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Friday 24 January 2014

Evening Train


Evening train (Albany, California): photo by efo, 6 November 2012

Train whistle in cold January night
down by the water
lonesome sound 
from a long way off
amid memory forest
Harlem Avenue 1947
or 1948
in the exile bedroom
at grandparents' house
across from the house
of the mysterious famous gangster

in the dark
under the attic rafters
hour after hour
imagining a meaning
to fit
the brilliant silvery word

Switching operations, Point Richmond automobile yard: photo by efo, 10 February 2008

Fast freight, Berkeley: photo by efo, 28 August 2005

Along the tracks, Berkeley: photo by efo, 8 February 2012

California Zephyr, Oakland: photo by efo, 27 November 2005

Drawbridge No. 8 (Richmond, California): photo by efo, 27 July 2010

Amtrak train 734 (Pinole, California): photo by efo, 30 April 2006

The Burlington Zephyr. East Dubuque, Illinois
The Burlington Zephyr, East Dubuque, Illinois: photo by John Vachon, April 1940 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Chicago, Illinois. Chicago Burlington and Quincy streamliner pulling out of the Union Station

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Zephyr streamliner pulling out of Union Station, Chicago: photo by Jack Delano, February 1943 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Chicago, Illinois. Steam and diesel engine at the Union Station

 Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Denver Zephyr diesel locomotive and older Pennsylvania Railroad steam locomotive side-by-side at Union Station, Chicago: photo by Jack Delano, January 1943 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Silver Pilot. E Unit Zephyr, at Illinois Railway Museum, Union, Illinois: photo by cradek23, 12 July 2008

Zephyr, Snowy Glenwood Canyon. The eastbound California Zephyr passes through Glenwood Canyon and along the Colorado River on a snowy February afternoon. The Glenwood Canyon passage, just east of the town of Glenwood Springs, is one of the most fabled scenic stretches on the Zephyr route: photo by George Hendrix, 6 February 2010


Poet Red Shuttleworth said...

Wonderful poem, yes, and the fading romance of the rails. Thank you! Oh to be in the bar on Amtrak... or in the dining car.... Oh... to be wealthy and have a sleeping compartment, too!!! Geez... travel once had ROMANCE!!!

Mose23 said...

It's very good to take a wonder through this "memory forest".

Thank you, Tom.

TC said...

And thanks very much for boarding, mates. We'll be taking on smelling salts somewhere east of Omaha.

As it happens, a climactic moment of my prosaic youth occurred in Union Station, Chicago when the driver of a Burlington Zephyr received me up into the cab of his train (O the wonder!) and allowed me to stand there at his side for the run out past the switching yards to what was at that time still open country, at the brink of the vast western prairie.

He showed me the Dead Man's Pedal.

This was a pedal which the driver was meant to keep his foot pressed down upon at all times.

Were he to be suddenly stricken -- heart attack, say -- his foot would come off the pedal, and the train would stop.

He had strapped his foot to the pedal with a sort of improvised stirrup.

"Too much trouble leaning on that damn thing all the time," he explained.

Nin Andrews said...

Yes, beautiful poem. I, too, remember loving the train as a kid. We'd ride it from DC to Boston to see my grandmother. It was so exciting, getting off in the city . . . .

And I love the ending, the way I thought of words back then as having color and speed.

TC said...

Good morning and thank you, Nin.

Trains were a big deal for me as a kid.

During my childhood railroading was in its heyday and Chicago was the hub. Every Saturday morning I got up early and took the C & NW train downtown, then explored one of the big railroad stations. There were seven major stations in Chicago at that time, all quite busy. There was an obscure thrill in the arrival of a train from faraway, in wintertime encrusted with the grimy ice deposits of many exotic faraway states. Those great dirty ice chunks were nuggets of romance from an age of gold and iron and steel that was always going on in a remote, marvelously unreachable other dimension.

ACravan said...

I love this and it's wonderful to see the exciting train photography. In Philadelphia we're blessed to have 30th Street Station, still magnificent and always marvelous to arrive at or depart from. And unlike Grand Central Station in New York, there's no civic pretentiousness about it because with the Philadelphia Inquirer now fully receded into irrelevancy and the hegemony of cable television news over local programming, no Philadelphia civic consciousness or feeling remains, only political graft, corruption and very nasty crime. These photos really raise the spirits. So does the phrase "exile bedroom." Curtis

tpw said...

Dear T: Terrific poem, but your comment is as good a poem:
The Dead Man's Pedal

Was a pedal which the driver
was meant to keep his foot pressed down upon at all times.

Were he to be suddenly stricken -- heart attack, say -- his foot would come off the pedal, and the train would stop.

He had strapped his foot to the pedal with a sort of improvised stirrup.

