When I wrote about a song called “Night Train” in a recent piece, I connected it to my high school marching band and my transition into a football player. But aside from those memories, it’s also a type of song that’s very near and dear to me — a train song.
It’s pretty common knowledge that old coots like me are often train buffs, but my fondness for choo-choos was a part of me long before I entered geezerhood. I came up with a theory about that recently, while listening to some of my treasure trove of train music. It ranges from the simple sound of Chet Atkins and “Freight Train,” to the big band era’s Harry James and “Waiting For The Train,” and that latter song’s title relates directly to my theory. I think that I was train-deprived as a kid.
A quick disclaimer here: I had a comfortable childhood in a middle-class home, and completely understand that a lot of kids had it much tougher. But when you’re young, it’s pretty easy to feel sorry for yourself when a couple of your friends have fancy train sets and you don’t. I was entranced by the shiny black Lionel locomotives and the big humming transformers, and there were a lot of extras too. I remember that one kid even had tiny tablets he could put into the engine and it would make smoke come out. Neato!
Although I’m sure my parents went through some thin times, they weren’t poor — but they were frugal. And like most parents, they sometimes had to judge whether a cheaper version of something might do just fine for their kid. So when I began agitating for a train set for Christmas, it might not surprise you to hear that they ended up getting me something a little less impressive than I’d visualized.
The entire train — even the locomotive — was made of brightly-colored plastic, which gave it a Disneyish look more suited to younger kids. The power supply was simply a plastic box with four batteries (which soon ran down) and there was only a limited amount of track included. It was pretty underwhelming, and I guess there’s no way that I won’t sound like an ungrateful whelp when I say that I was mightily disappointed. However, I wasn’t the kind of kid who threw tantrums, so I swallowed my dismay and made the best of it.
Now that a lot of years have passed and I view this through the prism of adulthood, I know that things are not always as simple as they seem. For one thing, one of the friends I envied so much was part of a broken home, and lived with his father — a rarity in those days. His estranged parents often competed with each other by buying him expensive toys. I think his train set was one of those — and don’t even get me started on his fancy Schwinn bike.
But the fact that I remember the whole experience even after all these years means that it must have been pretty significant to me at the time. And it just might have had a little to do with my life-long attraction to all things railroad. I guess I’m still just waitin’ for that train.