Air horn nowadays, but has that same lonesome mournful quality to it.
When conditions are just right, as now, one can hear the train blowing its horn for each and every crossing it comes to.
The sound in me brings thoughts, of lonesome places, desolate landscapes, long dead people, who spent their lives on the rails, getting people and freight, across the land.
Stories my father told me, of when he was in his late teens, before he met and married my mother, he would ride the rails, as catching a freight train was known as riding the rails.
How he got kicked off at the Pecos High Bridge, (https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/erp02) in West Texas, had to wait three days for another train.
The hobo camps, the men who you figured were private detectives, or the law, looking for someone, trying to blend in.
The professional hobos, and the desperate men, looking for work in bad economic times.
How he caught a train one night, with his suitcase wired around his neck, going so fast it was whipping him against the box car as he grabbed the ladder.
How he got real sick while riding a train, and was just laying there, and a young Mexican boy, riding the train, got off at a stop, and went and stole a couple of apples off someones tree, to give them to my dad so he would have something to eat.
Time a man robbed the guys on a box car, taking their money, then kicking them out while the train was moving on down the tracks.
Dad said he saw it coming, hid his Twenty six dollars, (big money during the 1930s depression), under a tie plate in a corner where some rail repair pieces were.
Man tried to throw him off the box car, but my dad said he was not leaving his twenty six dollars there.
Said you can only scare a man so much, then he don’t scare no more.
Said he wrapped his arms backwards around the robber who was trying to make my dad jump, told him, you shoot me, you are going out with me.
Robber let three men stay on the box car, one my dad.
When the train hit the yards, the robber jumped off, closed the door, locked from the outside, and took off.
Some of the men he had kicked off down the line, got word to the next stop, what was going on, so the rail yards were swarming with law.
Robber ran back, was trying to get back in the box car.
Dad said a guy, he thought had been with the robber, had seen him get his money from under the tie plate, said, “let him back in, he won’t do nothing.
My dad said he pulled back that tie plate, told him, “if you don’t hold that door, i will bash in your brains”.
Dad said the man held that door shut as if his life depended on keeping it shut.
Knowing my dad, it did.
Law caught the man they thought did it, and showed him to my dad in a line up.
Dad said he thought it was the guy, but it had been dark in the box car, and he was not 100%.
Said the man was black, and back then, white man pointed at a black man, said he did it, black man was going to prison.
So my dad did not ID him, because he would not live with the nagging though he might have sent an innocent man to a hell hole prison.
The sound brings back to mind, when i was a kid, and we would be driving to San Antonio, or back home, along Highway 90, and the trains would come by, how huge they looked, how loud the sounds, the lights , the caboose, which no longer exist.
If the lonesome sound of that whistle, don’t make you want to grab a few cloths, catch a freight train, and just look at the country side as it flies by, seated at the door of an empty box car, well, there just something missing from your makeup.
Inside every man, still alive spiritually, there is a little boy trying to get back out.
John C Carleton