by Bob Ciminel
December 07, 2004
My initial fright over the railroad across from our backyard ended when our next-door neighbor, George Llewellyn, who worked for the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad at the Rook roundhouse not far from us, explained to me all about steam engines and why they made so much noise. Soon, I began looking forward to hearing them, knowing that some kindly engineer or fireman was in the cab, someone who would smile and wave back at me. The sound of a multi-chime whistle echoing up the valley became my security blanket, a sign that everything was right in the world and that even in the dead of night, in pouring rain or blowing snow, there was a friendly soul out there.
After those first formative years, we somehow always managed to live near railroads, and there were trains wherever we went. They were near my relative s houses, they were near my schools, we rode next to, under, or over them on Sunday drives. I swear, I didn t even notice when the railroads stopped using steam engines and switched to diesels. It was still a train, and the engineers still waved.
Today, I live near Atlanta, a city that was created by the railroads. In 1837, the state of Georgia chartered the Western & Atlantic Railroad, which still exists and is still owned by the State, to operate between the Chattahoochee River north of Atlanta and the Tennessee River at Chattanooga. The southern terminus was defined as "some point not exceeding eight miles" from the southeastern bank of the Chattahoochee.
The state surveyor, Stephen Long, marked the southern terminus by driving a stake into the ground in the Georgia wilderness and pronouncing the site a good place for a tavern, a blacksmith s shop, a general store and nothing else.
The southern end of the Western & Atlantic came to be called Terminus. In 1843 it was renamed Marthasville in honor of the governor's daughter, and two years later, J. Edgar Thompson, the chief engineer for the Georgia Railroad and later the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the builder of world famous Horseshoe Curve, renamed the town Atlanta.
Atlanta thrived as a railroad town until the Civil War when Union General William Tecumseh Sherman did a bit of urban renewal around the city. After retreating Confederates blew up 81 box cars full of explosives, creating the huge fire made famous in Gone with the Wind, Sherman had his Bluecoats pile up every railroad car, wagon, and anything they couldn't take with them in Union Depot and burn it.
Atlanta was gone, but it rose again phoenix-like from the ashes. Five years later, Henry Grady, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, said, "I want to say to General Sherman, who is considered an able man in all parts, though some people think he is a kind of careless man with fire, that from the ashes he left us in 1864, we have raised a brave and beautiful city."
I can't even hear a train whistle
from my current home. My daily commute doesn't take me anywhere
near a railroad. If it were not for my weekly "fixes"
up on the Blue Ridge Scenic tourist railroad, I would be going
crazy. I miss the sound of a locomotive horn in the night. I
need that feeling of security I had as a child living across
the street from the former Standard Railroad of the World.