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Night Sounds and Trains Passing By

September 4, 2012

Our apartment in New York City was located right over the tracks of the northbound Number 1 train. Living on the first floor, nights we could lie in bed and feel the rumble of the train as it headed beneath us up Broadway to Van Cortlandt Park-242 Street in the Bronx.

Sometimes I imagined lonely people sitting in empty cars... Other times I was sure the cars were filled with late night revelers heading home to enjoy an exotic rendezvous. Whatever, the vibrations lulled me with the thought that the world was running along smoothly.

Northbound Number 1 NYC

Moving trains have always stirred my imagination... I sometimes think I may have wanted to live on the road just to listen to their lonesome wails. That sound is a love I have come by naturally. My grandmother, Mildred Murphy Mahurin, came from a family of Missouri trainmen. Family history has it that her father was shot and killed in a train robbery. Granny had six brothers and was enormously proud of being the only girl. The Murphy boys all worked for the railroad. There were engineers, brakemen, firemen and flagmen among them. They all worked on the old Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad - “The KATY.”

While visiting Denison, Texas we found a group of old KATY engines and cars on a siding near the edge of town. Perhaps one of my great uncles had worked on the engine.

KATY engines, Denison, TX

Until I was about 9, we lived within 200 yards of a railroad track and switching area in Bethesda, Maryland. I loved falling asleep to the sounds of the trains rebuilding themselves during the night and then slowly chugging away. The old tracks are a Rail to Trail path now, and the staging area is full of trendy shops and excellent restaurants. (Bethesda Row)

A year or so ago, Bernie had to fly back to DC from New Orleans, so I was left in a funky campground between the Lewis Armstrong International Airport and the Mississippi River. I was never lonely at night, for my dreams were busy and crowded... There was the whining roar of jets taking off and landing, lots of trains chugging slowly past and all the crossing bells clanging at the many near-by rail and road intersections. Sometimes I could hear the deep blare of a riverboat horn across the levee or the whump, whump of a circling helicopter. One night a pack of dogs trotted past, barking and snarling as they knocked over trashcans and argued amongst themselves. Inside, the clock was ticking and from time to time the dog would groan.

Only once have we ever heard gunshots, and that was New Year’s Eve, 2005 in Memphis, Tennessee. We were camped behind the Heartbreak Hotel across from Graceland. Yep, December 31st with Elvis. At the stroke of midnight, it sounded like everyone for miles around had stepped out of their front doors and started firing their guns. Alarming at first, as we were surrounded by the crack of gun shots and the blast of shotguns, we soon realized it was the local way of welcoming in the New Year. Hello 2006! Unfortunately, the celebration damaged a large number of cable boxes and much of the city was without television New Year’s Day.

More recently the night sounds of Austin, Texas populated my waking dreams. It was probably mating season for the resident Eurasian Collared Doves, because all night long they called back and forth to each other with gentle owl-like sounds. Best of all, the Pecan Grove Campground was located amidst many coffee house and music bars. It was the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival Week, so just lying in our bed we felt really cool listening to all the music drift through the night air.

I remember that rumbling! I heard it too.  It always reminded me of how old and inter-connected the city really is. Great post!


Wonderful writing!  Truly, time for a book.


Don't tell me you might be heading East and home!? Silly me!!

Anyway, let me tell you of my years sleeping in the IRT tunnel when I was a start-up...




Loved hearing about Granny's brothers working for a railroad company - did not know. My mother's father and 2 of her brothers worked for the Atlantic Coastline railroad.  I have heard so many stories about what it was like in the old days and do remember that for years the only way my family traveled (other than automobiles) was by train because we got passes! My grandfather was a "road master" and I remember him always wearing a starched shirt, smelling of Old Spice and wearing a gold pocket watch. Granddaddys are different these days.  

Hugs to you both,

I had understood that Granny's father was killed in a train accident. Were the folks sparing me the truth!?


What great memories Peg. Where are you two heading? Joe & I have sold our trailer and moved to an apt. for now. Don't know what is next.  Many changes, some good, some not so good. Have new address which I will send by email.

Be safe wherever you two may go next. I miss you also, and it has been months since you left. You two are so memorable you are hard not to miss.


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