By Chuck Woodbury
You want a peaceful night’s rest? Then don’t camp by railroad tracks.
If you’ve been RVing for long, you know that’s no joke. Many RV parks are located right along the rails — it’s cheap land. I once thought years ago that every KOA was by a railroad track. That’s not true, but many are — and not just KOA’s.
My worst RV “train” experience was in Pismo Beach, Calif. The RV park was tidy — lawns cut and manicured, well maintained buildings, and far enough off the road so little traffic noise. Perfecto! I backed into a site right up against a 10-foot hedge. I could not see what was behind it, but no problem: I didn’t care. I just needed a piece of flat earth to call home for 18 hours to do some writing and get some sleep.
Twenty minutes after I arrived, the earth shook. And shook. And shook. Yes, there were train tracks right behind that hedge! And I mean directly behind — perhaps ten feet or so! That put me about 18 feet from the trains. Luckily, there was no street crossing nearby, so at least there were no loud horns.
Despite the trains, I decided to stay. Other nearby campgrounds were full or nearly full and I was too lazy to unhook and move.
DO YOU KNOW when you are half-asleep how sounds can startle you, and how your imagination can play tricks? Well, when the trains rolled by that night — about every half hour — I would panic. I would think, “That train is going to derail right into my RV and I will be dead!” I would hear a train approach in the far distance, and then it would be closer, and then it would be RIGHT UPON ME, roaring — shaking the earth and my puny motorhome. I waited for the impact — the terrible instant when I would be crushed like an ant. Death! If I were a little boy I would have put my blanket over my head, but alas, I learned at about age 35 that blankets are no help keeping away monsters, or in this case, derailed trains.
So that was the game my mind played with me as I lay half awake, half asleep. The night was long. It was terrible. But, as you have likely concluded, I survived.
The fact is, train traffic is a well-kept secret of the RV park industry. In RV directory listings for campgrounds you’ll learn about the good stuff — “pool, game room, shaded campsites, WiFi, clean bathrooms, ice cream socials, fishing lake, etc.” What you will not read is this: “Enjoy loud, disruptive sounds and feel the earth shake as diesel locomotives roll by your campsite day and night.”
So here’s some advice: Before you commit to staying at a particular RV park, check it out on Google Earth: you should be able to see any railroad tracks from the satellite photo. Or, call the park and inquire if there are tracks close by (busy highways, too). If so, ask if there are sections of the park away from the sound and rumble (there usually are). If so, make your reservation. Otherwise, find another park. If you wear a hearing aid, then maybe this is no big deal — just turn it off and consider the rumbling a gentle massage.