Echo of a Train Whistle
Mama bundled my toddler brother and sister, twins, into their footed pajamas while my older brother and I raced to be first to pile into the black 1938 Cadillac LaSalle, my father's pride at finding it for sale, used. He'd already backed it from the garage and waited behind the house on Carey Avenue, a main north-south thoroughfare through Cheyenne.
From home, my brother and I could reach the center of town in half a dozen blocks. Skaggs Drugs and Montgomery Wards rose from the cement near a movie theater featuring Bomba the Jungle Boy and other Saturday movies for ten cents. A theater employee at the entrance would collect our dimes in an open cigar box before we slipped into the darkness where adventure waited.
A block from the theater in the downtown area's south side, the Union Pacific Railroad sprawled under the viaduct, close enough for Dad to walk to work most days. A fireman and engineer, he got the call to take the controls on his regular run into Nebraska that evening.
Comfortable behind the LaSalle's wheel, Dad carried us to the railroad's main building laid out like five structures glued together as if the architect didn't know when to stop. Chiseled, rust-colored stone edged the peaks and windows of its textured limestone exterior. He waited beside the car for Mama to slide sideways into the driver seat before kissing her goodbye. Cocking his hand with two fingers stretched outward in his usual farewell signal, he strode away until a wide, arched entrance under the medieval-looking clock tower swallowed him from view.
My brother claimed the front passenger seat the minute Mama left it. No one argued about the unspoken rule. He was one year and five days older than I. In the back seat, I enjoyed the extra elbow room with the twins and a reprieve from teasing.
Mama drove down East Sixteenth Street, all the way through town until nothing dotted the open spaces except the refinery. She pulled off the highway, tires crunching the dry prairie grass, and parked the car to face the tracks an acre's distance in front of us.
Anticipation of a familiar sound kept us quiet as we waited in the withering light. Finally a far-off rumble sparked the air. A locomotive, the headlight in the center of its round face cutting a hole in the dusk, roared from the west. Its weight flattened the earth as I felt its heat, or maybe it was the sprinting of my heart that made me feel so warm.
The horn let out a long whooeeoo, vibrating the air. When the engine came in direct line of sight, the whistle blurted out two higher-pitched hoots. A hand waved from the cab's open window. Daddy! Nothing could compete with that moment.
Our dad commanded the massive giant that effortlessly towed boxcar after boxcar I thought I'd be able to count. They clicked the rails like cougar cubs with metal taps on their paws, loping in a blur to keep up behind their mother.
Steam shot from wheels to form a skirt. Its head billowed a haze to hide the engine and send a tail roiling back over the cars. The entire train passed in a fraction of the time we'd spent waiting.
I watched the light fade into the distance. The whistle sang exhilaration and sadness as Dad and his entourage melted into the night.
About the author:
Connie Kallback, former managing editor at McGraw-Hill and Prentice Hall, has retired to North Carolina where her writing draws on the abundant fodder of life's joy, pain and humor from growing up in Wyoming, moving to the East and raising six children in two separate families. Her work has appeared in magazines and journals.