Saturday, May 3, 2014

Railroad Crossing Quilt Block and Train Whistles

Railroad Crossing Quilt Block Pattern Information


OUT in the dark the train passes
And the whistle calls to the child,
Desolate, piercing, wild,
From the track in the meadow-grasses . . .
"Far, far away," it screams,
"Far, far away,
Out in the distance are dreams
Dreams you shall follow some day
Far through the endless wild . . .
Distance . . . dreams . . ."
Backward the faint call streams:
Far in the dark the train passes,
And the whistle calls to the child.

by Margaret Widdemer

Did you know that trains have their own whistle language?  Here's what each whistle pattern means:

Two Longs:    Release brakes.  Proceed.
One Short:    Apply brakes.  Stop.
Two Longs, One Short:    Approaching meeting points or waiting points of trains. 
One Long:    Approaching station.
Two Longs, One Short, One Long:    Approaching public grade crossing.  Used as an alarm for people or livestock on the track.
Three Shorts:    When train is standing, back up.
Two Shorts:    Answer to any signal not otherwise provided for.

Can you hear train whistles where you live?  Inquiring minds want to know!

You might also enjoy reading my previous blog post Quilters' Book Club Selection for May and Three Winners.


  1. I do not have train whistles to listen to now but when I was growing up we had a train freight station right across the street from our house. It wasn't long and we didn't even notice the trains as they came through our station.

  2. If we listen really hard we can hear the trains. My husband was third generation train engineer. So I knew there were different meanings for the whistles. I am excited to see this quilt block would love to see the whole quilt done.


  3. I grew up in the country in Kansas just 1/2 mile from the railroad tracks. My memory is of them blowing their horns at night along with the coyotes howling as they heard the whistle. Somehow, it was a comforting sound! A train whistle always brings back good memories.

  4. Where we live here in Elko, we hear the trains as they pass through town and the whistles. We also have a rail port about 6 miles east of town. Some of those freight trains are really long. As the crow flies we live about 1 mile from the tracks.

  5. The train track by my house has been turned into a bike trail, so we don't hear any whistles here!

  6. I still hear train whistles but they aren't as loud as when we lived RIGHT next to the tracks. I actually lived next to train tracks in two different houses when I was married. We used to laugh that when the train stopped by our property it was the conductor and personal smelling out cookout and they wanted to come and have a break with us. We did invite them one time when they did stop. LOL.

  7. I don't hear the whistle as the train goes over the road about 1/2 mile away.

  8. Oh, yes. The tracks are across the street. I noticed different whistles, but didn't know why. Thank you for informing me. I lie in bed, hearing the whistles go all through our town, at each intersection. Somehow, it makes me feel safe and secure. Sharon K. Lozano

  9. I can hear the train whistles at night when the city is calm. As a young child we lived near the railway tracks and I loved to listen to them and the clackty clack of the wheels, as they rumbled past the station and up the grade.

  10. I knew there was a meaning to the whistles. But I didn't know what they were.
    We have a train that run about a 1 from my house.

  11. Often when I visit the states, I am at places where I can hear the train whistles and it brings back childhood memories. Here in Japan we live quite near the train tracks and between two stations, about 15 minutes walk between, but Japanese trains do not whistle unless something or someone is on the tracks. nstead we hear the ding, ding, ding of the crossing gate.

  12. Our store is just a block from the train station in our town & I've not paid attention to the number of toots but I WILL NOW! I do remember from music in college that their pitches are specific to improve being heard- seems like it's a 4th (as in c&f together).

  13. I live less than a mile from an Amtrak railroad, but the horns I hear are usually CSX freight trains. I love hearing the train horns. When our granchild was about 2 or 3 he would be playing in our yard and suddenly stop dead still when he heard the train horns and stand completely silent. He was enthralled by trains, so hubby took him to the trainyard several times to watch all the coming and going. I still think of that when I hear the train in the distance!

  14. I can hear the trains (only a mile away) but, they aren't allowed to blow their horns or make noises. I miss hearing the whistles and such.

  15. hi
    i not only live by the tracks, i work with the rail men, i am a transport person, i drive them around and quilt or knit while i wait for them
    there are alot of towns that have ordinances against the train whistles, there should be some in some places due to the people who don't stop and check the tracks before crossing then

  16. We no longer have train whistles here but there are hooters sometimes. I love hearing the old whistles if we visit a heritage steam railway, so evocative of an earlier time. When I visited Florida a few years ago I loved the AmTrak trains and their whistles, it felt like being in a movie!

  17. We hear the train whistles about every 20 minutes or so in Lebo. They are a comforting sound, though sometimes my visitors don't think so when they can't get any sleep at night.


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