Boxcars and whistles

There’s something quaint and timeless about living near a well-traveled train line.

We’re not near enough to see the train from the house, but we hear it as it traces the ridge along the river and curls toward town*, rolling over the stone bridge above the road.

(*definition of town: convenience store/gas pump)

We spy the train trundling over the bridge, as our car ducks beneath it and emerges on the other side, leaving just a box car or two flashing in the rearview mirror.

Sometimes it’s a short passenger train racing toward the city but most of the time it’s a lumbering freight train, tugging vats of coal or multi-colored boxcars marred by graffiti and smudged with grime.

Of course the Boy and the Barbarian are giddy when they see it — enraptured as all kids must be. And if they’re with me when the train clatters past, I’ll pull into the local train station — a little clapboard outpost that looks like a prop in a Rockwell painting, or a piece on a monopoly board.

At the station we watch the boxcars roll by, grumbling against the tracks. There’s something mesmerizing about the scene — the kids quiet down and study the procession of freight as it rolls by. Every so often the train slows and the sound of steel on steel blasts us with a screech. Finally a boxcar rolls past with no mate and Hadley bursts into tears. The show’s over.

When I ride my horse out in the mornings, I gauge my timeliness by the train’s approach. Pass the train down by the river and it’s 7:09; I’m right on time. If there’ s no train, I’m late.

From the farm the train sounds louder — and seems closer — at night when the house is at rest. Amplified against the hills, the train rocks back and forth against the tracks and the whistle pipes up, clear and sharp.

It’s that sound — the whistle sounding from the darkness — that I like so much. It’s lonely and comforting all at once.