The warning gates are going down and cars are stopped. I see the man in front of me throw his arms up in dismay; the train is coming. And the whistle blows as the engineer sounds a warning blast.
There’s something about the sound of a train whistle reaches deep into my soul and grabs hold. I don’t know if it’s the tone of loneliness or the promise of unexpected journeys the train may hold for its passenger, but there’s something that connects with me.
Perhaps because I come from a family that has a long history with the railroad. My father, my grandfather, even a few of my uncles, worked as railroad men, spending many years jumping from the rails to a car. They worked both on the rails and in the rail yard, day in and day out. Railroading is a hard industry and dangerous, but I didn’t realize that when I was a child. I just understood my dad was a rail-man.
My grandfather would sometimes come and get me and take me to play on the train and I’d climb up into the caboose or riding around in the rail-yard. It might have only been for ten or fifteen minutes, but to this little girl it was an exciting adventure.
As I became an adult, the railroad seem to follow me. Every home I lived in with my husband- from our tiniest first apartment to the home we live in now -we have been within hearing distance of that whistle. Reassuring me, perhaps it gives me a sense home.
I’ve never considered the sound of a train to be irritating or a nuisance. I can remember the Realtor apologizing for showing us a house close to the sound of the tracks. Little did she know it was a selling point for me.
There is a sense of Americana when you think of the railroad. Hobos, with their belongings tied up in a red handkerchief, tied to a stick springs to mind first. But there is more to the railroad than that. The expansion of rail stations and endless miles of track are part of what opened the western United States to settlement. Goods and supplies work their way from one coast to the other, connecting our country. Great men worked to expand the railroad, even to the south, like Henry Flagler. Much of our countries history results from the railroads.
Today that whistle sounds for safety reasons, but it means more, too. It’s like a cry to the wanderer in your soul. Do you answer it? Maybe. One goal I would love to achieve is to drive out West to take one of those long train trips through the Rocky Mountains. Nothing could be more romantic or exciting.
I’ve even used railroads in my writing. If you’ve ever read my Sisters Station Series, you’ll know it centers on an old railroad station in a small northern town. The two sisters are revitalizing the station, giving it a new purpose for today’s world. It’s not a mystery, but rather a sweet story about two sisters with a goal, getting to know their new home and community. And as I’m sure you realize, things can happen in a small town which might take you by surprise.
Well, the crossings gates are going up, the train has passed by, and it’s time to continue on my way. Going in the opposite direction of the train on my way to work while the train it goes on its way to new adventures.
What direction will your next bit of writing take you?