19 June 2011

Which Came First- The Train Whistle, Or Insomnia?

Dan asked if I could work a couple days for him so he could go to the Viet Nam Helicopter Crewmember's Association meeting and dinner.

I hate working days.
But I want Dan to go enjoy his meeting. Dan is ALWAYS there for me when I need time off, so I've gotta be there for him too.

So Friday night I set my alarm for 5 A.M..
I'm normally beginning to think about hitting the sack then.
No real person is just getting out of bed at 5 A.M..
I hit the hay at 9 P.M., grabbed my copy of "Proficient Motorcycling", read a chapter, then rolled over. Sleep came quickly.

My eyes are wide open. I squint them to clear my vision and look at the face of the clock/radio...
2:20, and I'm wide awake.
I turn to lay on my back and take a deep breath. A storm is supposed to arrive just about the time I leave for work. I listen for the sounds of thunder.

We've talked about how bad my job has been for my hearing. Flying helos over 43 years has destroyed my high-frequency reception. I can no longer hear the dog whine.
Or certain sounds my cell phone makes.
Or Sara Jean talking, sometimes. (Often.)

But I CAN hear the drumbeat of an approaching helicopter.
Or the sound of distant thunder.
Or the sound of a big radial engine.
Or the similar sound of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Or... the sound of a diesel locomotive on the tracks half a mile from our house.

I can hear the low, quiet hum of Sara Jean almost snoring as she peacefully sleeps. But over that comforting sound I hear, almost feel, the sound of huge pistons compressing and igniting diesel fuel.
How far away is it?
How long before I hear the train whistle blow as the train approaches the intersection where our road crosses the tracks?

Before 5 A.M. the engineers cheat when they blow their horns, God bless 'em.
As they approach an intersection they are supposed to blow LOOONNNNG, LOOONNNNG, SHORT, and then as they enter and go through the intersection, another LOOOOOOONNNNGGGG blast.
(It's the letter "Q" in Morse Code, but I don't think that has anything to do with anything.)
Maybe BZ or some other railroad fan can give us a clue?

I listen for what seems like ten minutes before I hear the whistle, and this engineer is a good neighbor...
There is a long row of houses right next to the tracks at this intersection, so his signal is about 1/3 the volume it will be in mid-day. It makes ya smile to think these guys are thinking of folks in bed in those homes.
What an odd feeling...
I really should be sleeping, but I'm not discontent... comfortably lying in my bed listening to someone at work, being considerate of his neighbors.

I hear two more trains pass. They too cheat on the volume of their horns as they go through the intersection.
Of course I don't remember going back to sleep.
What I DO remember is the alarm going off at 5 A.M..
I HATE working days!
(I hope you had a great time at the VHCMA dinner, Dan! )


Old NFO said...

Payback always hurts...LOL My hearing sucks too, and I can still hear stuff most people don't (guess it's the training)... Thanks for covering, it's nice when folks actually step up and do the right thing!

Well Seasoned Fool said...

Can you get those engineers transfered to Colorado?

CJ said...

Day shift sucks. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

And train whistles are cool. I hear them at times in the middle of the night and find them comforting.


Bloviating Zeppelin said...

You finally hit on something I know about.

At least in MY area.

Up in the Sierra Nevadas, Union Pacific is the railroad that predominates. UP ate up numerous, numerous railroads in the 70s, 80s and, then, the Southern Pacific in 1996.

UP comes from an industrial background of militarism. Railroad personnel are called OFFICERS due to their history in the Civil War.

That said, when UP bought SP, UP didn't want to hear anything about what SP had to say about running their lines. Therefore, SP people stepped back and let UP almost totally collapse. UP lost, literally, BILLIONS of dollars because they thought they KNEW how to run the lines they bought.

They didn't.

On my lines, I can tell the OLD engineers from the NEW engineers.

At night, the old engineers barely horn, if at all, at my mountain crossings.

The young engineers, because they've been raised in an oppressive UP environment, horn like crazy, like little clones, at each and every crossing.

And you should know the EACH Union Pacific locomotive has a video system in each cab which captures video and sound. UP people can be fired or laid off by NOT complying with rules.

If they're old and close to retirement, they won't much care. Their union jobs are mostly inviolate.

If they're young, they're another tier entirely and subject to complete termination.

Simple as that.


Bloviating Zeppelin said...

UP rules say engineers begin sounding the horn at each horn board. The engineers are told they must lay on the horn in the standard long-long-short-long manner. No exceptions, day or night. Not doing so, now on UP, is a firing offense, documented by video and audio in the cab. And I'd wager that's true on every other Class I American railroad.


Greybeard said...

You've probably read my posts before and know which carrier I'm referring to here BZ and I don't want anyone checking into my assertions to see if they're true, lest we start being blasted with full-strength horns at 3 A.M. in our community. But I suspected they were probably "bending" the rules pretty heavily when I wrote the post, and I also figured their neighborly attitude might put them at some risk.

Come visit. I'll put a beer in your hand and we'll listen to coyotes howl when the engineers blow their whistles quietly, in the wee hours.

Bloviating Zeppelin said...

If I can put a roof on my wife's house this year and have some cash left over for a bike, I just very well may do that, sir. How cool would that be?