Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Man Who Thought He Was a Train

This is a true story, or at least as true as I can remember. My girl friend and I first became aware of the man who thought he was a train during a shopping trip to downtown Jacksonville, Florida, in the early 1950s. We needed gloves and hats for a luncheon. Luncheons were big in those days as we learned to become proper young ladies.

There were several hat stores in town and we were just coming out of our second when here he came, dashing past us so fast we weren’t really sure of what we had seen. We also heard him. The shop owner must have seen our startled faces as we jumped out of his way and back into her doorway.

“That’s the man who thinks he’s a train,” she explained. “Right on time, too. Comes past here every afternoon about this time.” Our teenage faces must have given away how startled we were. The man could have been anywhere from 25 to 55, dressed in faded blue overalls and plaid shirt, and atop his head a grey and white striped engineer’s cap. He was pulling a clattering “caboose,” a red Radio Flyer wagon, smiling and nodding as he flashed past at a brisk trot.

We soon learned the man who thought he was a train lived nearby, but no one knew exactly where or even his name or why he thought he was a train. He appeared about noon coming through Hemming Park, past Morrison’s Cafeteria, past the Presbyterian Church, then on to Jacob’s Jewelers where he rounded the huge pedestal clock and made a left toward Kresses, then several blocks later, a right at Walgreens, to circle past the Imperial Theatre, past the First National, finishing up across from Penny’s and disappearing into the residential neighborhood just east of the Post Office.

He was a legend in downtown Jacksonville and delighted most people with his familiar “whoooo whooo” to let those in his path know he was coming their way. He also made chugging noises that became most audible when he occasionally had to stop for a red light. He was a free spirit; always smiling even when chugging and whoooo whoooing. There was even a brief article about him in the local paper.

Fast forward four years and, with high school diploma in hand, I went to work for a downtown insurance company. On the third day at my new job, just as I was leaving the building for lunch, there he was – hat, caboose, sound effects, and that radiant smile. By then he had acquired the name of “Train” and was greeted warmly by many friends along his route. He just smiled and nodded, gave a friendly “whoooo whooo” and kept going.

Later, with several more years away for college, I was back in town and working for the same insurance company in the public relations department. That first day I couldn’t wait to hit the street at noon to see if the man who thought he was a train was still around.

I headed for the sandwich place with a view of Train’s route. Just as I was finishing up the best pastrami on rye in the area, there he came! Slower now, but with the familiar whoooo whooo, what looked like a new cap, and his Radio Flyer caboose. He had added a small lantern to the back of the wagon and a small dog atop a pillow inside, ears flapping in the breeze. I saw him a number of times during the next few years before changing jobs and moving away.

I suspect by now, some 56 years later, “Train” has gone to that great switching yard in the sky, but his memory lives on. Although no one knew who he was or where he came from, he was accepted, loved and appreciated for the smiles he brought to weary office workers. Even now, after all these years, when I hear a train whistle, I think of the man who thought he was a train and the joy he added to the lives of so many people.

So, Train, where ever you are, here’s one for you: whoooo whooo!

© Copyright 2006 Suzzwords

6 comments:

  1. ellie5:19 PM

    Not moving to Jacksonville until December 1965, I had never heard of "Train", however, my husband, who is a lifetime resident, remembers hearing about him and seeing him. "Train" must have been an unusual character and it would be interesting to read the newspaper write-up about him. Very interesting blog.

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  2. Great story and well told.

    Thanks

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  3. Anonymous11:18 PM

    Hi Suzz, loved that story the "characters" we come across are what make life an interesting journey (whether by Train, or not.)

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  4. p.mona10:14 AM

    I REMEMBER "TRAIN" WELL. YOU HAVE A GREAT MEMORY OF OUR PAST. THOSE WERE HAPPIER TIMES FOR US., EXCEPT FOR THE PANTY GIRTLES. AND DON'T FORGET THE SWEET LITTLE MAN OUTSIDE THE FLORIDA THEATRE SELLING THE TIMES-UNION NEWSPAPER ON THOSE LATE, COLD SATURDAY NIGHTS. I'M SURE HE HAD A STORY TO TELL ALSO.

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  5. LoveM9:10 AM

    You are so lucky to have a "Train" in your life and such fond memories. If we really think about it, most of us older folks have an unusual character in our past!

    Wonderfully written -- as usual.

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  6. Another wonderful story from your past Suzz...this was fun. Happy Holidays to you and yours...

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