Railroad Stories: Lonesome Whistle of Steam Engine Train Was Comforting

No one who has ever heard it can forget the mournful wailing and lonesome whistle of a steam engine announcing its arrival.

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No one who has ever heard it can forget the mournful, wailing whistle of an early 20th century steam engine as it rolls across the American prairie, announcing its arrival at the next town.

In the middle of the night, when there had been a new snowfall, the air was clear as a bell, and the new moon was out in all her glory, the whistle echoed across the plains, drifting into my dreams. Somehow, it was a comforting sound; it had a softness about it. I'd roll over and go right back to sleep, safe under my covers.

My father loved the railroad, loved those big engines. He had worked on the railroad since he was 14 years old. He was hired as a yard boy, which entailed going to railroad employees' houses and giving them a call for their next duty time.

As a child, I didn't see Dad that often. He mostly lived up at the end of his line, in Lusk, Wyo. But when he was home, he would sit with my sister and me by the big, pot-bellied stove telling us fascinating railroad stories.

Dad worked on a spur line out of Chicago called the Chicago North Western. One time, Mama and we kids rode in the caboose. Mama was determined that no matter what, she was going to go to Dad if he could not come to us. We went to the depot and were told that the only train coming through was a freight. He said if she was that eager to go, we could ride in the caboose.

We shared the caboose with several railroad men, and somewhere along the way, we passed through a long, dark tunnel. I was very young, and it really tick¬led me to go through that dark tunnel. I burst out laughing, which tickled the railroad men, making them laugh too. Mama was just pleased that it hadn't frightened me. We finally reached our destination, and a railroad man took us to Daddy's cabin.

Dad worked on that spur line his whole adult life. One day, he fell out of the cab of the engine and landed on the rails. It bruised his spine, which never healed and turned cancerous.

Kathleen J. Hull
Stockton, Calif. 

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.