Saturday, 6 February 2016

Train Keeps A Rolling...

Here's a lot of stuff about trains and bogeys and a poem about the bogey man.

'Train Keeps A Rolling' is a very famous tune that's been covered by many artists down the years. My favourite versions are by the Yardbirds and more recently Jeff Golub, who has a fine album of the same name. Jeff is a wonderful guitar player. He went blind a few years ago and now has a guide dog, but that didn't stop him falling onto the tracks of the New York subway in 2012 and getting dragged along as the train kept rolling. Amazingly, his injuries were minimal and he rocks on, albeit with a different dog!

Bogeys - also called trucks - are pairs of wheels, usually two pairs, mounted in a rigid frame (per the illustration below) and a railway carriage or wagon will sit upon two or sometimes three bogeys.

The Trans-Siberian Railway is possibly the most famous in the world. It is certainly one of the longest, running from Moscow to Vladivostok or Beijing across eight time zones and 9,000 kilometres. That train keeps a rolling for a whole week! It takes seven days to get from Moscow through Siberia to the Pacific coast, or on its alternative route from Moscow through Mongolia and China to the Chinese capital and it sets off every two days.

The most fascinating thing about the route to Beijing is that the gauge - the width of the rails - changes between Mongolia and China, so at Erlian on the border there is a huge shed where the bogeys are swapped over while the passengers are still in the carriage. The bogey sets are de-coupled and huge hydraulic jacks lift a whole carriage one metre up in the air and deposit it down again on a new set of different gauge bogeys for the onward journey, a fantastic feat of heavy engineering.

That brings us on to a new poem I wrote earlier today while travelling on the train from Manchester to London, recounting a (still vivid) railway experience from my childhood in Nigeria back in the late 1950s...

Here Comes The Bogey Man
My first time on a train,
a big adventure for a small boy,
commingled smells of oil and steam,
upholstered seats and baggage racks,
excitement and disorientation
as we pull away along the tracks
through African savannah,
a long day's journey into night.

Eventually, after munching grilled
sweet corn-on-the-cob
as sun sets swiftly, so do I,
fractious with monotony.
The train's sway lulls me into sleep.

Awoken by a stillness,
our carriage is dimly lit
while outside is profoundly dark.
We have stopped,
seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
Hyenas are yapping
and there is a tapping, tapping.
A confusion of moths batters the window
seduced in profusion by our oasis of light
but the noise is not from them
and it's getting closer, tapping, tapping.

I ask, and am told that it's the bogey man.
Here comes the bogey man
moving inexorable through the prickling
of this African night!
A palpable fear grips me,
small heart beating,
tapping, tapping ever closer.

Is this a punishment for some misdemeanour?
Am I going to be hauled hapless off to hell?
Confess and quick, he might relent.
What sins can a five-year-old repent?
I pushed my brother
into the bush of bees is all.
Will I get dragged away for that?
Tapping, tapping ever closer
here comes the bogey man.

Rigid with fear and wonder I sit,
breath held, seat gripped.
He bangs the wheels beneath our carriage...
...and moves on. Not my fate tonight.
Some other poor unfortunate
must have transgressed
far more than I have done.
Tapping, tapping ever further,
to my relief
the bogey man has gone.

Thanks for reading. Keep on truckin' and have a good week, S ;-)


Adele said...

Very interesting. I suppose this is the real source of the term, 'Bogey Man.' The poem is full of vivid imagery and I love your collective noun, 'a confusion of moths'.

Annie Walton said...

yes it made me think of the dancing secret conspiracy that gather outside bathroom windows on late summer evenings or is that ' a collusion of moths'

Thanks as always Steve for this reminiscent view of chidhood.... it would be a wonderful opening scene in a film of such.....

Daniel Holt said...

I looked for Bogey man on Wikipedia and it comes from Middle English, but I can well imagine such a nefarious, slick creature emerging from the undercarriage of a train.

I spent some time in Togo and I think I ate grilled corn on the cob daily. Hearing hyenas yapping in the darkness is a great image. I wished I could have heard that!

Steve Rowland said...

Apparently the railway men whose job it was to check the soundness of each wheel by tapping it (and judging its fitness by the ring) were known as wheel-tappers - but I'm sticking with bogeymen, much more poetic, much more scary ;-)