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Home » Army Life and Stories » JEAN SHEPHERD–Transport With a Roar and a Woosh

JEAN SHEPHERD–Transport With a Roar and a Woosh

Maybe there’s a lot of “true” Shep experience here?

A combo of travel, army, and transportation.

Shepherd often exhibited his fine sense of observation in extended riffs.  This one has been titled “Three-day Pass Almost in the Slam.”  Although most of his Army stories take place at a military facility, here is one about getting on a train on a temporary leave from duty.  Maybe special environment justifies such a riff.

passenger train

He talks about being a kid and seeing all the trains that pass through Hammond, Indiana, the sounds of the train approaching—the roar and the whoosh and the bells, using his great vocal ability with sound effects to create a mood.

One might wonder if he remembered all he talks about here from his days as a kid and Army days.  Maybe he incorporated his memories of childhood into his Army story.

hammond-map-Shep sites

One got but a “tiny glimpse of that fantastic world outside—where people lived in streamlined trains, and they have green windows that light up.  I always remember those green windows with the lights behind them.”   He talks about being in the Army near Washington, D. C., getting a three-day pass and buying a train ticket to go home to Hammond.   “So here I was.  I was actually going into a train.  And here she was sitting on the track.”  He describes it—“those silver sides, you know, those fluted sides, those flat flush windows….”  And he is ready to board, having found his car:

Oh, there it is, there’s a little black card in the window— 427A.  And I walk in with a thousand other people— it’s air-conditioned!  I mean air-conditioned!  Boy, they didn’t air-condition nothin’ in the Army.  And it’s air-conditioned.  I could see all those green windows and those plush seats. 

Train-Interior-791573

Individual seats, like bucket seats, and they’re green and they tilt back and I see these distinguished-looking people with long thin cigars sitting there and a couple of lieutenant colonels.  Oh boy, really official guys.

So I get my ticket and I look at “seat number 19C.”  I’m walkin’ around lookin’.  Ah! There it is, 19C.  And I sit down.  I edge myself into the seat.  I’m all excited and here I am, Pfc Shepherd.  I’ve got my bag—stick it under the seat.  People are coming in.  Beautiful girl goes past me and I could smell the smell of the—you can just smell opulence, you know.  Just smell it.  This is not a troop train.  Not at all.  Very official train.

And I sat down for about five minutes—and the doors start to slam shut.  And you get that tight, sealed-in feeling that you get when a train is about to go.  And then—you know that strange feeling all of a sudden?  It’s as though the ground on either side of you begins to slide.  You don’t even have a sense of the train itself moving.  It’s like the ground itself is suddenly going.  There’s a brief moment of dizziness.  Oh wow!  Oh gee, we’re really going, oh!  We’re really going. 

And she began to slowly gather speed, and all of a sudden we’re out of the shed.  And you see these lights going past gutapump gutapump gutapump!  Faster and faster and now we are out into the night and that baby is rolling along!  Broowww!  She’s out there in the Virginia countryside goin’ seventy miles an hour.  Faster and faster and faster and I’m settling down.  Oh!  Oh gee is this great. 

And I bought myself a magazine, see.  And I’ve got it.  Got my magazine, I’ve got my ticket, I’m checking everything over.  Get my wallet out.  I’m all excited.  And I’ve got my three-day pass.  I look at that.  Everything is here.  I take my book out.  Gee that’s a great feeling, you know, that wonderful feeling of—it’s all out of your hands now.  You can’t do anything and you’re in their hands. (September 28, 1966)

So there it is, not by any means a story, but a nice little riff

with no more in it than the pleasure of listening to Shep

at play with words, sounds, and memory.

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4 Comments

  1. mygingerpig says:

    A great riff indeed. I remember how I felt the first time I took the TGF in France and the Bullet train in Japan. Just as Shep described.
    Joel

  2. mygingerpig says:

    The Concorde gave me the same feeling. Surreal. I sat next to Mstislav Rostropovich. His cello was strapped in the aisle seat next to him. Took off from JFK and landed in Paris in 3 + hours. Amazing.

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