When I Hear That Whistle Blowing

Unlike the Man in Black, when I hear that whistle blowing I don’t hang my head and cry. I snuggle deeper into my pillows and give thanks. It means I’m going to sleep.

Nothing, nothing works like the hoot of a train as a soporific. Not a hot bath, not chamomile tea, not warm milk (yuck) not a belt of bourbon. I’ve never been a great sleeper, and the older I get I suspect that’s because of my frantic dream life, which wakes me up exhausted and appalled. (Dr. Freud on 1.)

That whistle, that chugging  — my college friend Llyn said her father called it” TO Chicago FOR  tobacco”  is like intravenous Ambien. The long rumbling roll of the freight cars, that rhythm, the knowledge that life is going on and  and goods are being delivered to somewhere… I listen to it, under my Ikea duvet, and I sleep.

The EJ&E  tracks are about five blocks away, and mark the boundaries between the ‘Ville and Fermilab. The mighty CNR (Canadian National Railroad) bought the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern this year and the flap about it is wild. Because the CNR is running more trains through the EJ&E tracks, the city fathers are making them put up a sound-suppressing wall. The CNR is doing it, but my question to my ‘Villian neighbors is “For God’s sake, why?”

You nitwits, you’ll receive more train poetry and music. ” TO Chicago FOR tobacco. TO Chicago For tobacco. TO Chicago FOR tobacco.”  I want the chuggachugga as my last slip into the dreamland Great Beyond.


Filed under Born in Chicago, Free, Into the Mystic, On the Street Where I Live

10 responses to “When I Hear That Whistle Blowing

  1. I”m taking the liberty to post an email from my father here.

    “Your grandfather’s house in Glencoe must have been about a hundred yards (that will be about 90 metres) from the CNR main
    line between Toronto and Windsor-Detroit. That was when Glencoe was a little railway hub for watering and coaling the big main
    line engines , so trains went by many times a day . There were passenger express scheduled trains as well as heavy hauling long
    freight trains. The Michigan Central Wabash line branched off at Glencoe to Buffalo. One heard the regular noises,but it always seemed comforting and reassuring .. never lost a moments sleep!”

  2. Amen, and Good Mornin’ America, How Are Ya?

    That lullaby was mine from remembrance, not TWO blocks, but the crow flew straight across an uncluttered field, right into my windowscreen, with a glimpse of the lights receding. They watered and coaled and stopped with a SSSSSHHHHSSSSHHH, parking at twilight just for a Command Performance of an eight-screen-show in the bright mysteries of the dining car.

    I can hear the deep-steel clatter of the wheels on the rails, smell the iron-forge heat of the friction and the furnace, and remember the sweet sleep, interrupted only for the soothe of a passing freight.

    A train from afar—one of the major symphonies.

  3. Patty

    There is still a freight train that goes through the western edge of SCW, about 5 miles from here. With the windows open, birds not yet up, you can tell the time by its whistle about 5am every day, and the faint clickety clack when most of the world is still quiet. It is comforting somehow, and I often listen for it. It is one of those sounds that just make you happy when you hear it.

  4. Patty

    I was thinking of your entry again later today, and found it to be so interesting, I never knew anyone that enjoyed the sound of the train in the quiet of the night like I do. Thanks for sharing this -kindred spirits.

  5. Bill S

    The Glencoe house I associate with trains is our great uncle’s, with its great clock in the lower hallway. I can’t say that I was never awakened by the trains, but it was okay because I wanted to hear them. As you say, they gave a sense that all was well with the world. The sound of the trains, and the ticking and chimes of the clock, served to remind me that I was on another great adventure and with family that I loved, so sleep came easily.

    Later, in Winona, MN, we lived about 50 feet from the tracks that ran through town and parallel to the great Mississippi. When the trains came through, the vibration was enough to rattle the artwork on the walls and shake you nearly out of bed. Still, I never minded and gradually got to the point where I hardly noticed.

    Thanks for the memories, or at least the prompt to think of them again!

    • Dear Bill:

      I remember your namesake great-uncle Bill and Aunt Dee fondly. And, oh, yes, I remember that beautiful house, and the apple trees on the lawn — Yellow Transparents, I think. I’ve never tasted better apples.

      Lou went to school in Winona — who knew we’d have that in common? And he echoed your point in a different place, Des Plaines Illinois where his business was 5 yards from the tracks. The trains rumbled by several times a day. and like you, he got used to them. In fact, he welcomed them. Things rattled off the wall, but he’d stroll outside, take a smoke break, and count cars. He says it was just so relaxing.

      • Bill S

        It is also fun to think about where they have come from and where they are going–made even more interesting by the wonderful graffiti that you see these days. I have considered camping out by the crossing and taking pictures–some of it is just wonderful art–cheap and cheerful entertainment? 🙂

  6. kim shook

    In Jessica’s memory we have never lived out of the sound of a night train. It has always been her lullaby. Lovely piece, Maggie!

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