Except for the first six years of my life, when we lived in Florida, I’ve always fallen asleep to the sounds of soulful, lingering train whistles.
After moving north to Long Island, most people – including my father – commuted to New York City every day on passenger trains. He LOVED traveling by train – and collected books as well as miniature trains and trolleys which decorate our bookshelves and mantle to this day.
As it turns out, trains have been important to people for years. A man named James Benning created a film about the railroad and used it to outline many of the aspects of rail travel, including history, the economy and Americana.
Around 1550, ‘roads of rails’ called Wagonways were used in Germany. These rails were primitive and wooden, over which horse-drawn wagons moved faster and easier. In fact, Wagonways were the beginning of modern railroads.
- By 1776, iron had replaced the wood in the rails and wheels on the carts.
- In 1803, the invention of the steam engine became one of the keys to modern railroads and trains.
- In 1821, Englishman Julius Griffiths was the first person to patent a passenger road locomotive.
- George Pullman invented the Sleeping Car in 1857.
- By the ‘60s and ‘70s, inventors developed high-speed technology which rides on an air cushion.
I mentioned that the sounds of trains are romantic. They’re so romantic that years ago, George Gershwin wrote parts of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ on a train. And, several of his jazz rhythms were inspired by the movement of the train and the sounds of the wheels.
But, before I sign off, please do me a favor:
The next time you get frustrated waiting for a train to pass, take a few relaxing breaths and consider the history of this important invention. And even if you don’t get your errands done on time, remember that being connected to the railroad and history of trains – not to mention the melodic, lonely whistle – brings you back in time, but still is a gift of life today today.
This blog is in honor of my father, Cortland Anderson, who died way too young, but surely was transported to Heaven by rail.