Growing up, I heard the trains at night as I lay in my bed looking out toward the rail lines. The town was very silent.
The train whistle was unmistakable. The sounds of the metal cars and the brakes—those brakes were enough to wake the dead in the city cemetery on the hill overlooking the valley.
This article in the Saturday Evening Post, Waiting on a Train, by James McCommons reminded me of a song that Peter, Paul and Mary did in 1962. The only recording that I could find is this one on YouTube. The quality is not the best, but the beautiful harmonies and words still touch the soul.
500 Miles: If you miss the train that I’m on you will know that I am gone. You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles…Lord, I’m 500 miles from home.. .Not a shirt on my back, not a penny to my name. Lord I can’t go a-home this a-way …
This is a beautiful song of a time in America before World War II when train travel was the way to go. Great distances took time to cross. Automobiles and planes replaced the great passenger trains. The air became tainted by the ever-increasing smell of fossil fuels from a distant past lost in the mists of time.
The article by McCommons takes the reader on a train ride with chunks of history tossed in for good measure. It is a delightful piece of Americana like apple pie, chunky apple pie. I look forward to his upcoming book on the future of passenger trains.
Will the 21st Century recapture the majesty of the rails? I certainly hope so.
For me the glory days of train travel lie in the near future. All aboard!
G. D. Williams © 2010