Living On Track

The only genuine downside to our commodious living quarters in Clintonville is that our sleep (or nighttime quiet) is shattered at least once a night–possibly more often than that–by the sound of trains barrelling down the Conrail tracks that are parallel to our street and only three or so blocks east of our house.

Steph is more bothered by this than I am.  If I’ve taken my Seroquel before retiring, I’m usually too tired to be awakened by anything short of the house burning down, but the trains hinder Steph’s initially falling asleep.  There are many nights when these engineers really love to press on the whistle, too–predawn hours be damned!  The first few times we heard this, we thought maybe there was a car or a person on the tracks, but it happens much too often for that to be the situation.

When I was a teenager delivering The Marietta Times along Front St., one of my customers was Sound Solutions, a stereo store at the corner of Front and Butler (I think it’s a Goodwill or Salvation Army now) Sts.  When I came in to deliver the newspaper, I remember one of the LPs that the owner played to test new sound systems.  (This was in the heyday of quadrophonic sound, which has gone the route of platform shoes and mirror balls.  I never understood why anyone liked quadrophonic sound; when I go to a symphony concert, I have no desire to sit with the orchestra.)  The LP was called The Power and the Majesty, and it featured train sounds.  One side was a thunder- and hailstorm, where you could actually hear hailstones and wind hitting the microphones, as well as wind chimes and patio furniture being blown around the yard.  The other side featured the sounds of train engines, each track faithfully listing what type of train it was, where it was recorded, etc.  I bought the record, even though my stereo was a cheapo from Sears.

I always loved train sounds, but that came to an end for awhile when I was at Ohio University.  My first dorm was Washington Hall, and the Chesapeake and Ohio tracks which bisected East and West Greens went by, practically by my window.  Bedtime every night was like waiting for the other shoe to drop–don’t get too comfy and settled in until the last train has passed for the night.

I have heard a story (probably apocryphal) about some students who decided to avenge all their sleepless nights.  They made a cloth dummy out of bedding and old clothes and propped it up on the track just as a train would be rounding the curve going through campus.  As with every other urban legend, there are varying accounts of the end result.  My guess is that if this happened, the train people had to come out with a lathe to straighten out the wheels.

But my love of trains returned.  The first time I rode a train (as opposed to a subway or commuter train) was in November 1983, when my friend Ken Katz and I rode from New Haven, Conn. to Penn Station in New York.  We had met in New Haven for the Harvard-Yale Game (this was during the time I was typesetting The Crimson), and we watched Harvard’s 16-7 victory over Yale.  We went to a party at The Yale Daily News and then caught the train back to New York.

And I liked trains so much that Steph and I took Amtrak to San Francisco for our honeymoon.  Columbus hasn’t had an Amtrak station since the ’70s, so our friend drove us to Cleveland, where we got on the Amtrak to Chicago, and then transferred to the California Zephyr for the trip out west.

The Conrail trains near us have made it harder for me to get to sleep, but they haven’t roused me from a sound sleep.  Last Saturday night, the hooligans attending our neighbor’s party made so much noise they drowned out the train whistles.


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