Bound for Glory

Incredible as it sounds, the best part of our recent train trip from Atlanta to Hattiesburg was the forty-five minutes in the Atlanta waiting room.

A man opened the baggage area and pushed a cart stacked with a combination of two of my favorite things – jigsaw puzzles with pictures of trains. This led to a third favorite thing – conversation.

As it turned out, the man named Robert West was the artist who had painted the train pictures for the puzzles. We were soon making connections beyond our love of trains to his growing up a military brat – Air Force rather than Army – but kinship nonetheless to my three Army brats.

I loved his assortment of jigsaw puzzles and the paintings of other trains he had stashed behind them. I inquired if he had a puzzle of one of my favorite trains – the Panama Limited that I watched for in my childhood. “I don’t have that, but I have its sister train. Wait just a minute.” He hurried off and returned with a puzzle of The City of New Orleans.

Even Robert was amazed with the new connections as his background in the picture recalled home for me. It portrays Elvis driving a pink Cadillac on Mississippi Highway 51 running parallel to the railroad track. The road sign says Batesville with the marquee of Heartbreak Motel on down the road. Robert seemed to enjoy the coincidence that my husband had grown up just outside Elvis’s hometown of Tupelo, and we had accidentally seen his entourage three different times as it traveled into town for his appearance at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show.

He pulled out his paintings from behind the puzzles to share. He showed a soon to be released painting of Tuskegee Airmen in flight above a train with a backdrop of mountains. He said some of the airmen would come soon and sign this “Red Tails and Black Smoke” painting for a limited edition of prints.

By now, Robert and I felt like old friends, and he began to share his heritage of two grandfathers who had worked as Pullman porters and his childhood experience of riding the rails. Railroads were part of his DNA. Like me, he has loved trains all his life.

He moved on to motivations behind his paintings as he treasured the symbolism in beloved spirituals that used the train as both a slave route to freedom and the Holy Spirit’s avenue to heaven. “You mean like ‘This Train Is Bound for Glory’?” I asked. He grinned and looked down at the puzzle I was buying. The title was “Bound for Glory.”

Before the conductor called, “All Aboard,” I was fifteen dollars poorer and one jigsaw puzzle and one friend richer. What a bargain!

{For more train pictures and information about the artist, visit}