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Memories of Union Station

May 6, 2009 | 10:00 am

Dec. 12, 1939, Union Statio
Los Angeles Times file photo

Dec. 12, 1939: Waiting area, Union Station.

Union Station has always been one of my favorite L.A. spots. The old place reminds me of family.

My dad and grandfather spent their careers with the Santa Fe railroad. My grandfather started working for Santa Fe in Barstow, where the Scottish immigrant first settled his young family. They eventually moved to Greater Los Angeles -- my dad went to Huntington Park High, then worked for the railroad after World War II until heart bypass surgery forced him to retire.

We were a reluctant railroad family. A rare perk for a Sante Fe employee was a free pass. Kids were free too. We never went anywhere on the train. My dad wasn't a big talker, but it was clear he didn't want to spend a lot of time on trains after five or six days a week repairing them.

He softened a little late in his career and took me a couple times to a railroad museum in Perris that was just getting started. He tried to show me the differences and the details, but it was all lost on me.

April 14, 1942, Union Station Photograph by Paul Calvert / Los Angeles Times

April 14, 1942: Men in uniform wait to buy tickets during World War II

Calling the place a museum probably was a stretch then. There were cars and tracks and engines but not many people. Some trains weren't even ready to be seen by the public. We walked, stared and I listened while he tried to explain something or answer my questions. 

One visit, my dad found another old railroad guy -- might have been a staffer, might have been another veteran worker -- and they talked shop and compared notes about the old days. Probably what old newspaper guys sound like now.

Doesn't seem like much, but it's a fond memory of time spent with a parent who's been gone too long. The trains trigger those memories every time I go back to Union Station -- "the Depot," as it was always called at our house.

Even with new coats of paint and retouches over the years, it will always be part of L.A.'s past. And mine.

-- Keith Thursby