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Hold on while the train passes

By Randy Garrison

Many times each week when I am on the phone, I have to tell whoever I am speaking with to “hold on while the train passes.” 

Since my office is so close to the tracks, when the horn sounds, it is hard to hear; however, living in Hartselle my entire life, I have become accustomed to the sound of the train – the horn, the rumble of the tracks and the sound of the engines. 

If you have lived in Hartselle for any length of time, you know there are several trains that pass through our city on a daily basis. At one point I believe a number of 50plus has been mentioned.  

Now I do realize the train stops traffic flowing east and west, and many of the trains are extremely long. But if you have a business downtown, your windows are a great showplace and advertisement when folks are stopped for the train moving through. 

Our home is also located relatively close to the railroad tracks; in fact, our street ends on the east side onto Railroad Street. People ask sometimes whether the sound of the train bothers us – especially at night – but I think, like other sounds, we become accustomed to the sound and think of it as just an old friend passing through.  

Since we live in a family home that was constructed by Lynn’s grandfather, several family members from past generations have stayed in the home. Lynn’s grandmother’s brother spent some time with the family many years ago and asked how they managed to sleep each night with all the train noise. Their response was, “What train noise?” – and this was before air conditioning, when folks slept with the windows open.  

Each time I hear the sound of the train horn or whistle, I am reminded that without the train that travels the track in the middle of Hartselle, our city would not even be here. When I see traffic lining up on Main Street waiting on the train to pass, or hear the clang of the warning bells before the train comes through, I can appreciate that sound as part of our history. 

Hartselle owes its beginning to the construction of the North and South Railroad in 1869. This was done to connect the mineral rich areas from the southern part of the state with major shipping areas in north Alabama.  

The timber industry also became important after the railroad came through. 

Hartselle was named after George Hartsell, one of the railroad’s owners. The city was founded in 1870 and formally incorporated in 1875.  

The town actually grew up along the railroad tracks on what is now Railroad Street. A post office was soon formed, along with a churches and a school.  

Many of the original buildings were destroyed by a major fire in 1916.  

Yes, Hartselle has a long history with the railroad and the trains. The sound of the train horn can be heard in many areas of our city and especially downtown. But as I have mentioned, each time the train travels down the tracks, sounding its horn, it is a great reminder of the proud traditions, strong foundation and rich history that we enjoy in Hartselle. 

Funny note – while writing this Monday morning, I have counted three trains that passed through.