Train Whistles

I’m awake hours earlier than normal. Why, you ask? Well, let me tell you…

As I returned to bed around 4:30 after answering nature’s call for the second time tonight, I thought I might actually get back to sleep. Hubby had finally stopped snoring and I was hoping the kids songs that had been running through my head would finally hit ‘Pause’. I closed my eyes…and then, I heard it. The train whistle blew and I was suddenly back in my childhood home as a teenager. No, the whistle didn’t magically transport me back in time, it was just a very strong memory…

A memory where I was having another restless night and nearly falling asleep when the train whistle blew – at 4:30 in the morning. I remember the frustration, knowing I had to get up for school in a couple of hours, and that whistle just kept blowing as it approached each intersection on its way south to reach the main east-west line. I had many restless nights as a teen with the usual teenage worries: Would I ever finish that assignment as the due date looms? Why weren’t my grades better? Would certain boys ever talk to me? Why was I so tongue-tied around them? Why wasn’t I more popular? Why did I stay up so late reading that book?

Tonight, once nature woke me the first time, I ran through my day, beginning with work and the autistic girl who loves music so much that we listened to her favourite songs, over and over and over – and they were still playing in a continuous loop in my head. I thought about the sink full of dishes and the specific papers I would need to find in preparation for our meeting with the estate planner. I remembered the aging bananas on the counter that need to be made into banana bread in the morning. I thought about what to serve my fellow writers (besides banana bread) when they came over on Sunday for our monthly meeting – and in between these thoughts I was nudging Hubby so he’d stop snoring, hoping that I might get to sleep if I had a little peace and quiet.


As the train whistle faded off into the distance, I wondered whether my daughter, who now lives in my childhood home, would hear the train as it moved past her. I realized, then, that I have lived near train tracks all my life. The house where I spent the first 19 years of my life was nestled between two sets of tracks. There was a line that ran behind our house and another set of tracks, including a shunting yard, four blocks east of our street. Every spring, a railroad official would come to our elementary school to warn us of the dangers of playing around train tracks, so I learned early to respect the tracks, to watch and listen for trains. The best times were when the Prairie Dog Central would pass by our house. I loved seeing that old train. My parents once arranged for us to take a Christmas excursion on it up to Grosse Isle, where Santa hopped on board and gave us candy for the trip back to the city. Whenever we’d hear that old train whistle, so different from the modern ones, we’d run out to the back fence and wave at the engineer as he drove past. See him waving back?


Although the line that used to run behind my old house is now gone, the other set of tracks is still there, taking up the load. The line that runs a few blocks from where I live now is the same line that runs through my daughter’s neighbourhood. When we first moved across the river and 30 minutes north of my childhood home, the friends who remained thought we lived so far away from them. Hearing that train whistle tonight made me realize, we haven’t moved all that far away. My childhood home and my married home, where we’ve lived for the past 31 years, are only 30 minutes apart and still in the same city.

I guess I am just an old homebody who is most comfortable in familiar surroundings.ย I can’t imagine picking up roots, like one ofย my brothers, and moving half a continent away from family and friends. Although my other brother moved out of the city, he’s less than an hour’s drive away and we still get to visit fairly often. Ironically enough, there is a rail line not far from them, too! I wonder if he hears the train whistle early in the morning and remembers our childhood home, like me?

Do you have a strong childhood memory that rises up at the sound of something familiar?

(PS: I’ve linked the train pictures to the sites where I found them, if you’d like to learn more about them.)

18 comments on “Train Whistles

  1. You asked about a childhood memory that rises up at the sound of something familiar…

    As a child we lived about two miles as the crow flies from railroad tracks. When the train blew it’s whistle as it barreled down the tracks, our dog would tip her head back and howl — like a coyote or a wolf baying at the moon.

    We never knew if she did this in an effort to “sing” in harmony with the whistle, or if the sound hurt her ears and this was her way of drowning out the noise.

    Every time I hear a train whistle of think of Sadie.

  2. Every time I listen to “From Me To You” by the Beatles, I remember how my father used to drop me off to kindergarten on his two-wheeler. I’d be in front of him, where he could keep an eye on me, and I could just barely see the road in front of us. And on the way, every morning, we would sing that song. It was the best part of the whole going-to-school experience for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I know this is going to sound silly but bleating sheep conjures memories for me of living in Germany. Every morning at sunrise, a sheep herder would pass our home with a flock of perhaps 20 – 30 sheep. I’m not sure where exactly he went with them but there wasn’t a day that went by I didn’t wake up to the sound and smell of the sheep. Every night before dusk, he would return to his home with his fluffy white friends. The sound comforted to me and I remember thinking after we returned home to the States how odd I felt not hearing the bleating. I actually asked my mom for a sheep, at which she laughed and said no. To this day, I love hearing sheep and I remember with fond memories the sheep herder and his woolen friends. Thanks for the memory. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. a lovely nostalgic post – thank you. I love trains, watching them and riding on them and those old steam trains are like great dragons to me. Wonderful.

  5. Thanks! I’m glad you liked it. I imagine there are more trains where you live than there are here, now. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’ve only been on two train rides my whole life. The one on the Prairie Dog, and once with a friend up to her cottage before they built a road.

    No, I lied! Writing that just triggered a memory of something my parents told me. I actually have been on more train rides but don’t remember them. Those first ones were when I was only a few months old, when only trains went out to our cottage. The next year, when I was one, a gravel road was built so we didn’t need to take the train again. It was discontinued a few years later.

  6. When I was 13 we lived in an apartment when we could hear the train go by all day and night. I loved the sound of the horn and clicking down the track. Sometimes we’d go by the tracks and flatten pennies on the rails. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I lived in a Century Village and every time I go there and here the canons going off from the Civil War reenactment it reminds me of home. But mostly when I see young ones flying by on bicycles, it takes me back to those days and riding to church in the village, it looked just like Little House on the Prairie, and then stopping at the old country store afterwards. There are so many shops/places in the village to visit, and coincidentally, it has part of an old train with a set of tracks. Climbing into that thing takes you back to an earlier era when life was simple.

  8. Aww those train whistles. I always liked that rumbling feeling that kind of shook the house as the train went past. I am hoping to take the grand-kids on the Prairie Dog Central this summer and make some new memories.

  9. Trains. I never want to live where I can’t hear trains at night. It’s important to me in some deep way. A long time ago, when I was in college, there was a local singer/guitar player who performed a song called “Trains at Night” and I remember the chorus:

    It was like hearing trains at night
    and you don’t know why
    but you suddenly feel like crying

    Umm, it was much more evocative with an actual person singing mournfully and strumming along on guitar. Anyway, that song always comes to mind when I hear trains at night, or think about trains. It came to embody my deep attachment to the sound.

    Sorry! Rambling, I know! ๐Ÿ™‚

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