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Watching the train go by

By Jacob Hatcher

There’s just something about watching a train go by.

Maybe it’s all of the Hank Williams I’ve listened to, but every time I hear tracks popping under the wheels, it sounds like an old dog house bass to me. I can’t count the number of times I could have sworn I heard “I’m so lonesome I could cry” whining out of a locomotive’s whistle.

Sometimes I just stand at the old depot and watch in awe as the trains go along.

I stand there and think of all the people who have stood in that very room. I wonder where they went; I think about why they left.

Were they running from a troubled past? Maybe they’d found work at a factory up north somewhere. Perhaps they were going on a short trip to visit family.

I close my eyes and hear a porter hanging off the steps, hollering, “All aboard!” Just through the iron bars on the window I imagine a young couple kissing goodbye; maybe he’s off to Europe to save the world from ruin.

Over in the corner I see J. B. Huie and Oscar K. Williams trembling, scared to death of the armed robber holding them hostage.

Like so many towns, Hartselle has risen and grown, all because the L & N decided to lay some track through this part of Alabama. So many lives lived here in this town – all because some surveyor decided this was the best topography for a train to run through.

All over this country, trains have hauled people and freight near and far; they’ve made dreams of brighter futures come to fruition, and they’ve transported fallen heroes back to their weeping mothers.

These days, trains are an afterthought. They make us late to work. They make us wish we’d used the restroom before we left the house.

But like the gears in a wristwatch, they’re what keep us ticking every day.

Maybe it’s nostalgia or foolish sentimentalism, but on a cool spring night, there’s no sweeter music than sitting on the porch hearing the train whistle in the distance.

Or maybe I’ve just listened to too much Hank Williams.

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