The Quest for the Dark Tower Pt. 9: Charlie The Choo Choo

***Spoiler warning! Though I've made every attempt to avoid giving away key plot points during this quest, it's still very possible that information discussed herein may spoil a new reader's experience, so consider yourself warned! ***

When Jake arrives home after his discovery at the vacant lot, he's confronted by his parents who are furious over his leaving school early, but he dodges their frantic questioning and quickly heads to his room.

Once there, Mrs. Greta Shaw brings him a sandwich and the dreaded Final English Comp. essay that had prompted Jake's fleeing The Piper School. Attached is a note from his French teacher expressing support during Final Exams week and Jake is suddenly overcome with the urge to cry at the warmth and misplaced effort to understand his anxiety. He opens the folder and discovers he has received an A+ for the mad gibberish he had typed out, his English teacher assuming it to be inspired stream-of-conciousness writing.

After laughing himself silly at the absurdity of his teacher's critique of his Final Essay, Jake speaks with both of his parents and smooths things over. After they leave, he picks up Charlie the Choo Choo and begins to read.

While reading, Jake thinks of how the illustrations in the book are similar to the ones in his favorite kindergarten book Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. In fact, there are a great deal of similarities between Mary Anne the Steam Shovel and Charlie the Choo Choo beyond just the drawings. Both are anthropomorphic machines who are eventually deemed too outdated to be useful, but who eventually prove their continuing worth through hard work and determination.

Another interesting coincidence is that among the other books Virginia Lee Burton wrote (The Little House, Katy and the Big Snow), one of the lesser known stories is Choo Choo, The Story Of A Little Engine Who Ran Away. In other words, the story of a runaway train. This is a topic that will become a deadly literal fact in Jake's near future.

A few years ago, at the Canal Days Festival in Port Colborne, Ontario, I happened to notice a miniature train that seemed to match Charlie the Choo Choo in almost every way.

There was no face on the front like the one you'd see on something like Thomas the Tank-Engine, but with the engineer and the kids being pulled along, it had a real Charlie the Choo Choo feel to it. I had to resist the urge to sing Charlie's favorite song as it chugged past:

Don’t ask me silly questions,
I won’t play silly games.
I’m just a simple choo-choo train
And I’ll always be the same.
I only want to race along
Beneath the bright blue sky,
And be a happy choo-choo train
Until the day I die.

It wasn't until the train stopped and I got a closer look that I began to suspect that this might indeed be Charlie. I looked at the serial numbers along the side of the engine and added them up, that's when I decided I didn't want to get any closer to this locomotive!

Long days, pleasant nights!


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