puttering along at the pace of an antique train that goes through the forest, but can you blame it? It probably deserves to be retired by now.
The slow speed made his stunt less impressive, but I envied him just the same.
I’m sure if it was zooming down a mountain pass, slightly out of control and occasionally on two wheels, that conductor would still use this method to get from car to car.
And, he’d be able to recommend the perfect restaurant anywhere along the line. That’s the life of a true train conductor.
About the train:
It travels from Kismaros to Királyrét.
Learn more on their website: http://www.kisvasut.hu/kiralyret
Hungarian Word of the Day:
Roughly pronounced “Kah-lah-ooze,” this is the name for a train conductor. They’re not all as amazing as this one, nor do they all have a mustache.