The nearby train


I THINK IT was Columbus. It surely was not Flatonia because, as I recall (it’s been quite a spell), that’s where the good barbecue joint was located just off Interstate 10 about midway between Houston and San Antonio.

Flatonia, that is.*

No, it likely was Columbus where my second ex-wife and I decided to spend a night in a hotel, just a fun way to get out of Houston, deep into the sticks, so to speak. We used to head out on weekends now and then, near and far, to spend nights in hotels just for the heck of it, a change of scene.

It was a train that etched that night into my memory so firmly even though it’s been about 25 years now. That wife’s long gone, and so is Texas, out of my life, but not trains.

That night in Columbus, we chose a quaint little wooden, two-story inn that had been a train-stop hotel way back, a place for travelers who arrived by rail in Columbus to easily step from the train almost right into the hotel lobby. But passenger service to Columbus went the way of cavalry charges and vanished.

The hotel went out of business and stayed that way a long time. Then some folks, probably city slickers dreaming of running a small hotel in rural Texas, answered an advertisement one day and, presto, the hotel was reborn, just as quaint as ever, but on purpose this go-around.

Some time after that, we showed up and checked in. The hotel was all decked out in old-timey stuff, real cute, you know, and we liked it. That night we hit the sack around 10 or so, as usual.

The train arrived a couple of hours later. The tracks remained directly beside the hotel, and I mean directly. It was a freight train, and it did not continue through, which would not have been so bad. No, it parked right outside our second-story window. And it sat … and sat … and sat … with the motor running.

Didn’t get much sleep that night. On leaving the next day, I understood why we were the only hotel guests. Who would return after a night with your bedside lamp spitting distance from a rumbling locomotive?

I’m sure the new owners, possibly Yankees from New York trying to get away from it all, regretted their decision, likely losing their shirts, but all we lost was one decent night of sleep.

* * * *

Flash forward a quarter century. I live pretty close to a railroad track, and it’s a busier track than the one in Columbus, Texas, by far. But it’s not just outside our window. It’s like a block and a half away.

Our property extends from one street out front to another street out back, which is to say it’s a full block deep, and the house sits against the back street, not the front. Crossing that front street, you’ll see houses, and it’s directly behind those houses where the railroad runs.

We hear the trains, which pass at all hours of the night and day, real well. I don’t know how the people who live across the street, with the trains passing just behind them, put up with it.

The trains pass in a number of styles, depending on the mood of the engineer. The style matters more at 2 a.m. than at 4 p.m. Sometimes they pass quietly. Well, as quietly as a train can pass. Just the bump-bump-bump of the wheels, nothing more. Or it can be full-tilt boogy with horn blaring and bell clanging.

We did not notice the railroad when we bought the property, and we likely would have purchased elsewhere had we been aware. But guess what? After a couple of weeks back in 2003, we ceased to be rattled by the passing trains, even in the dead middle of the night.

Not only that. We like it now. From the upstairs terraza, we see the top portions of passing trains clearly, and it lends a sort of vagabond air to the neighborhood.

If you walk the 1.5 blocks from the Hacienda to the neighborhood plaza and look left you will see the scene in the photo above. The train tracks bisect our funky neighborhood, and we live on the right side of the tracks because where we live is, by definition, not the wrong side of the tracks.

* * * *

* The barbecue joint was directly next to a gas station. Once I used the john in that gas station and found it so unkempt and repulsive that I told the station manager than I’d seen nicer johns in Mexican whorehouses. She didn’t take kindly to my accurate comparison.

(Tomorrow: About milk. Stay tuned.)

20 thoughts on “The nearby train

  1. I’ve never understood why an engineer would toot his horn and ring his bell again and again when passing through a sleeping town. If he saw a car on the track, or a passed-out drunk, I could see the purpose, but otherwise what’s the point? Is it one of those ‘If I don’t get to sleep, neither does anybody else’ attitudes? We stayed a couple of times at a hotel in Tucson but the track was about 50 yards away and there must have been four or five trains a night, tooting merrily by.


    1. Bliss: It does cause one to wonder. If there were some sort of regulation, they would all do it, but no. Sometimes the train passes through here at night with nary a peep other than the turning wheels. Even that causes our windows to vibrate lightly.


