“Look a-yonder comin’ / Comin’ down that railroad track . . . “ Singing the first lines from Johnny Cash’s “Orange Blossom Special,” Colin Dale began his enthusiastic and knowledgeable presentation on his lifelong passion - trains and railroads - at the Cedar Key Historical Society’s monthly Morning Coffee Thursday at the Cedar Key Community Center February 18th. British born Dale, who has lived in Cedar Key since 1987, sported a T- shirt which proudly announced “Still Plays with Trains” and entertained the large crowd of over seventy wihh a nicely woven blend of structured presentation, useful slides, and a plethora of background information and anecdotes which confirmed the message on his shirt: This man loves trains.
Furthermore, he has spent a lifetime building a seemingly inexhaustible cauldron of knowledge on America’s love affair with trains. He focused his talk on railroad history in Florida, more specifically the Fernandina to Cedar Key line, built by David Levy Yulee and finished in 1861. To bring this experience alive for his 21st century audience, Dale took his audience back to 1926 and had them board the 11: 21 am train (there was a second train which left Cedar Key around midnight). This train, which probably featured two passenger cars among those hauling freight, was bound for Jacksonville with stops at Sumner, Rosewood, Wylie, Otter Creek, Archer, Gainesville, Waldo to name but a few.
The presentation was enhanced with slides showing maps and depicting some of the old depots and terminals from this era. Cole was especially entertaining when he went off script slightly - expounding on topics from the origin of the Jim Crow laws to the memory of Waldo as a town with an opera house and cigar factory instead of just the few fast food joints and speed traps we know today. He closed his hour-long talk with a message of hope for train lovers everywhere: since there has been talk of reviving some of the old rail service, such as the Miami to Orlando line, maybe some of the railroad’s golden age could be recaptured. Colin Dale’s enthusiasm for his subject, coupled with his store of information and local lore, made this Thursday’s affair a thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating morning.