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home : opinion : opinion July 27, 2016

7/20/2014 6:00:00 AM
Guest Column: A big part of Kingman history is quietly going away
Mac Nelson
Kingman Resident

Something is about to go missing in Kingman.

It won't be a dog or a bicycle or a street sign souvenir. No cows are being rustled, no horses thieved. No Bibles from motel rooms. Something a little more obvious has been stolen from us. It was something that goes a lot farther back than anyone's dog or bike or street sign, maybe even a cow or a horse - at least here in Kingman.

For now the familiar and resonant rumble of the trains that ply the rails through our dusty little high desert burg will no longer be accompanied by a horn. For some these audible warnings were a source of annoyance. For others it was just another familiar piece of the puzzle that makes us Kingman.

The first train whistle was heard in Kingman on March 28, 1883. Kingman's very name comes from an engineer working for the railroad, Lewis Kingman.

Not that I've any firsthand knowledge of who they are, but from my office downtown, I could hear the difference in styles of the engineers and tell who they were just by the way they came through town. Some would be almost frenetic in their oblations while some would laze their way through, gently tapping out their mega-decibel warnings. Others would, with almost military precision, tap away a warning for our "at grade crossings."

Slowly but surely, little bits of history are lost to us. Much, I would suppose, in the same way that the steam whistle gave way to the train horn. The horn will give way to relative silence, much like buildings that no one can afford to maintain. Or, like on the northern outskirts of our "community," the remnants of the WWII gunnery training range are being slowly absorbed and erased from our collective consciousness by encroaching housing developments. And yet another piece of our history slowly fades away.

Like so many an American with nomadic predilections, I've lived in plenty of places in the Western U.S. A goodly chunk of them have been within a baseball's throw of a railroad track. A couple close enough to rattle gramma's teeth off the bed stand when the trains rolled by. It was familiar; regular. Strangely comforting, and in no way an annoyance.

As a kid I would wave at the engineers. They always waved back. I still wave and they almost always wave back, if they see me. I think knowing how to wave at folks is a prerequisite for the job.

So, will there be a ceremony, a brass band with citizens gathering in their Sunday finery? Will there be photos for the history books? Speeches by local politicians touting the progress of our fair community? Toasts to what once was? Or will we just go on about our business and be left only with the rumble of the locomotives and the relative audible emptiness where once an harmonic five horn blast reigned.

Rumble on great trains, you seemingly endless links of steel, of commerce and freedom. Rumble on.

And so it's good night, here in Kingman, at least, to the train whistle and horn. For good, I suppose. Good night to 131 years in Kingman and of folks who used to put up with the racket. Good night to this one little bit of history.

I think I'll miss you.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, July 25, 2014
Article comment by: Born Here

As the above says , I was Born here . In the OLD Mohave General Hospital .
I lived within 100 yards of the Tracks a good part of my life in Kingman and within 200 for a great many more . I still own a Home today , within 200 yards of the Tracks to this day .
I have to agree with Lena Margita . She is a wise Lady and been here a LONG time . It`s simply AMAZING , the things which have become " annoyances " in and around Kingman since the influx of Californians and folks from other places .
You know , my own Family , weren`t Pioneers of the area , like Cofer`s , Cornwall`s , Grounds` or so many others . We came in 1943 . Brought here by WWII . My Grandparents could have chosen to live anywhere after the War . They chose to live HERE . Invest in the Community . Embrace the area`s History . Not CHANGE to place .
When you who complain the loudest came to a Town , FOUNDED BY THE RAILROAD , what did you expect ? The Town was named for a RAILROAD Surveyor ! GENERATIONS of my Family , grew up here , attended School Downtown Worked Downtown and NEVER had such issues with the Trains . AMAZING that the very thing that started this Town is now a problem !
Kingman is Kingman . If Lancaster and Palmdale were so great , you should have stayed THERE . Quit trying to change OUR Town .

Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2014
Article comment by: V Stokes

"At-grade crossing accidents go up by 25% when whistle bans go into effect."

Well, if people drive around barriers (required at silent crossings AFIAK), then I guess it's just a thinning of the herd?

Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2014
Article comment by: jim harper

At-grade crossing accidents go up by 25% when whistle bans go into effect. Its a heck of a lot more than nostalgia at stake.

Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Article comment by: Tammy Tahbo

Very nice letter and piece of history. I tend to agree with Linda! It's like once we started complaining about the horns the engineers took it upon themselves to blow them almost all the way through Kingman. I lived near Eastern and at night it seem like they would progressivly become longer and more times. I know they started blowing at the Hualapai bridge and blew them until they made it past the I40 bridge. I saw no sense in it - If the engineers would go back to sounding the horns only at the passing of crossovers I would have no issues. I don't mind the horns, but when you think of how many trains pass by at night and they all do that - it is hard to get a peaceful night's rest! I always wanted to know what the horn signals ment - maybe if we knew it would make sense. I really don't know if I'll miss them - maybe at one point I will but right now I wish they'd only do it at crossings - that I fully expect and in that manner will miss the sounds.

Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Article comment by: David Gaither

Here's some food for thought. Pay attention to the movies and tv shows. Most will, at some time in the show, have a train horn in the distant background. I wonder if that is by chance or is there some other reason for it?

It just seems strange to me that so many movie and tv shows have their shooting locations near a train route and the train was never a part of the show!

Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Article comment by: Rail Fan

The delightful and charming whistle of a steam locomotive IS history. The modern, annoying and over-used blaring horn of the modern diesel locomotives is not.

