When I was a kid, about five years old, we lived, perhaps, five-hundred feet away from the Great Northern Railroad tracks. This was a small town, and living by the tracks wasn't a social class issue.
The Flyer came late at nigh. It traveled north to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and back again in the morning, all the way to Minneapolis and other destinations. The loud whistle began sounding before the train reached the town limits. It was very loud and it had a haunting sound, sometimes waking me. I'd listened as it came rolling into town. it sounded gigantic. It slowed, one could hear the steam spewing out, came to a stop, screeching slowly as it did, but did not shut down. Freight, and local mail, was unloaded from the cars, outgoing freight, and outgoing mail, was loaded in. There were passenger cars too, and people could travel in them to and from Canada, or Minneapolis, or St. Paul. Then it started on its way again. Its shrill whistle could be heard at intervals as it approached crossing roads and traveled north. That train appeared gargantuan to me. Sometimes I worried that it might jump the tracks and come roaring into our house. I was often afraid in the night, when I was a kid.
But in the morning and late afternoon, the "short-line" train traveled the same tracks. I think it went all the way to the border between the U.S. and Canada.. It carried boxes and packages, and cream. I remember the cream cans standing on the dock at the depot, and I know not what else, but there were passenger cars. The train carried people to and from the small communities along the way.
Because the short line train was small, we called it the DINKY.
As often as I could manage it, I'd sit in the grass by the shallow ditch between the sidewalk by my house and the street. The engineer seemed to watch for me, because when the train passed, he'd give a few pulls on the whistle, not too loud or long, but just long enough to let me know that he saw me. He'd wave, a friendly back and forth flipping of his hand on outstretched arm. He never knew, of course, how much those waves meant to a small girl longing for recognition.
The DINKY started me dreaming of far away places. It set up a longing in me. I remember clearly how strongly I felt about wanting to be on that train and to see what could be "out there" for me.
When I was a little older, perhaps ten or eleven, I had my chance to ride the DINKY. One of my aunts, Clara, lived in the town ten miles to the north of us. She invited my sister and me to visit her, and we were to travel there by train. She was unmarried and lived alone, except for her dog, a water spaniel named Spanky, in a small trailer house parked permanently at the far side of the lawn belonging to people who lived in a big house.
That ride on the DINKY is one of the best memories of all time, especially from my younger years.
That's the way it was, when I was a kid.