The Whistles Are Gone: Time Machine

Darkness came hours ago. The city has fallen asleep.

Once the drinkers who scatter like light-frightened cockroaches at closing time drive away, silence falls. After the rusty mufflers fade into the distance, a quiet peace shrouds the city like a comfy quilt.

The big old house is very comfortable. The staircases which never squeak. The cedar beams underneath. The moon through a stained glass landing window is a "moon of color." In this place's eighty years how many eyes have looked through that window at the moon? The house is warm and dark and not a sound is heard. It is a sleeper's paradise. Why am I awake?

Nearby, acres of rusty, unused buildings sit quietly decaying under a fresh snowfall. When this small city was a bustling center of manufacturing, a whistle would signal the shift change at the factories. The bray of the factory whistle at midnight could travel miles across the city, warning sandy-eyed, sleepy spouses to get supper ready at one in the morning. Those whistles are gone.

When raw metal arrived at The Stanley Works to be made into tools and hardware, the train whistled its arrival. When iron and steel in flat sheets arrived at the Fafnir Bearing plant, the train whistled its arrival. Landers, Frary and Clark would turn their trainloads of raw metal into gleaming kitchen appliances. The trains would leave with a whistle, also, the freight cars filled with boxes marked "Made in New Britain, Connecticut." The boxes contained not raw materials but finished work, good work, the result of man and machine in harmony.

A futuristic-looking pleasure to behold, the MixMasters and the meat mincers and the ice crushers made by Landers, Frary and Clark had sturdy metal casings, with chrome trim. Inside, solid steel works powered by quiet motors made fast work of their given tasks. A MixMaster, with accessories, was something every household could afford and once acquired would last forever (with a little oiling).

The Fafnir bearings will go into the automobiles now being churned out to keep up with the post-war demand. And the Stanley Works, the factory that started it all here, was working 24 hours to produce tools and hardware to build new homes for the soldiers who came home and the women who married them before they left.

Downtown on a Saturday night, the young men would whistle when a lovely girl went by. A factory guy could drink his fill (Rheingold, Pabst Blue Ribbon or Schlitz) for a couple of dollars.  Big spenders took whiskey; Fleischmann's, Four Roses or Seagram's; bet on pool games and otherwise get into trouble for half a sawbuck. Big bands played the music everyone danced to in the dance halls and the town's one supper club. "Pardon me boy, is this the Chattanooga Choo-Choo?" The vocalist would sing and the band would imitate the whistling of the trains.

Broad Street is where you go for the Polish food so dear to the hearts of those who built this city. Great-grandparents came over to work in the Stanley factory, to learn a trade. Today Broad Street is one of the few things left of what the city once was, albeit tarnished and wear-worn.

Now the trains travel around the city and under the new highways. No whistles any more from the trains that come through, but for on a summer's day acknowledging the presence of the young men who dare to swim in the filthy creek under the railroad bridge. So no whistles tonight.

It's a time machine I seek. I dismiss the comfort of the big old house and walk down the hill and find a rusty door open or a huge window ajar. The oil-soaked wooden floor still smells of the milling machines which stood there majestically. Somewhere a chair sits in front of a desk. I take my seat and wait. I inhale deeply of the aging scent of machine oil mixing with the fresh air from outside. Now the moon is pure white, seen through a window frame that hasn't seen glass in years.

The two o'clock freight will be here soon. I carefully unpack my paper bag (a homely carrier for the instruments essential for the creation of a time machine). I pour the Schlitz into the small glass and put two quarters on the desk. A thick shot glass with a white ring 'round the edge is filled from the pint of Four Roses. I carefully open the white paper wrapper holding the pickled Polish sausage and the pickled egg. A sip of beer and I hear it; the train's approaching. An engine and perhaps eight freight cars will soon pass just yards away.

The engine hums and I toast the train's arrival with the whiskey, followed by some of the beer. The smell of the machine oil pleasantly surrounds me. Then the train wheels, rattling and squealing against the steel rails, are what turn the empty building into a vibrant factory for just as long as it takes the train to pass. As the roar of the train fades into the distance, I finish the beer and pour another, eating the sausage and egg (like so many of the factory workers did mid-shift). My time machine has worked yet again! So sad it works for but a few minutes' time, only once a night.

Upon returning home, I ascend the three floors to my bedroom. The solid, silent stairs don't disclose my arrival at this peculiar hour. What would I tell someone who was awake upon return? Where had I been? Why, of course; I'd been working in the New Britain Machine Tool Factory in 1945.

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