    2. Basically, they can’t stop. Sure, with a few miles notice, yes, they can stop. But unexpectedly? Nope. You *have* to get out of their way, or be squished.


  2. Now that you’ve dropped that little pearl in the text referenced by the asterisk you do know that you are now obligated to write a post about your experiences with Mexican whorehouses, don’t you?


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where the closest train is a subway line.


    1. Kim: I’ve been in brothels in Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Spain. But I’ve never sampled the wares, so to speak. Not even once. Where’s the romance? Cathouses are invariably connected to bars, and that’s where I would sit and enjoy the scenes, great places for sociological studies.

      The most gorgeous babes were in the Dominican Republic. The worst were in Haiti. Just so’s you know.

      Only once (in Puerto Rico) did I leave the bar area, and I wrote about that a few years ago, here:

      The most fun spots were Boys Towns in Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo. Now those places are experiences.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. PS: I just reread The Christmas Card post and see it did not mention my leaving the bar area. The girl, for some reason I forget, insisted I go upstairs with her, so I did. We went into a cubicle where I sat on the bed — the only place available to sit — and she gave me a Christmas card.


    1. Ray: One passing night train above all stands out in my memory. I had just arrived at an Air Force training base on a freezing winter night in Rantoul, Illinois, in 1962. After lights out, I was in my bunk, likely wondering why in the world I had put myself in that situation (I had volunteered), and I heard a train horn somewhere off in the far distance. Oh, how I wanted to be on that train.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You and Richard Nixon.
        “I see another child tonight.
        “He hears the train go by at night and he dreams of far away places where he’d like to go.
        “It seems like an impossible dream.
        “But he is helped on his journey through life.”

        I was there that August night in Miami. It is still one of my fond memories.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. That BBQ place is Joel’s BBQ. The old service station building is now a gift shop (go figure) and there is a Mexican Restaurant now on the property. The building Joel’s is in is made of very aged mesquite logs (sticks?) mortared together. Very quaint. Very good BBQ but not as good as Black’s in Lockhart.


    1. Carole: Yep, Joel’s is the name. Whenever my wife and I drove from Houston to San Antonio, we would stop there and eat if the eating hour was nearby. Great barbecue. Loved it. My current spouse has also eaten there. We drove to Atlanta from down here twice in the first few years after we were married.

      Never been to Black’s in Lockhart. Never been in Lockhart at all.


  4. Funny that you should remember that night. Living just south of Columbus, TX, I can tell you the freight train that runs along Hwy. 90 east/west is alive and well. Most small Texas towns, including my town of El Campo, no longer allow engineers to blow their whistles while traveling through town. Most switching stations are out of town now, with the exception of the one small town that comes to mind — Sealy, TX.


  5. Bev: Having a rumbling locomotive for a bed-mate tends to stick with one. Thinking back, I don’t recall how long it sat there. Seemed like all night at the time, but who knows?

    Not letting engineers wake up entire towns in the middle of the night is a great idea. Wish Mexico were as considerate. But, as noted, you do get used to it. I’m not sure if I lived across the street, directly abutting the track, that I would get used to it, however. I’d probably move.


  6. I enjoy the forlorn sound of train whistles in the middle of the night, perhaps because they are a couple miles away. They sound better than the few jets we have taking off on early morning flights from the local airport.


    1. Andrés: In our much smaller town, there are no jets taking off ever. There is, however, most of a DC-9 sitting at the grass strip that’s walking distance from my house. It was brought here by trailer a couple of years ago.


  7. A friend of mine is spending 10 days in Old Town, San Juan, staying at the Plaza De Armas Hotel. Any tips for him?


    1. Paul: It’s been a long, long time. The only place I recall location-wise is the one I mentioned in the other post (see link in an earlier comment response here). On Calle San Justo near the Malamute Bar, which was just a bar but an experience unto itself.

      But I imagine it’s a whole different world there now. I loved living in San Juan, and I’d be there to this day had the pinche communist labor union not put me out on the street. Since I spoke no Spanish at that time, I had quite limited employment options. So I returned to the mainland.


Comments are closed.