Lexington Branch History | Billerica & Bedford Railroad | Oral History Recordings | B&B Interpretive Track
"Dad, Me, and the RRE"
By Leigh A. Webb
My father was a reserved and gentle man, who had no greater passion than his love of railroading. From the Lionel trains he gave me year after year for Christmas (for which he created, in pencil, intricate rail layouts on small slips of paper, and which, while seated grandly behind the two-fisted transformer, he ran a lot more than I did), to the Railroad Enthusiast trips he took as often as he could, Dad showed me as I grew up just how much influence trains can have over those of us who have come to love and respect them.
I would have to say Dad first came to know trains from depending on them to carry him from Beverly, Massachusetts, into Boston, so that he could attend Northeastern University in the 1930s. Even after he graduated, he continued to make that trip to work for General Radio Corporation, then located in Cambridge. Dad didn't even get a driver's license or own a car until the '50s. Trains were how he and so many others got to where they needed to go, every day, even weekends, to get away to the country, to visit relatives, or just go on a shopping excursion. His life was inextricably linked to railroads, a fact of which he was proud all his days.
He passed that passion on to me in a very subtle way, spanning many years. From my earliest memories when my age was measured in single digits, until well into my adulthood, Dad indoctrinated me to love what was in the beginning beyond my years to understand. Going on trips was what we did, as father and son. It was how we bonded. Some dads took their kids to baseball games, my Dad took me on Mass. Bay RRE rail trips. As a child, I would remember getting up in the dark to make sandwiches, wrapping them in waxed paper, filling the Thermos, and adding a small bag of Hershey's Kisses (my favorite treat) to the lunch basket, so that we would have something on which to munch during an entire day of "riding the rails" on an Enthusiasts Excursion. Then, we would walk to the train station in my hometown of Melrose, to take the B&M into Boston, and then either go directly to a platform in North Station, or continue on to South Station to hook up with the special consist that would be our home for the next 10 to 14 hours (depending on whether the trip adhered to it's departure and return times, which they rarely did). On some trips, we would have to take the car and drive for hours to connect with a train leaving from Maine or perhaps Connecticut. No matter from where we left, the object was always the same: to ride over as many lines as possible, and enjoy the unique experience, smells and motion of being on a train.
Even in my father's last year, when his condition made it impractical to entertain any realistic thoughts of taking advantage of any fan trips, he still would say how nice it would be to take that one last train ride. To humor him, I would answer that we should indeed do that.
He died before we ever took that trip -- yet I felt I owed him one last excursion together. So, with his ashes in my shoulder bag, and a lunch comprised of sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper and some Hershey's Kisses, I took my Dad on one final trip. No one else on the train knew I wasn't alone -- but I think I felt closer to Dad than I ever had. That trip meant more to me than any we had ever taken, and my only regret is that Dad never fully realized just how successful his campaign to turn me into a "railfan" had been.
Today, in his name, an annual cash gift is given to an organization which is trying to preserve the history of New England railroading either by restoring a railroad building, or a piece of equipment, or by helping to save a collection of New England railroading memorabilia. It is my hope that the H. Albert Webb Memorial Preservation Award serves as a model for others to actively seek out and support preservation efforts that carry the same deep-seated meaning for them, as those I have found hold for me. Together we can make a difference, and pass the legacy of love for railroading onto future generations, who, without our help, might not ever know the glory of witnessing the power and magnificence of a steam giant belching smoke and cinders, or the joy of leaning your head out of an open boxcar and feeling the rush of cold air pushing your hair back and fluttering your eyelashes, while roaring along those ribbons of steel.
Climb aboard the "Preservation
Special" and be a part of saving a heritage that's so much a part of
the basic fabric of this country. Be a part of keeping railroading
Leigh A. Webb
Los Angeles, California
February 24, 2003
(Read at the 2003 Webb Preservation Award presentation by Bill Crawford of the MBRRE.)