Train’s whistle calls her back in time

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 2, 2015

A friend happened to be at my house one morning when a train whistle sounded from several blocks away. I often hear it when I eat breakfast on my sun porch. It reminds me of my childhood years when warning whistles announced the approach of steam engines as they chugged in beside the depot across the road from our house. Some stopped there, while others proceeded a short distance down the tracks to take on water from a huge water tank.

Everybody in our community took the arrival of those trains and the two daily scheduled passenger trains for granted. They were as much a part of our community as the post office and the coal mining company store my parents ran.

My friend noticed the shrill train whistles in comparison to the quiet at her home in the country. Trains fascinate many people. Some of us deeply regret that they no longer roll all over our nation as they once did. When I was a reporter, a man called me to write an article about his model train hobby. Almost as soon as I stepped in his door to interview him, it was clear that he was upset because all traces of a once busy railroad in his community vanished. He had many happy memories connected with trains. His heart was heavy that crews had dug up the rails and sold the ties to local businesses. His way of preserving his memories was to build the models. He had showed up some time earlier to pay tribute to the demise of the railroad at a designated place. Nobody else came. He addressed me sternly that, “Not even a reporter came.” I understood his feelings.

Miners from our community with coal-streaked faces, hands and clothing, stopped by the store on the way home from work to purchase snacks and groceries. Everyday, railroad crews from the local work train and other passing trains poured in to buy colas and other soft drinks, along with hunks of hoop cheese, crackers, and candy bars. When it was cold, they huddled around the coal stove that occupied a prominent place in the middle of the building. They killed time telling tales, joking and laughing. During the summer, they leaned on the counters, sipping RC Colas with a pack of peanuts in them, ate Moon Pies, or drank swigs of ice-cold strawberry and orange drinks.

My mother heard many of their favorite stories repeated so many times she knew them by heart. One man, Mr. G. from Georgia, told stories about Georgia towns. Years later, on a trip passing through Georgia, Mother said the names of many little towns we drove through were familiar to her because of Mr. G’s “boring stories.”

When thinking of trains, I remember my excitement when the train left the terminal station, switched tracks, jerking and groaning, with cinders blowing in my face, and that lonesome, shrill whistle blowing, as the great steam engine rolled down the tracks.