"Too much trouble leaning on that damn thing all the time," he explained.

Hazen said...

Terrific poem, great photos, great train memories, which I share. When Streamliners were new and unique, my father would call up the L&N or the Southern and find out when the next one was due at the crossing near our home in Knoxville, so that we could go and wait by the tracks to see it. I remember especially the locomotive approaching from a long way off, the bright headlamp lit up even in the daytime, flicking mechanically from side to side.

TC said...

Hazen, here's one for you and for all those stopped train whistles on the ghost night wind.

Jean Ritchie sings "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore" at Hindman, Kentucky

And while we're at it ... this clip has some great vintage footage shot from the cab of an L&N engine in the Days of Steam:

John Mayall & Paul Butterfield: Ridin' on the L&N (1966)

All we saw of the L&N in Chicago were the fancy dining cars attached on the luxury Chicago/Miami runs (Dixie Flagler, Dixie Flyer, Dixieland et al.).

Yes, so much Virginia history in there, buried, and likewise in the Southern, particularly downstate near the Carolina line at Danville where there were several famous wrecks a century or more ago, tricked switches, locomotives plunging off trestles & c.

Troublin' Switch (Ben Newberry's Final Run)

A classic Jimmie Rodgers ballad memorialized that latter crash.

And then there are O. Winston Link's Two Trains Running at Rural Retreat, Virginia (Wytheviile County):

High Ball (O. Winston Link)

The train nut Link, who specialized in the Norfolk & Western line, showed up in Rural Retreat on Christmas Eve 1957, seven nights before the termination of steam on the N & W's Bristol run.

He was toting not only cameras but sound equipment, and made a great nine minute sound recording. The chimes play carols... and then at 3:59, the train whistle blows. Shivers in the night.

I suppose it's an awful betrayal of age to say that I believe rail transportation was the most efficient ever invented.

And it was not without its romance, for many, as the swell comments here testify.

Thinking of some of the stirring images of transcontinental travel before the airlines took away the business.

Marguerite Yourcenar wrote decisive passages of her masterpiece Memoirs of Hadrian on a winter rail voyage across America.

Yourcenar left this astonishing account of completing her novel in the state of "controlled delirium" that had possessed her on that night train.

"Closed inside my compartment as if in a cubicle of some Egyptian tomb, I worked late into the night between New York and Chicago; then all the next day, in the restaurant of a Chicago station where I awaited a train blocked by storms and snow; then again until dawn, alone in the observation car of a Santa Fe limited, surrounded by black spurs of the Colorado mountains, and by the eternal patterns of the stars. Thus were written at a single impulsion the passages on food, love, sleep, and the knowledge of men. I can hardly recall a day spent with more ardor, or more lucid nights."

"Zephyr" must surely be among those most lovely and least harmful of human inventions, words which sound like what they mean. The history of course is Greek, with mediation in the Latin, from which Chaucer derived his Zephirus. And when what they mean is the gentle passage of the west wind through the syllables, and that is what a Zephyr sounds like...

Though when the wind is harsh and comes out of the northeast, as now, and the Zephyr is travelling east, through sleet and snow, all bets are off.

As to my own big day on the Zephyr, I was, naturally, in total wide-awed awe before the adult mysteries revealed to me in the one moment it took to apprehend the meaning of the Dead Man's Pedal and the corollary meaning of the driver's evident prioritizing of personal convenience even when this preference could conceivably result in loss of life and limb, carnage on the tracks & c.

Nin Andrews said...

Yes, I used to take the train with my mom from DC to Boson to see my grandmother. I loved, loved watching the world chug past. Later, in college, I took the train from Philadelphia to Cville and the train was hours late every time, stopping in every city. I was the only white person on the train. The black men and women came up from the Carolinas to work in Philadelphia or Baltimore or DC during the week and then rode the train home for vacations or weekends. It was party time on the train-everyone seemed to know everyone and pretty soon they knew me, too. How's the college girl doing? That was before I transferred from a women's college to a men's college . . .

TC said...

Now that you mention it, Nin, railroad memories and memories of places we've been in the world often follow the same tracks, in those of a certain age.

College was always a train ride away. Mine was usually the New York Central. I read Journey to the End of the Night on an all night train ride to Detroit, not quite the End of the Night but, even then, close.

Roaming all across Europe and much of North Africa in the early/mid 1960s was a matter of trains mostly, along with the inevitable "auto-stop".

Some funny things happen on trains.

Some perhaps best left to oblivion.

One not so funny train memory goes back to being taken off a train in the former Yugoslavia, in the middle of the night, by uniformed officials of the state.

And then (long story)...

TC said...

And while we're on warm, homey transportation memories... translate that top efo shot (made about a mile from here) into noise, and you will hear what wafts up this way when the wind is right (or wrong...)