It’s amazing how far away a train whistle can be heard. One reason may be because late at night everybody and everything is still and the quiet pervades the air. By law, the conductor blows the whistle as he approaches a railroad crossing. Those crossings (in rural areas) don’t have automatic gates like the ones on the tracks in town. Those security gates automatically close when the train approaches. But in the country, the conductor has to blow the whistle. It is his way of warning anybody and anything that he is approaching an unguarded intersection. If any cars are headed his way, he wants them to know that he is made from more tons of steel than their cars. And with that knowledge and his warning, that they ought to get out of his way … and fast.
When I was at our house, way down in the country, I don’t recall ever hearing the train whistle. That’s probably because our house wasn’t anywhere near a railroad crossing. The train tracks were south of us and lay parallel to the Patmos Highway. The tracks were also a-ways away and the space in between was filled with pine trees. My grandmother’s house, on the other hand, was a couple of miles from the first railroad crossing after the train left town.
As I lay in bed at night, I love to hear the long, drawn-out whine of that train whistle. Even though it’s a sad, lonesome sound, there’s still something soothing and relaxing about the groan. It’s as though the train has a voice and is communicating a message to anyone who’s awake at such an ungodly hour. Well, no matter how late that train came roaring down that track, I was usually awake. If I wasn’t, the distant wail of the whistle woke me, and I was glad. In no way was I disturbed. Of all the things that could happen at night, hearing the train whistle was one I didn’t want to miss. It just seems as though that long, lonesome, eerie sound made my night complete.
I always wondered about the conductor riding that “midnight” train. Was he fully awake? Did he have something neat to snack on? Did he really like his job? Was he in a good mood, or was he upset because he wasn’t home in bed? Did he ever think about not sounding the alarm near an intersection? All kinds of thoughts raced through my mind about the train and the conductor and what and who was on it.
After I moved to the city, I missed the voice of that friendly train whistle with its long, drawn-out “toot … toot … toooooooot.” Even still, train or not, at night, it was as though I was back in Grandma’s bed again. I envisioned that intersection where the conductor blew that whistle. I saw that long train and its short caboose rambling down those rickety tracks. In urban areas, though, depending on where you live, you may never hear a train whistle. How sad. I guess I’ll always be country. Even if I never hear another conductor toot his horn at an intersection, trains and conductors and whistles will always have a soul connection to mine.