Train Train

“Train Train” is a song written by Shorty Medlocke, the grandfather of Rickey Medlocke , who was the founder of Blackfoot (a fantastic Southern rock group from none other than Jacksonville, Florida). The song starts with Shorty Medlocke’s harmonica, which mimics the sound of a whistle on a steam locomotive. Not only is “Train Train” an excellent song, it reminds me of 2 other musicians who have strong ties to my south Florida home and who have many train references in their songs. The first of these musicians is Pat Metheny. Pat Metheny is a jazz guitarist whose music has always been inspired by trains. His “Last Train Home” song was released in 1992 and re-released on a greatest hits album in 2015. In addition to this song, Pat Metheny’s other works make many references to trains and the way they sound. The second of these musicians is, of course, the late, great Jaco Pastorius, who grew up near where David and I live. Train tracks are prevalent in South Florida and Jaco was fond of walking near the tracks that run parallel to Dixie Highway near Fort Lauderdale. Many people view trains as a nuisance. I will admit to being one of these people, particularly when I lived in Jacksonville and had to cross train tracks to drive from my office in the corporate office building of the hospital where I worked to the main hospital campus. I can’t count the number of times when I was delayed by a train! When I started playing the bass guitar 20 years ago, I soon learned about Jaco’s fascination with trains and train sounds. From that point on, I decided to become a student of train sounds, including the sound of the horn (D, C, D#, F#, A#,C, in a long, long, short, long pattern) and the sound the wheels make on the tracks. Since then, when I am delayed by a train, and sometimes, by 2 trains on 2 different tracks I cross with some regularity, I think of Shorty Medlocke’s harmonica, Pat Metheny’s guitar, and last but not least, Jaco Pastorius. I try to envision the inspiration that trains provided to these great musicians and it really makes waiting for the train to pass a lot more fun than it used to be! Train train!

It is not by accident that one hears the long long short long whistle (horn) blast when a train nears a public crossing.  It is to avoid accidents that this pattern is a required operating rule for trains in the U.S.A., and some other countries (there is an official list of whistle signals that trains use).  This is one of those facts of life that one doesn’t usually consider unless, like Melissa, she learned to appreciate the sounds, or like me, who had a father who was a train fanatic who often rode Amtrak for short round day trips or ventured to Folkston, GA to watch a busy section of track from a well known vantage point.  Growing up in Jacksonville, FL, a major transportation hub, meant hearing this sound frequently.  A major railroad crossing exists between what was then my home and school, so I stopped at that crossing many many times going to or from school.  (Fortunately, that crossing was eventually covered with a bridge, thus many people never experienced the University Blvd. delays.)  Trains are a fascination for many people, like my Dad, who grew up when they dominated the world of both freight and passenger transportation.  Though not in as much use for passenger traffic in the U.S.A. as in other parts of the world, trains move tremendous amounts of freight.  They may not seem as interesting to those of us who grew up in the jet age, but train watching remains popular, as do railroad museums.  I know, because I visited a few of these places with Dad.  And, through him, I learned details about trains and people who owned private rail cars luxuriously outfitted for personal travel attached to freight trains.  One of his fondest memories in his later years was a ride from Jacksonville to Miami on the private rail car of the CEO of a major railroad who invited him to make the trip.  Cabooses may be gone, but luxury rail travel still exists tacked onto the back of some trains.  It was only when Melissa learned about Jaco, though, that I (and she) began to consider the sound, and rhythm, of trains.  It is not just the whistle (which turns out to be a term still used though steam whistles long ago gave way to powered horns), but the clicking pattern on the rails, varying at different speeds, transmit sounds over long distances.  Annoying, or intimidating, as they may be up close, these sounds are (literally) music to many ears.

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