That Lonesome Whistle

By O’Ceallaigh-

Situated across from “The General” is the old Traction Depot. It is a trolley station that has long since been vacated from its original use, but, it’s still there, perched on the bank of Goose Creek. In recent years it has had tenants and owners with Gift Shops, lodging, and now, I’m not even sure. Maybe it’s reverted back to private lodging. There are always motorcycles out front. Who knows?

Whatever it is, it reminds me of the New York Central and Nickel Plate railroads that ran along the shore of Lake Erie in the 1940’s; parallel tracks that we had to cross whenever we went to my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Ripley.

There was a lot of traffic on the tracks in those days. I don’t think folks, especially kids, nowadays appreciate the contribution that trains made to the economy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nearly everything that was manufactured went to market via the distribution system of the railroads.

We would travel to Ripley perhaps three or four times a year to spend an afternoon or evening playing Rook or Dominoes. I think I learned arithmetic by playing Dominoes! It was always an interesting time!

It seems like every time we went to their house, we would approach the tracks and would have to wait for the train! The kids loved it. Dad hated it as a waste of time! My Mother feared it! She was always concerned about a terrible accident. She had read the poem, “Asleep at the Switch” and it deeply impressed her.

I remember the huge steam engines, the large bull wheels, the articulating arms working up and down and back and forth as the train passed in front of the descended gate. Then we would get to count the cars! One, two, three…

The passenger trains on the New York Central went by fast – we scarcely had the opportunity to count them!

Four, five, six….

But, on the Nickel Plate Road, the freight trains chugged along like the “Little Engine That Could” saying, ”I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….”

Some of those freight trains in those days I remember to be more than 200 cars long! We were really excited when there was a second engine working at the head of the train! Then, a real treat came when, on occasion, there were a couple of “Pusher” engines at the rear! What an example of power that engendered in our wee little minds!

Finally came the caboose.

The caboose was always red and had a wide area in the middle of it with narrow windows ‘fore and aft. There in that wide spot sat the man! He was always an old man, probably 30 or 32 years old! He had either a black or a denim coat on and some kind of cap. The cap was often the quintessential “Engineer’s Cap” with the puffy top and the bill and blue and white stripes in the material. My Mother always thought that whoever made those hats must have gotten a special deal on that material.

That old man in the caboose was there with a very special job! His job was to wave at the kids waiting at the grade crossings when the train passed by. I’ve concluded that, because I never once saw him doing anything in the caboose but wave at the kids!

We don’t go to Ripley anymore. The names of the Railroads have changed and there is only one set of tracks there now. Times have changed.

We live in Florida now and we have railroad tracks going by our house. Oh, it’s a little way away, perhaps a mile.

But, as I lay in my bed this morning at 0523 with my right ear on my pillow, I heard a rumbling that was vaguely familiar. I raised my head off the pillow and I heard an accompanying sound! The Whistle!

When the Atmosphere is just right, the various distinctive whistles sound as though the trains are traveling right through the confines of our bedroom walls!! What great nostalgia!

Although the tracks are not that close to our house in Florida the ambiance of the place is greatly enhanced by the rumble and the roar of the trains as they engage in the commerce of the day along the tracks that extend from the ports on the coasts of Florida, to the fields of Mid-America, to the great ports of the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean and back to the East.

Eventually, they stretch past Chicago and Cleveland, along Lake Erie carrying a long freight train past 3 little kids waiting at the crossroads at Ripley, counting the cars.

One, two, three…Kids with train

…and listening to the whistle from seventy years ago! Maybe more – maybe less….

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