The Santa Fe Railway was also a part of Kingman's history until the Santa Fe Pacific Corporation holding company merged with Burlington Northern Inc. on September 21, 1995 to form the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway. That is when such a letter would have been better to have read in the Kingman Daily Miner.

Also, the Santa Fe fully dieselized by the late 1950's, which by the way the horn on those early diesels was much more enjoyable to listen to.

The BNSF has no interest in the history of the old Santa Fe Railway in Kingman or any other of their predecessor RR companies for that matter.

So obviously because of progress, old fashioned RR history only can be found in books, movies model trains and the internet.

Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Article comment by: Diane WErts

I am a transplant from California. I live downtown for the past 7 years. I remember my first couple of days after I moved in, thinking oh my God, I will never sleep again with those horns. After the first week, I rarely even notice them. I to will miss those horns. They are a part of Kingman's history, sad to hear them go.

Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Article comment by: Watch Out -- Wobbler on the tracks

Quiet zone -- my right hind quarter. If the horn tooters have cut back on the horn at the grade crossings it seems they are laying it on at the bridges over the RR now.

What with all the homeless huddled under all the bridges in the city (and there are a bunch of them) we still have a nearly constant toot all the way through town.

Or maybe, the RR just has it out for the city in general -- I've heard that theory too.

Posted: Monday, July 21, 2014
Article comment by: Deacon Blues

I was born and raised here in Kingman, and I have hated those train horns every time I heard them. The horn blowing has been much much worse in the last ten years than in previous years, I can't for the life of me understand why the engineers feel the need to blast so long and loud. WITHOUT any horn blowing, I can hear approaching trains from at least two to three miles, the horn is just completely redundant. I for one will NOT miss the horn blowing one bit. And as for "lost bits of history..." I was sorry to see the old hospital torn down, (I was born in that building on Beal Street), nobody even cared, it had been once Mohave General Hospital, then it was the Sheriff's Office, then abandoned county building... It was a FINE example of architecture, it could and should have been restored, but there was allegedly asbestos in the building so they tore it down. Now THAT was a loss, the damn train horns are NO LOSS, GOOD RIDDANCE TO THEM!

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014
Article comment by: Rail Fan

I am a lifelong railfan and a dedicated Santa Fe history buff, however I say good riddance to the train horns downtown!

Even though the train horns are mandated by the FRA, the locomotive engineers usually blow the horn way to long and is absolutely over-kill, especially when there are no cars at or approaching the crossings!

The supposed “historic” loss of the train horn is the least of which I thought this letter would be about. The key word to your letter is that downtown Kingman will finally have more quiet!

As for Kingman quietly losing its history, how about in general how sorry historic downtown Kingman looks, the loss of the Imperial 400 motel for a second (!) Wal-Greens (which a much better location would have been on Hualapai Mountain Road) and more recently the loss of the old KGAN radio station building that was built in 1949.

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014
Article comment by: Nick Schmidt

For several years now I miss the
answer of our sweet old neighbor
Mrs.Keene when she shouted
back "Shut up!" to the Santa Fe
horn. The downtown historic dis-
trict problem is more important !!!

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014
Article comment by: doug juntunen

I have lived downtown for 55 years one time right next to the tracks where they curve on mohave can't get any closer. I will
miss the "lonesome whistle blowing".

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014
Article comment by: joker wilde

Well-written and thought provking. Progress surely takes a toll on a community.

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014
Article comment by: T K

And the Bible says in the last days perilous times shall come for men shall be lovers of them own selves. There was reason for the horn. To help save lives...but ...you don't care.

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014
Article comment by: Linda Athens

Mr. Nelson:

Having lived about 20 ft from the trains for a good 18 years, then a few blocks away for another 15, I can attest to the fact, they never tooted the whistle like they have these last ten years, so loud and long you had to stop speaking if you were on Beale Street shopping or in the El Palacio eating.

As a child, the ground rolled, we were nearly thrown out of bed all night long and like you, the horns were not bothersome at all but a friendly reminder of who and where we were. And like you, as a child, I always waved to the men in the caboose.

My Uncle Teddy always rode the train from New Jersey when in the Navy and would jump off right next to my Mom's house (his sister). I actually saw him jump out of a boxcar one day while standing watering an elm tree.

But like everything else in America, we have lost civility in every way. Kids didn't used to treat the entire block to rap music so loud, the ground under their vehicles rumbled just like the trains used to do.

It seemed to me the logical solution, no money needed, was to ask the engineers to simply keep the train whistles to a reasonable amount like the olden days...but we had to complicate it.

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014
Article comment by: Kingman Resident-1

When we (me,wife,and kids) moved here 8 7/8ths years ago we were not even aware of the rumble and the horns. I must admit though, that the first time I heard a train horn at 2 in morning I awoke with a "HOLY C..P! expression. Since then we have come to appreciate the very important part of Kingman history that is the railroad. And, you are right, I will miss the horns.

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014
Article comment by: Down town Resident and teacher

Thank god they are goin. Unlike 131 years ago when there might have been three trains a day maybe, we get upwards of three trains in 15 minutes. AIMS testing at Palo Christi was an exercise in misery. The engineers have only themselves to blame by sitting on their horns and abusing the ears of kingman citizens.

Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014
Article comment by: Lena Margita

We can thank the Californians and outsiders who moved in and couldn't stand the train horns - but what they forgot was downtown is our tourist attraction and those horns are one of those attractions. You have tourists that line up along Route 66 waiting for the trains and when the horns blow - HUGE SMILES break across their faces.

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