There’s Something About Hearing a Train

I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about this week, I just knew I wanted something a little lighter. Then . . .

“Train!” The sound of a whistle and horn echoed through the woods. My grand’s eyes grew wide and the soccer balls we were kicking on the deck came to an abrupt stop. We’ve waited for the chance to catch a train on the track that runs behind the houses just around the corner, so I grabbed him and we hustled out the door.

There’s a good gap between the houses so we had a great spot to wait and watch when the train eventually came into view. He’s three, but wanted to be carried, his little face close to mine as he described the various cars – grain cars, tankers, and of course the engine. “This is a cool train.”

A little boy after my own heart.

But it wasn’t always that way. My first memory of trains was when I was about his age. Trains ran through town during the night and even though they weren’t close, I could hear the rumble, the way the windows rattled and feel the house shake. I was sure the train was going to come right through the house. I’d end up in mom and dad’s bed for the night, dad assuring me it would stay on the track.

Then Dad brought home a Lionel train set. I was probably 5 or 6 when it appeared. I have no idea the make or model or scale. What I remember is the train was all metal and the engine was heavy. The tracks were metal too, (3 rails?) and pieced together by slipping thin prongs into matching holes. It was a tight fit and if I missed one the train de-railed. Dad always went behind my work checking. In addition to the engine there was a coal car, a couple box cars and the caboose. If there were more I don’t remember. We had only enough track to do an oval or a figure eight, but that was enough because the real fun was putting the pellet in the engine to make smoke. It came out in little puffs. I’m picturing rings, but maybe I’m misremembering. Or maybe it did both. There was definitely a clickety-clack sound as the train moved around the track. There was of course a whistle, or I guess the proper word is horn, and a bell.

I don’t remember when I lost interest in the toy, I imagine Dad was disappointed, but love of the sounds of trains stayed with me.

Before an overpass was built in town, it seemed the tracks were blocked all the time. Dad would get us counting the cars to pass the time, to be amazed at how long the trains could be. We lost count sometimes when there was a string of the same kind of cars, and there were times we reached 100 or so. Counting did keep us from grumbling, for the most part, but there was always a letdown when a train passed going one way and as it finally ended, we’d hear a train coming from the opposite direction on the neighboring track. I liked the sound, just not the extended wait.

Now we live out in the country with the single track that runs close by. When we ‘bumpity-bump’ across the rails, the grands know we’re close to Nana and Papa’s house. Our dogs howled when the whistles blew. I’d read somewhere that dogs whine with trains because it hurts their ears. I feel bad if that’s true. But a reason I prefer is that howling at trains and sirens is primal, it connects them to their ancestors the wolves.

The trains run more regularly lately and while I don’t howl, though there are times when I’m tempted, I’ll stop whatever I’m doing just to listen for those brief minutes as they pass.  There’s something comforting and mournful about the low whine and the steady rumble. Maybe it touches a deep primal place in me too. The closeness of being stuck in a car waiting for a train stretching so far both ways I couldn’t see either end; being hunched over the table connecting track and making smoke rings with my dad; being snuggled safe between my parents as the house finally settled back down.

Maybe it goes even deeper, like the rhythm somehow matches my heartbeat, draws me away from the present. I never imagine the hustle and bustle and noise of train yards, it’s always the solitary winding through pastures, flatlands and woods. The whistle calling to follow.


Hubby bought our grand his first train last year for his birthday. It’s a wooden one that sticks together with magnets. The first time he got the right magnetic ends together he said, “I made it click!” The first part of the sound. He wants to drive a train when he grows up.

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4 Responses to There’s Something About Hearing a Train

  1. quinonesev1 says:

    Sweet memories, Kim. Paul Simon has a song about, “The Train in the Distance”, that I’m always reminded of when I hear my “train in the distance.”

  2. Trains are synonymous with my father, He loved them! As a child, I recall being dragged along to see real steam engines come through town. My grandmother would take the train to visit my aunt up north, and we would take her to the station. I spent many afternoons at train stations, leaving a penny on the tracks for the train to flatten.

    Later, my parents built a house complete with a train room. Dad had an extensive model train set up and my mother painted the walls to look like the Blue Ridge mountains. I love trains!

    • What a treat to see a real steam engine! And special times with your dad. It must have been fun to go to the train room. I’m in awe of those who are so taken with trains and the elaborate systems they build. The room must have been beautiful too with the walls taking you to the mountains. It’s been fun reading the comments. In almost every one of them trains take people back home, and many refer to their dads. I hope trains stay around a while. Thank you for stopping by Barbara! (Need to get in touch with you lol)


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