“Trees and thick shrubbery hid most of the track from view and muffled the noises in summer, but in winter, when Dwight was a boy and the wind was right, the train whistle could be heard at night all the way out to the farm. A lonesome sound, yet somehow, oddly comforting.” — From Long Upon the Land (A Deborah Knott Mystery), by Margaret Maron.
These two sentences make me smile. I took hearing the Southern Railway train whistles for granted all my life until last year when the at-grade rail crossings in our town were closed and replaced by bridges. This was done to make way for “the high-speed rail” between Charlotte and Raleigh. There is no longer a need for the train whistle in Harrisburg. Twenty-five trains now almost silently pass through the small town every day. I miss that whistle.
The North Carolina Railroad
The North Carolina Railroad first laid rail lines through Harrisburg in 1854. In fact, the town came into existence because a depot was built when the railroad came. Although I lived five miles from town, I could often hear the train whistle. I could lie in bed at night and hear it. It sounded particularly close if weather conditions were just right or there was snow on the ground.
Margaret Maron summed up my feelings about the train whistle. “A lonesome sound, yet somehow, oddly comforting.” I wish I’d written that sentence. Hearing a train whistle in the quiet wee hours of the night always made me feel that way. I would think about the passengers on the train. Was the train going north to Washington, DC and New York City, or was it going south to Atlanta and New Orleans? The trains were going somewhere and I wasn’t. Sometimes I envied the people on those trains, but mostly I just felt comfort in knowing that even though I was in my nice warm bed a few miles away life was moving on.
The Aberdeen Carolina & Western Railway
There is another rail line just a couple of miles in the other direction from my house. The Aberdeen Carolina & Western Railway operates one train per day on that line. For the near future, at least, I will be able to hear that train whistle because there is no bridge to carry vehicular traffic over the line. No doubt, that whistle will eventually become obsolete. Train whistles are going the way of the little red caboose.
I am privileged to live on land that has been in my family since the mid-1700s. I come from a long line of farmers. I wonder how my great-great-grandparents felt the first time they saw or heard a train go through Harrisburg in 1854. How exciting the advent of the locomotive in our community must have been for my eight-year-old great-grandfather!
Ironically, I was eight years old when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched the first manned Mercury spacecraft in 1961. The 15-minute suborbital flight piloted by Alan B. Shepard, Jr. was a milestone for the United States. Although I didn’t see the launch in person, I loved seeing the pictures on TV and in newspapers and magazines. It was a great time to be a child!
Who knew a couple of sentences from Margaret Maron in Long Upon the Land would bring such thoughts to my mind? That’s the magic of fiction!
Your favorite line(s) from a novel
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Until the next time I blog
Until the next time I blog, I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. I invite you to share my blog post on social media by using the icons below or recommend it to your friends.