Life lesson learned from a train car

First, let me put your fears to rest; I’m not living in an abandoned train car. I’ve been passing this graffitied relic for quite some time on my travels between our home in Florence (Oregon) and Cottage Grove (still in Oregon), shuffling between newspapers for which I was once editor. As I mentioned a few posts — and yikes, months — ago, I left journalism after 23 years back in 2021. For the next year-and-a-half, I worked as a mail carrier with the U.S. Postal Service (Motto: Bringing your Amazon packages… Oh, and the mail!). But this past October, I left the USPS after a year of 6-day, 70-hour-plus workweeks with no end in sight. Time with my family had been nearly non-existent and, after coming home one day and finding our dog had been given my spot on the couch, I knew it was time to make a change.

The dog had to go.

Just kidding.

We got a cat and now no one can sit on the couch.

Ok, not really. My end game had always been a simple one: Eventually retire and spend my days helping other writers with their manuscripts, short stories, memoirs, etc., IN BETWEEN time spent smooching my wife, making key lime pies, traveling in a fifth-wheel together and making sure the dog doesn’t get my spot on the couch again.

So, this past October, I put all of that in motion by throwing caution to the wind (trust me, it gets very windy in Oregon) and establishing Easy Writer Editing Services, which has been one of the most rewarding, terrifying, freeing, stressful and ultimately best decisions I’ve made since not becoming a vegetarian.

Which brings us to that train.

Something I’ve discovered about myself is that I’m not very good at having freedom. It’s not that I waste time or don’t have self-discipline. It’s actually the complete opposite. After more than 20 years as a journalist and editor, and 10 years before that as a fine-dining chef, I don’t know how to NOT be busy.

Every day.

All day.

And when I’m not, I feel guilty.

If I don’t fill my day with goals, projects and things that I can mark off and point to at the end, I feel I’ve somehow failed — or haven’t truly earned the opportunity I’ve been given to follow my dream. While getting my business off the ground, I’ve picked up extra work painting a house’s exterior, a house’s interior, an office (coming up) and, most recently, helping the two newspapers I once worked at transition to smaller editorial staffs following major budget cuts this past January.

Though I was a little nervous being on a ladder that high, I was able to enlist a supervisor who could dial 911 with her hooves…

Oh, and one day, I was so desperate to add something to my to-do list I decided to shave my beard!

I’ve since grown my beard back because, hey! I could include that as another project!

Yesterday, on my way back to Florence from Cottage Grove, I saw that train car again — something I’ve been wanting to stop and admire for years. My first instinct was:

“You don’t have TIME! It’s only 2:30 and you can still post something on social media! Or find another house to paint! Or shave again! Something, ANYTHING!

So I passed it by.

Then gritted my teeth and flipped a U-turn (it was mostly legal).

I pulled up next to it and came to a stop, still fighting my instinctive reservations as I stepped out and stiffly walked toward the train car like a zombie forcing its legs to cooperate. But the closer I got, the easier it became. I was completely enthralled with the surreal mixture of graffiti art, rusting metal and rotting wood, all framed on this canvas brushed by time and the elements. I spent a good hour taking it all in, shooting some photos and crawling around in this abandoned sculpture-in-progress.

It suddenly hit me that I needed to give myself permission to slow down. As much as I’ve preached to our kids that every experience is worthwhile and an opportunity to grow, I had failed to follow my own advice. My fear of “failure” entering this new chapter in my life was causing me to fill it with tasks rather than experiences. I was trying so hard to stay busy — and therefore, in my mind, successful — that I was missing the point of living my dream.

Looking at that train car reminded me: What made it so interesting and inspiring wasn’t the end result but rather the slow and steady process of time that created it.

I need to be more like that train car, I thought.

I need to give myself permission to embrace and experience the slow and steady process of realizing my dream — rather than focusing solely on achieving the end result. It’s not about making a 180 and throwing everything to the wind (as I mentioned, it gets windy as hell here). But I’ve begun to understand that staying inspired is just as important as staying on task, and that making time for creativity should go hand-in-hand with the time allotted for productivity.

It’s still not going to be easy; it’s going to require some re-wiring and regular gut checks each day.

OK, fine. Each hour.

But thanks to that abandoned train car, I’m finally on board.


Are you a writer embarking on the journey of turning their manuscript into a published book or memoir? Easy Writer can help assure your manuscript is tuned up, strapped down, shiny clean and gassed up for the road ahead.  Find out more HERE

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

19 thoughts on “Life lesson learned from a train car”

  1. interesting article ned and when i saw your photograph of the rail car a light went off in the ol’ knoggen is this train car near reedsport in the once populace village of gardiner?

    1. Great memory, Jim! Yes, it’s right out front of where the old paper mill used to be. I highly recommend stopping and checking it out. I couldn’t include all the neat graffiti and just “elemental” art on that thing.

      1. I have driven past a few times and as you mentioned in your article just had to stop and did so cautiously as they looked spooky to me. I did take a few pictures and to be honest expected someone to poke their head out the window and snarl as to what I was doing. Odd place to leave such a rail car.

  2. My dad was a switchman for the Milwaukee Road for as long as I can remember him working, so trains have a special place in my heart. That said, I think I might’ve been terrified at what may be living in that train car…or what could be dead in it.

    Keeping balance is important, and occasionally seems impossible. It’s hard to know what we’re meant to do, or how to do it. Often it seems I’m just going about my business and don’t see what others see in me, which on occasion is something pretty impressive when it’s pointed out to me, but I consider it just what I do.

    Weird. I’m so happy you found a beautiful reminder, and made the mostly legal u turn.

    1. I bet your dad had some terrific stories to tell, Julie. Many years ago, I did a “day in the life” type of story for the newspaper and road with a rail engineer from sunrise to sunset. Learned about the danger of “harmonic sway” (when the cars and momentum begin moving in such a way that they can literally sway off the track unless you’re careful), and “foamers” (people who are obsessed with trains), and even got to drive the train for a stretch and pull the horn (The best part!).

      Trains have been special to me ever since.

      Fortunately there was nothing horrifying from a Stephen King novel inside, or a demented “Thomas there Train” vibe!

      And yes, I think going about our business and just trying to do our best to contribute while striking some kind of balance within ourselves is the best we can hope for. And on those occasions where people take the time to hold up a mirror so we can see for ourselves, that’s all we need to know in order to maintain that balance.

      Thanks for the kind words and taking a moment to hold up that mirror.

  3. I love this Ned. It’s hard to readjust to taking a bit of time to explore and enjoy once we somewhat retire. We are so accustomed to running from one place to the next, making our best attempt to fit all of the things we need to cross off of our list for that day. Glad you made that u-turn. It made for some great self reflection and a really fun blog post!

    1. Thanks, Lynn. And you’re so right. Re-programming yourself after nearly 40 years of daily task- and goal-oriented living is tough, the toughest of which is giving yourself permission to re-define what “tasks,” “goals” and “success” are on a daily basis. But I’m determined to make that sacrifice! lol! Cheers!

  4. Trains can be used as a metaphor for a lot of things. My brother works for the railroad. There is an old steam engine that sits in our hometown next to the floodwall downtown and they had their last family photos taken there. It was beautiful. Love the article and the pictures. Thanks for sharing your journey with us. I am so glad to see you writing in your blog again! 🙂

    1. Yes, trains are such a part of our fabric as humans, representing so many different things in our journey. Love the idea of family photos with one! So glad you enjoyed my ramblings, and thank you for sharing the journey as well 😉

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