Essentially Ashland: By Lance K. Pugh

I woke up at 4 a.m. this morning not because of a loud noise or an errant dream, but because of the total lack of the two. From my first days in Ashland I found it somehow reassuring when, regardless of the season or weather, I could count on several trains to muscle their way through town at hours both inconvenient, yet predictable. My dog, Spooky, would howl along with the train's whistle, making me realize that the lumbering locomotive imprinted us as all manner of products passed over the former hammer blows of the Golden Spike.

A perfunctory scan of history reminds us that our interstate highway system was initiated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was so impressed by the German autobahn as a way to move troops, material and land aircraft that he pressed forward with multiple lanes to span our great nation under the guise of national security, firmly paving the way for our love affair with automobiles while concomitantly severing our previously sweet relationship with railroads and other forms of mass transit.

While he alerted us to the military industrial complex, he seemingly overlooked cautionary scenarios about allowing Detroit to dictate how we moved about, nor did he warn us against the resultant dependence upon foreign oil, which has cost us much in treasure and precious lives to secure, for our indulgence and the benefit of Big Oil.

Every day when I leave my house I can hear the traffic that grinds down the middle of the valley. Those same days no longer thunder with our former fleet of trains that once exported our fruits and vegetables to the tables across America. We have made ourselves into servants of automobile manufactures, who, in turn, now extend an open palm in search of billions to keep the lights on. Oh, yes, they then want another $25 billion to produce vehicles that are fuel efficient, as if the concept just slipped out of their vault after decades of being kept Top Secret.

We in Ashland have had some good ideas, although we have not seriously engaged in putting passenger trains back into the equation. I guess that we thought, perhaps in an overdose of science fiction, that we would have rocket packs, cars with wings or small rocket ships to slip us up and down the West Coast, moving us away from ribbons of steel and engines of iron. It is not the first time that we have teased a glance down the wrong road.

High-speed trains are the life-blood of most advanced industrial nations, which consider them icons of forethought and prudence. We, on the other hand, seem to relegate the Iron Horse to halcyon days of leisurely travel and outmoded shipments of timber, fruit and other items of mass and substance.

I suspect that we have simply lost our vision, focusing on "terror" with little left over for transportation. A lot of us can picture an Ashland awash with bicycles, electric cars, hybrid vehicles, scooters and skateboards, but when it comes to covering some real miles, we seem to resign ourselves to the autobahns of the distant past.

California seems eager to build high-speed rail, which seems a few strides ahead of removing your shoes at the airport. Oregon needs to get with the program and add high-speed to the light-rail already prevalent in and around Portland.

With this in mind I wandered along the train tracks and thought of times past when the mighty locomotives rumbled through town, each with a secret load of travelers only looking for a meal, some work, water and a brief respite from an unforgiving economy, which, if you have looked around, seems to be rearing its head from dustbowl America.

Perhaps with a new administration, a new vision and some spiritual uplifting we can once again engage the future.

Just the thought of it makes me want to whistle.

Lance@journalist.com was last seen jumping an imaginary freight train heading toward the future.