Why so many train whistles?


As a child I would lie in my bed at night during the warm summer nights listening to the whistles of the trains delivering raw materials  to the local steel company or hauling away the finished products. I could clearly hear the cars coupling together, banging in the still of the night. Kind of a climatic haunting resonating sound. I would only hear the sounds a couple of times and then the night would be still.

The company was only about four miles from our house. As the wind blows, it was much closer, nearly straight up. Our house was on the top of a hill and the sound carried clearly on the summer breezes. Even the sound of the whirring fan did not mute the trains’ mournful tones.

I never knew the reason why the sound fascinated me. It  created in me a deep desire to travel, a deep sense of yearning…not so much for adventure but to escape the reality of the loneliness of my childhood. The sound seemed to mimic the desires of my heart to get away. Perhaps if I could ride the train it would take me to warmer places in winter and cooler places in summer where people would be friendlier and would grant to me the present of acknowledging my presence. They would welcome me into a loving family. Alas, that never happened. I grew up and moved on.

I have lived in my present home for almost thirty four years. I grew so accustomed to the whistles blowing that I paid no attention. It was especially easy in those months when the windows were closed against the blasting heat or the frigid cold. It was easier even than that when fifteen years ago I purchased double paned windows. I almost forgot there were trains.

April and sometimes May offer rare opportunities to sleep with the windows open and the fan on low to circulate the air. However, it also enables the sounds of the trains to carry in the stillness.

My home is located between two rail lines to the east and the west about three miles or less apart. During the day I don’t really hear the trains. Perhaps the engineers don’t blow the whistle as much or the TV blocks out the sound. But at night, especially with the windows open, I can not only hear the whistles, I can hear the rhythmic moving wheels of the trains on the tracks. Perhaps that is why I have the TV on so much. The house can really become still in such an almost empty house. It is at those times that even the sound of my dog’s toenails on the tile can seem loud.

I’ve tried several times the past few days to keep the TV turned off. It is then, even with the windows closed, I can hear the trains both east and west. There is a crossing about a mile from the house. I swear the engineer blows the whistle at least five minutes before it crosses the road and a couple of minutes more once it passes. A few minutes later the whistles blow again at a crossing about a mile further down the track. If it were just once a day it would not be noticeable. I seem to notice it four or five times during the night from one side or the other, maybe more. I’m even becoming more aware of the sound several times during the day. It doesn’t seem to matter if the windows are open or closed.

What used to create in me a childhood yearning and a sense of hope is now seeming to create a repulsion. If I sleep with the TV on, I wake up often usually because the commercials blare so loudly. If the room is quiet, I wake up hearing the incessant moaning of the trains. Whereas, as a child, I felt the trains calling to me, as a senior, I feel the sounds taunting me. It creates in me a sense of anxiety, an annoyance, like some day soon I’ll ride that train forever. It will be here to pick me up.  It is going places now that I will never go. All I can do is wait for it to come to me. What was once a comforting sound, symbolizing a way to get away, now mocks me.

Strange how the meaning of sounds can change with age.

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1 Comment

Filed under Casual conversation, childhood, general topics, senior citizens, travel

One response to “Why so many train whistles?

  1. There are railroad tracks and a crossing just a few blocks from my home. When we first moved here, the sound of the trains was too loud and it bothered me. We’ve been here 20 years now, and it has become a part of the familiar surroundings. To me, it’s a comforting sound. To me it says home.