Waitin’ On a Train

Tracks West. Photo by Jonny Eberle.

In the summer of 1882, deep into monsoon season, the first railroad tracks reached a small community at the foot of the San Francisco Peaks in the wilderness of the Arizona Territory. The railroad brought workers and the workers attracted saloons, dance halls and gambling, transforming a few isolated lumber mills into the town of Flagstaff. Today, between 80 and 100 trains barrel through Flagstaff every day. They are no longer the lifeblood of the town, but they are a reminder of our past.

When I first moved to Flagstaff in middle school, the trains were required to blow their horns at every railroad crossing. Many nights, I fell asleep to the mournful train whistle in the distance. Then, a few years ago, the city introduced wayside horns that you couldn’t hear from far away. The trains went silent, but I can still hear the rumble of freight cars on the tracks in my apartment on exceptionally quiet nights.

So, when I started work with some friends on a web series about life in Flagstaff, I knew I needed some footage of trains. So, this weekend, I sat at the corner of Beaver and Route 66 with a tripod in my backpack and a video camera tucked into the front pocket of my blue NAU hoodie. And I waited. I waited for the long arms of the railroad crossing to lower, for the red lights to flash, for the wayside horn to sound.

And I waited there for an hour. On an average day, 3-4 trains an hour come through town. I usually get stuck waiting for trains at least two or three times a week, but on the day when I actually wanted one to block traffic, it didn’t come. I guess Saturday is just a slow day for the BNSF.

I was pretty upset with the railroad when I went to bed that night. I set the alarm on my phone, switched off the bedside lamp and pulled my comforter up to my chin to keep out the advancing cold.

I was just starting to doze off when I heard that old, familiar sound — a mournful train whistle in the distance — and my frustrations were carried off with the wheels as they rolled west into the night. I’ll try again another day.

— 30 —

If you liked that, please like, comment, share or follow me on Twitter: @jonnyeberle. And if you’re feeling particularly generous this holiday season, why not do all four?

Sources: The History of the Railroad in Flagstaff. Flagstaff Visitor Center. http://ow.ly/fOJEH

The short film “Blow No More” is a Shot By Gunn production, directed by Flagstaff documentarian Chris Gunn. It premiered at the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival in 2010. His newest project is called “Staying Sane in an Insane World.” More info at www.shotbygunn.com.

Published by Jonny Eberle

Writer, photographer, blogger and filmmaker in the City of Destiny. You can find my blog at www.jweberle.com.

9 thoughts on “Waitin’ On a Train

  1. I really, really, enjoy reading the posts on your blog. I like your writing style. Something that, I , myself am still trying to figure out. Any recommendations on how I can achieve a better style that fits me? How did you find your style? Please advise, thank you.

    1. Thanks for reading, Alex! When it comes to developing a writing style, I think it’s something you have to do slowly over many years. The best way to do it is to write. Write all the time. Write every single day. Write whether you’re inspired or not. You should also read voraciously. Read everything you can get your hands on and when you find some trait in a writer’s voice that you like, try it out. Try to figure out how the writer is weaving their story.

      Not long ago, I didn’t have a set style. My writing was all over the place. And then I discovered Ernest Hemingway and Richard Bach. I read everything I could find that they had written. Hemingway’s style is short, staccato sentences; fragments. Richard Bach delves into lush detail. So, in my writing, I tried to combine the two styles. And to be honest, my first attempts were terrible. But over time, I fell into a rhythm of reading, writing and experimenting. It takes time — every writer has to find their own voice and claim it. I have no doubt that you’ll find yours.

      My best,
      J.W.

      1. Wow! Thanks for the encouragement Jonny! I really appreciate the feedback. You’re the first blogger I’ve EVER left a comment and I must say that it feels pretty cool to get a response back. Keep up the good writing. Thanks again.

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