Trains and Stations

Lying in bed at night as a child, I used to hear trains pass less than a mile away, as the whistle blew at the intersection where I also would catch the school bus in the mornings. We were out in the middle of citrus orchards, on a dead-end road, so there was little else to hear at night. The coyote howling was a different tone from the locomotive’s warning. Now that my daughter lives where trains toot-toot as they go by many times throughout the day and night, I find that the sound still strikes a chord of comfort and regularity.

While we are busy about our work and play and sleep, thousands of people are being diligent to do their jobs driving the trains, loading them, keeping the schedules updated, whatever all is necessary. I know so little about it, it’s like magic.

Books I enjoyed with my children fed this romantic feeling I have: The Little Red Caboose, The Boxcar Children, The Railway Children, even The Narnia Chronicles with its train trips here and there during holiday. Children and trains.

When I was still a young child I was allowed to ride the Santa Fe with just my two sisters, four hours to my grandmother’s house, which no doubt also makes me love trains, and the train stations just as much. Excitement and heightened emotion pervade these meeting places of people who might be returning from exotic and faraway lands, or perhaps are just now being reconciled face-to-face with kinfolk after years of estrangement….One never knows all the stories, one hardly knows all that churns in one’s own heart at meeting one’s own people.

When I rode the train, it was to visit my most dearly beloved maternal grandparents. I can see in my mind’s eye, just as I saw them from the train window before they could see me, Grandma and Grandpa, standing in the crowd waiting for us. We climbed down the steps and went to them, and got a kiss, and Grandma’s warm hands in ours (those were the days before hugging was expected), and her remarking how cold my own hands were.

There is mention of British trains and stations, even Victoria Station, on this blog recently. I’ve been on some British trains, and the last time I was on that island, my hotel was quite near Victoria Station, which was awfully modernized from the first time, and certainly a different world from what lives in my memory and heart’s imagination. When you can’t even throw your own trash away, but must hand it to someone walking around in a sort of spacesuit, it feels like a new age, and not of flower children.

One recent sight jived with the old world, though. Driving through the mountains of forests last week, I looked down the wooded slope at a railroad track snaking along a river, and thought I caught a glimpse of the little red caboose.

17 thoughts on “Trains and Stations

  1. I lived in rural Colorado for a while and remember the sound of the coyotes at night… I never stopped liking it. And I remember too when people could get on and off trains without hugging as if some of them were on a one way trip to the moon. I do hope train travel never entirely loses its romance.

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  2. I really loved reading this, Gretchen Joanna. I lived in a small town where a freight train went through at all times of the day. It had a caboose and I always wished I could jump on and go somewhere on that train.

    DD and I went to England in 2005 and we enjoyed riding the trains to the countryside.

    Some of the children's books you mentioned were our favorites.


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  3. I remember my kindergarten train trip. I struggled with carsickness but the whir of the wheels on the rails was soothing. An old woman was eating an egg salad sandwich and it smelled delicious. Thanks for the memory.

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  4. What a lovely and romantic post in the best sense of the word. All your connective memory synapses firing away in delightful networks of memory. Trains in Berkekley…then the next thing that I remember is ferries across the bay….white gloves on the bus…

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  5. This is a sweet post. I didn't come to appreciate trains until I had boys to show me the way. 🙂

    Trains run through our little town and our town logo is painted on a red caboose that permanently sits beside the tracks that run along side our highway. I always like seeing it. There is something cheerful and friendly about it.

    Oh the joy when the kids were little and we would have to stop for a train. We would count cars, my sons could tell me what kinds of cars were going by and occasionally we would solemnly watch military vehicles being transported.

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  6. Margaret, I didn't think that was really Miss Tilney, because I didn't think she would be one to like the howling of coyotes.

    Jody, I went with *my* DD to England and Scotland in 2005 and we rode a couple of trains then. Perhaps you and we were on a train together!


  7. I've always lived within earshot of a train blowing its horn, I love it. I took a train trip once when I was 7, but don't remember it. I'd love to travel by train, but it's so expensive here.

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  8. I used to ride the San Joaquin from Stockton to Hanford to visit my parents. It was always so crowded. Sometimes I had to stand for half the trip.I used to ride the San Mateo from the south bay to San Francisco everyday for work. I used to read the Wall Street Journal on the way up, and the SF Examiner on the way down. I guess the last train trip I took was on that same line back in 2008. My boys and I rode it up on Holy Saturday to attend services at the Cathedral.I love trains.

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  9. I miss the trains. My daughter lives near the railroad tracks and in the summer I love to sit outside and listen to the whistle as the train goes by. Wonderful, nostalgic memories.

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  10. What a warm post; lovely memories. We live near the tracks and hear the whistles blowing through the gorge …a sound I love.

    I didn't realize this sound was so heartwarming to my good friend until I was speaking with her on the phone one day and she paused during speech — I said, “oh…sorry the train is coming through, I'll go on into the kitchen where it won't be so loud,” and she replied, “No, it's ok….I am just savoring the sound…. I miss it.”

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  11. Hi Gretchen, lovely post! There is something so romantic about trains, isn't there (except that claustrophobic Venice to Paris night train ;-)? Your post reminds me of staying with my great aunt in deep Southeast Texas when I was young. Her house was so old that the bathroom had been added on in the 20's or 30's — as in they had an outhouse until that happy day! It also had a tin roof that made the sweetest most comforting sound when it rained.

    But anyway, back to trains — I can remember lying in a tiny old bed (with a feather bed on it) in that sweet old farmhouse and hearing a train whistle blowing in the distance late at night, and how it set my mind wondering about where it was going, who was on it, and so on – lovely cosy memories. Thank you for reminding me!

    Oh, and I thought of you and your raccoon experiences the other night when our raccoons returned. About 4:00 a.m. I heard a racket in the other end of the house, so I made my way to the laundry room and timidly peeked through the door, and there were two big old raccoons (not the cute little babies they were last time they came calling) knocking over the cat food and making the biggest mess. Buddy (the coward dog) refused to help me run them off, so I just banged on the door til they ran back out the doggy door ;-).


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