An engineer’s love for Washington

Published 7:56 pm Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lynn Lewis is director of tourism for the City of Washington

The month of February always seems to be filled with romance and love stories.

Keeping with that idea, the Washington Tourism Development Authority wanted to write a love story with Washington in mind.

“Where to begin?” you may ask. We began by asking Facebook fans of Washington, N.C., on the Pamlico and e-newsletter recipients just what it was about Washington that they loved. However, we added a twist to the request … show us in pictures.

We learned that Washington fans are a passionate bunch. We also learned that a love story about Washington must include Pamlico River sunsets and sunrises, fishing, waterfront playgrounds, Bill’s Hot Dogs, the arts and the downtown.

Along with the photos we heard stories of happiness found, family memories and shared good times. Perhaps the best of these was submitted by a locomotive engineer who experienced Washington from a different point of view. We hope you enjoy this love story, shared with permission, by Phil Searcy.

“I have lived my entire adult life riding the rails and pulling freight up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Were I to spend another 58 years performing this passion, I seriously doubt that I could ever find these feelings that will be forever etched upon my being.

It’s difficult explaining the three-year love affair that began on that cold and blustery February day as I arrived into town riding the rails on the CLNA 23, a 1964 locomotive that was a magnificent iron beast and a most marvelous beauty of her day. She was the beginning of a new breed, a transition between the smoke belching behemoths of yesteryear and the powerfully sleek 6,000-horsepower monsters of tomorrow.

“As we crossed the bridge hugging Runyon Creek and the train began the slowly sweeping turn toward the great Pamlico, I had no earthly idea that over the next few months that I, myself, would be taking a parallel sweeping turn in life.

As the vista broadened to take in the mighty river, I could see that the tide was out and the wind was pushing what water there was out of the riverbed exposing sandbars and river snags. An unmanned sailboat had cast about and marooned upon the sand with her underbelly exposed for all who dared to see.

“Awestruck and mesmerized by nature’s panoramic view of shoreline and riverbed, I was completely unprepared to meet a great ‘love of my life.’ As we hauled freight across the great divide of the Pamlico, I first caught sight of her standing overlooking the wharf.

“Even from this distance, I could feel her strength born of wind and river; see the lines of laughter and worry from sun and rain; awash in her sense of honor for having harbored her people, I was drawn in. And, I was lost!

“My body may have crossed that drawbridge to the other bank, but my heart had been cast adrift just as the sailboat had been. I had to go back. I had to be sure. I had to find her again. But, was she my imagination? Was she yet another “mermaid” singing a “siren’s song” to the blue-water sailors of old? No matter the time or cost, if it would only be, I had to find my mystical creature only a few miles from the sea.

“It would be several weeks before returning to that enchanted land to seek those feelings that she had embedded within my mind and branded upon my heart. At first, I would catch only fleeting, momentary glimpses from a distance in the backwaters of Jack. I caught pieces of scant whispers of her words upon the wind as I walked among the boards and pilings of the river docks, spoken as if only to me.

“It was down on Main Street that the tide was to turn in my search for this magical love. Having wondered the streets and byways in constant search for the answer to my longing, it was there that I was to find her. Here I would sit and watch and listen to her every word. I could have stayed for hours to hear her laughter, feel her touch, listen to her stories and bask in her warmth. She was heartfelt; she was real; and I wanted her to be mine. How my heart ached.

“Over the following nine months, I traveled those rails, sailed those byways and walked those streets as often as possible. While I was in her arms, I felt like I belonged. I was proud to be with her. She introduced me to coastal artwork, honest and hardworking coastal people and regional cuisine that continue to remind me of her. She made me WANT to stay, and, when I made those visits, I loved her as hard as I could for as long as I could.

“As so often happens in life, the things that we love most are taken from us. Living on the rails moved me miles and miles away. For the next two years, I visited and continued this love affair whenever and however possible. I continue to find myself daydreaming about things we did, things we could do, places we had visited and so much more.

“I am sure that you must have questions. Who was she? What happened to her? Why did the love affair have to end? Well, if the crumbs left along the trail have not been enough, that majestic mermaid singing that siren’s soulful song on that fateful February day was “little” Washington herself. Do not question my love for her, for it has not stopped. The first time that I was graced by that vision from the window of that locomotive was three years ago on Feb. 10, 2010, and my love for her will never end.”


Submitted photographs may be viewed at