For whatever reason, as big a collector of bubblegum cards -- sports and non-sports alike -- as I was in my childhood in the 1950s and early 1960s, I never owned a card from the 1955 Topps Rails and Sails set.
As a pre-teen, certainly the subject matter would have appealed to me. The lack of any of the cards in my childhood collection indicates to me that none of the several neighborhood grocery stores where I bought my cards as a kid carried the cards.
Come to think of it, I now wonder whether the issue penetrated much into Wisconsin at all. Among all the dozens of original card accumulations I bought around the state throughout the late-1970s and early-1980s, I don't recall ever finding an R&S card.
So my first Rails and Sails card is MY first Rails and Sails card. My custom card depicts a streamliner of the Chicago and North Western railroad circa the 1950s-1960s.
These big yellow and green diesel locomotives were a familiar sight in my childhood. The train station in Fond du Lac was on the west side of town. We lived about 10 blocks west of the station. (So, yes, I did come from the wrong side of the tracks.)
I have two specific memories of the C&NW streamliners that inspired me to make this Rails and Sails tribute.
The first memory is from my very early childhood; early enough that the details must have been among the brain cells I killed off wholesale in later years.
My best guess is that I was somewhere between 4-6 years old. I remember boarding the train in the evening and being seated on a bench seat between my mother and grandfather. My recollection is that we were traveling to Chicago, but for what reason I cannot remember. Mom and Grandpa are gone now, so I guess I won't know the details of the trip until, on my deathbed as promised by the Dalai Lama, I receive total consciousness.
My other specific memory of the C&NW passenger train at the Fond du Lac station dated from my misspent -- some would say delinquent, or even outright outlaw -- late teen years.
One night I was out with my brother and some buddies, drinkin' and cruisin' the town. We had to stop on a side street near the train station because the evening train between Milwaukee and Green Bay was stopped at the station, blocking the street.
Also waiting at the tracks was a young man whom we'll call Billy. Billy was developmentally disabled. In that less politically correct time, we referred to him as a Ree-tard. But never to his face. Billy had the mind of a child, but the body of a man . . . a large man.
If you think Lenny from Of Mice and Men, you have Billy. He was probably a gentle giant, but none of us was willing to find out for sure.
In my mind's eye I picture him as being six-foot two or three and more than 200 pounds. As I recall it, you never saw Billy without two things: a five o'clock shadow that could be used to strip paint, and a fancy wagon. Billy's wagon was one of those red Radio Flyers with the wood-stake box.
Billy pulled that wagon all over town, to what purpose I never knew.
On this night, while we waited for the train to move, somebody in our car called out to Billy, "Hey, Billy, if you want the train to get out of the way, piss on it. It'll move."
With a bit more prompting Billy did whip out his johnson, which perhaps again more in my recollection than reality, was prodigious. As Billy began to hose down the side of the train, we honked the car horn until some of the passengers looked out the window and began gasping and pointing.
Within a couple of minutes a two uniformed trainmen were hustling Billy away. I don't recall hearing that he ever got into serious trouble for his efforts to move the train, and my buddies and I all had a good laugh at the time. Today, of course, I feel badly about the affair. I believe God or karma or the universe or whomever has repaid my loutish behavior several times over.
In any event, the Chicago and North Western streamliners are a childhood memory that I deemed deserving of preserving in this latter-day addition to the Topps Rails and Sails issue of nearly 60 years ago.
I may have one more "Rails" card in me, and I have definite plans for two or three "Sails" cards, so watch this space periodically.