Train Of Thought

Entry by: Godai41

16th July 2015
Train of thought, of course, from the start has had high value and gone on to amass higher and higher value.

The long birth process of trains of all sorts and from various time periods, tracked roads and wagonways among them, parallels and even equates with the history of people, of existence, more than the metaphorical “train of thought” suggests.

Trains have frequently become thought, and to many have even come to signify the thinking process.

No doubt people affixed themselves first to the functional idea of the train: the carrying of supplies such as coal, iron, and other goods.

Actually, though, trains hold and also bequeath to observers much more than thought.

The train of feelings far surpasses the train of thought in number of persons boarding and riding and the intensity of their involvement and participation.

Trains of feeling embodied in the trains themselves continue in modern times their motion with humans. The building of the transcontinental railroad and its completion in 1869 engendered severe, often life-death struggles between the two main ethnic groups, Chinese and Irish, doing the building.

The High Line on today’s Manhattan West Side, drawing throngs tourists, evolved from the 1934 original High Line, itself a development of a street-level railway carrying freight beginning in 1847. For a patrolman hired to guard the 1940-era highline the work bequeathed to him the benefit of alluring access to locales far from his work, for one, free rail transportation to a Florida vacation.

Interactions rooted in feelings first that do or don’t occur on trains are reflected in what people write and sing about trains. For some the train becomes a route to hoped-for or would-be stability or an obstacles along that route. In Edith Wharton’s short story, “A Journey,” a train becomes the arena in which a wife-become-widow en route emotionally and mentally struggles with, first, if or how to conceal the husband’s death from the passengers’ eyes and knowledge. She then tussles within her own feelings of how to remove his corpse from the train at journey’s end.

Similarly, a routine train trip taken each weekday may bring about fearful life-changing scenarios. Unnoticed by his fellow passengers, the protagonist of John Cheever’s “The Five-Forty-Eight” on his trek back from Grand Central to the suburbs north of New York City is taken semi-hostage by his former secretary with whom he had a brief romantic relationship. The environs surrounding his departure station serve as the setting for the hostage taker to physically and emotionally ground him into the turf at the station. The reader experiences a true—not only real—train of feeling.

Less scathing but still gripping the reader’s feelings stands Jay Parini’s “Coal Train,” a poem detailing the effect the three-times-per-night, mid-summer waking of a captivated human being near the point of the train’s passage. The poet skillfully enumerates the sweating, sparking, seemingly deadly passing. When the train finally completes its passage the observer hears his own loudly beating heart. Discover the feeling for yourself at

The universal, eternal train of feelings surfaces frequently also in the most scary moments of the protagonists in Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River. Even the authors own long night walks in his then-home Brooklyn area, during which allegedly he would scream “I wrote 10,000 words today,” apparently did not meet the needs of his feelings as fully as his frequent accounts of trains arriving, departing, waiting, and moving. For Wolfe these trains of feelings captured the scary Herclitian engine and passenger cars flow experienced by his characters.

Even trains themselves caught in their own train of feeling apparently need to communicate; at least “The City of New Orleans” written by Steve Goodman and recorded by Arlo Guthrie seems to suggest the train’s own feelings in its own speech as it travels from Chicago to New Orleans. The reader not only hears how the train feels but the images and details which bring on those feelings. Does the train fervently yearn to express its own identity as it rolls along its journey?

The stations along a route also testify to the pre-eminence of the train of feelings. One witnesses this as one joins the brief journey on “The 3rd-Avenue El,” a now defunct line of The New York City transit system. Join the cars on their brief journey at Two passenger entities contend for the viewer’s feelings, one a drunk replete with liquor bottle and the other an innocent young woman and her dad. They and a few other passengers strive to release a treasure that has fallen between the boards on the floor. The undulations of their feelings move amidst the various times of day and evening along the train’s route. The stations themselves, part of life’s journey, seem to cry, laugh, ache, even choke.

Albeit the term train of thought appears in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan of 1651, trains and the environs of trains represent more than thought; in fact, they stimulate in humans admiration for the je ne sais quoi they may feel. Even in the final stages following a three-week cross country train journey from New York to Los Angeles, with stops at Cincinnati, Chicago, and Flagstaff, Arizona, on the final train trek home to New York, to my surprise I found the brief PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) curvaceous movement from Newark, Penn Station to Greenwich Village in Manhattan, even after the extensive foray into feelings of the cross-country train flow, has a life of its own and exudes an intangible sense of its own inner cravings.

It’s time, then, to re-read Ruskin Bond’s “The Woman on Platform 8,” from his work The Night Train at Deoli and Other Stories to fully, absolutely intuit the true convergence of trains and feeling. In this five-page story the author without swerving from the movement of the narrative displays how the locale of a train station and the train arriving to carry two children, one accompanied to the station by his mom and one totally alone, to boarding school can in this setting and this setting alone by a few actions in a few moments forever change the heartset of a young human being.

Perhaps even now the human race can’t fully understand or grasp or partake of the import trains have in surpassing thought and the thought process and their effects both on the human race’s variegated parts and entire essence. This culminates indeed in a “Passage to more than India!” (Whitman), incredibly much further and deeper than even the India we still don’t know or truly feel.

Trains, then, remind us of the emotive tissue of unbuilt bridges in Indian towns, collapsing houses, and assaults sexual and otherwise on trains, suggesting that the concept of train of thought contains more euphemism and idealism than the rich mix of raw feelings still conjured up, evoked in, and bequeathed to their travelers, their observers, and their disquisitioners by trains of feelings.