The Prairie Train'


February 13, 2000|By Antoine O. Flatharta

Editor's note: As a young Irish immigrant boy travels by steam engine across the American prairie to a new life, memories of the old country pull at his heart.

Once upon a time, there was a train that dreamed of being a boat. This was a time when trains were new and wonderful things. A time when trains blew clouds of steam. A time when train engines were shiny and as extraordinary as rocket ships.

The train that dreamed of being a boat traveled through a vast, flat prairie in a land called the New World.

It seemed to the Prairie Train that the tracks went on forever. On and on in one long, flat straight line. The Prairie Train longed to be an old-fashioned boat with billowing sails, to take a journey that wasn't set by tracks.

One day, a boy named Conor arrived in the city of Chicago with his mother and father. They had come from a place called Connemara. A place on the edge of a faraway island. They had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to land in New York, on the shores of America. Now they were about to start the final part of their journey on the Prairie Train.

Before Conor left Connemara, his grandfather, who was a boatbuilder, carved him a toy boat so that Conor would always remember him and the old world he was leaving behind.

As the train left Chicago behind and headed toward the big, flat prairies, Conor stared at his small wooden boat and thought about his grandfather.

The train came to a curve, and Conor put his head out the window to better see the engine. It looked as if it could travel all the way around the world without stopping. Conor waved at the engine.

Then, as Conor was waving, his grandfather's boat fell out of the window and disappeared into the towering, billowing grass. "Stop," cried Conor. "My boat! My boat is gone!" "We can't stop the train, Conor," said his mother. "I want to go home," Conor sobbed. All Conor could think of was his wooden boat, now lost forever somewhere out there on the great prairie.

It was now late evening and Conor began to fall asleep. And he started to dream.

The Prairie Train entered Conor's dream. It wasn't on the prairie anymore. It wasn't traveling on straight lines of tracks. It was out in the middle of the ocean. Free to move in any direction.

Conor couldn't believe his eyes when he looked out the window. They were sailing on the sea! It was a moonlit night, and the train was riding on top of silvery waves. It was the greatest feeling in the world to be in this train out in the middle of the sea.

Conor looked out at the waves. He looked up at the moon. It was so full and round it seemed near enough to touch. Conor could see the shore now and on it a man waving to him.

The train rolled up and down with the waves, getting closer and closer to the shore. Soon Conor was close enough to see that the man was his grandfather. "Hello, Conor!" shouted the old man. "I lost the boat you made me," said Conor. "In the city you're sailing to," said the old man. "It has boats and ships, carriages and trains. It's a beautiful city built on a large bay. It's all there waiting for you, Conor."

The train slowed down until it was almost at a standstill. The Prairie Train wanted to enjoy every second of this sea-sailing night. "See the moon?" said Conor's grandfather. "It's the same moon that's shining on all of us. Makes no difference if you're in Connemara or San Francisco. It's the same moon we're all looking up at."

As Conor continued to stare at the moon, his sadness started to melt away. And all of a sudden he began to feel a great urge to see this new city they were sailing to.

The Prairie Train felt this need as well now. It turned and headed out to sea.

From THE PRAIRIE TRAIN. Text copyright (copyright symbol) 1999 by Antoine O. Flatharta. Illustrations copyright (copyright symbol) 1999 by Eric Rohmann. Published by arrangement with Crown Publisher's Inc., a division of Random House, Inc.

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