Lessons from Tootle

John Plunkett
Feast of Tabernacles
Seaside, Oregon
Day 3
October 3, 2012

Kids!  We usually like you to be quiet in services; but I want you to shout out to me today!

Hands up kids, who knows what a train is?  According to the encyclopaedia: "A train is a connected series of cars that move along a track to transport passengers or freight." Yes, freight like wood, oil or containers full of "stuff."  It may be stuff that you may like to buy... at Toys’R’Us! 

Another question for you: Who knows what a locomotive is?  A locomotive is a big engine, usually with lots of wheels, which pulls trains.  Most locomotives these days are powered by huge electric motors or by massive diesel engines - something like the engines in the big trucks out on the highway; but the diesel engines in locomotives are even bigger than that.

Years and years ago, when I was young, locomotives were powered by big steam engines, which puffed out lots of steam and smoke.

{Here we played a short video to show the children what a huge locomotive looks like.  To view the video, please click HERE}

Today, I am going to read you a story about a young train; and from this story, we will try to learn some lessons about Jesus Christ and His Father. 

Maybe you have heard this story before.  You may even have a copy of the book at home.  It is called “Tootle” (written and first published in 1945 by Gertrude Crampton and illustrated by Tibor Gergely).

{For accompanying slide show, please click HERE}


Far, far to the west of everywhere is the village of lower Trainswitch.

All the baby locomotives go there to learn to be big locomotives.

The young locomotives steam up and down the tracks, trying to call out the long, sad tooo-oooot of the big locomotives.

But the best they can do is a cute little “Tootle!”

Lower Trainswitch has a fine school for engines. 

There are lessons in: 
- Whistle blowing, 
- Stopping for a red flag waving, 
- Puffing loudly when starting, 
- Coming around curves safely, 
- Screeching while stopping… and 

- Clicking and clacking over the rails.

Of all the things that are taught in the Lower Trainswitch School for Locomotives, the most important is, of course, Staying on the Rails No Matter What.

The head of the school is an old engineer named Bill.

Bill always tells the new locomotives that he will not be angry if they sometimes spill the soup pulling the dining car, or if they turn the milk into butter now and then.  

But they will never, never be good trains unless they get 100a+ in Staying on the Rails No Matter What.

All the baby engines work very hard to get 100a+ in Staying on the Rails.

After a few weeks, not one of the engines in the Lower Trainswitch School for Trains would even think of getting off the rails, no matter – well, no matter what!

One day a new locomotive, named Tootle, came to school.

“Here is the finest baby I’ve seen since Old 600,” thought Bill.

He patted the gleaming young locomotive and said, “How would you like to grow up to be The Flyer between New York and Chicago?”

“If a flyer goes very fast, I should like to be one,” Tootle answered. “I love to go fast.  Watch me!”

And he raced all around the roundhouse.

"Good! Good!" said Bill. "But you must study: 
- Whistle blowing, 
- Puffing loudly when starting, 
- Stopping for a red flag waving, and
- Pulling the dining car without spilling the soup.

But most of all you must study Staying on the Rails No Matter What.  Remember, you can’t be a Flyer unless you get 100A+ in Staying on the Rails.”

Tootle promised that he would remember, and that he would work very hard.

He did too.  He even worked hard at stopping for a red flag waving.  But Tootle did not like these lessons at all.  There is nothing a locomotive hates more than stopping.  But Bill said that no locomotive ever, ever kept going when he saw a red flag waving.

One day, while Tootle was practicing for his lesson in staying on the rails no matter what, a dreadful thing happened.

He looked across the meadow he was running through and saw a fine, strong black horse.

“Race you to the river,” shouted the black horse, and kicked up his heels.

Away went the horse. His black tail streamed out behind him, and his mane tossed in the wind.  Oh, how he could run!

“Here I go,” said Tootle to himself.

“If I am going to be a flyer, I can’t let a horse beat me,” he puffed. “Everyone at school will laugh at me.”

His wheels turned so fast that they were silver streaks.  The cars lurched and bumped together.  And just as Tootle was sure he could win, the tracks made a great curve.

“Oh, whistle, cried Tootle.  “That horse will beat me now.  He’ll run straight while I take the great curve.”

Then the dreadful thing happened.  After all that Bill had said about staying on the rails no matter what, Tootle jumped off the tracks and raced alongside the black horse!

The race ended in a tie.  Both Tootle and the black horse were happy.  They stood on the bank of the river and talked.

“It’s nice here in the meadow,” Tootle said.

When Tootle got back to school, he said nothing about leaving the rails.  But he thought about it that night in the roundhouse.

“Tomorrow I will work hard,” decided Tootle. “I will not even think of leaving the rails, no matter what.”

And he did work hard.  He practiced tootling so much that the Mayor Himself ran up the hill, his green coat-tails flapping, and said that everyone in the village had a headache and would he please stop tootling.

So Tootle was sent to practice Staying on the Rails No Matter What.

As he came to the great curve, Tootle looked across the meadow.  It was full of buttercups.

“It’s like a big yellow carpet!  How I should like to play in them, and hold one under my searchlight to see if I like butter, thought Tootle.  “But no, I am going to be a Flyer, and I must practice Staying on the Rails No Matter What!”

Tootle clicked and clacked around the great curve.  His wheels began to say over and over again, “Do you like butter? Do you?”

“I don’t know,” said Tootle crossly. “But I’m going to find out!”

He stopped much faster than any good Flyer ever does… unless he is stopping for a red flag waving.  He hopped off the tracks and bumped along the meadow to the yellow buttercups.

“What fun,” said Tootle.  And he danced around and around and held one of the buttercups under his searchlight.

“I do like butter,” cried Tootle. “I do!”

At last the sun began to go down, and it was time to hurry to the roundhouse.

That evening while the Chief Oiler was playing checkers with old Bill, he said, “It’s strange.  It’s very strange, but I found grass between Tootle’s front wheels today.”

“Hmmm,” said Bill.  “There must be grass growing on the tracks.”

“Not on our tracks,” said the Day Watchman, who spent his days watching the tracks and his nights watching Bill and the chief oiler play checkers.

Bill’s face was stern.  “Tootle knows he must get 100A+ in Staying on the Rails No Matter What if he’s going to be a Flyer.”

Next day Tootle played all day in the meadow.  He watched a green frog and he made a daisy chain.  He found a rain barrel, and he said softly, “toot!”

“TOOT!” shouted the barrel.

“Why, I sound like a flyer already!” cried Tootle.

That night the First Assistant Oiler said he had found a daisy in Tootle’s bell.  The day after that, the Second Assistant Oiler said that he had found hollyhock flowers floating in Tootle’s eight bowls of soup.

And then the Mayor Himself said that he had seen Tootle chasing butterflies in the meadow.  The Mayor Himself said that Tootle had looked very silly, too.

Early one morning Bill had a long, long talk with the Mayor Himself.  When the Mayor Himself left the lower Trainswitch School for Locomotives, he laughed all the way to the village.  

“Bill’s plan will surely put Tootle back on the track,” he chuckled.

After his talk with the Mayor Himself, Bill ran from one store to the next, buying ten yards of this and twenty yards of that and all you could have of the other. The Chief Oiler and the First, Second, and Third Assistant Oilers were hammering and sawing instead of oiling and polishing.

And Tootle?  Well, Tootle was in the meadow watching the butterflies flying and wishing he could dip and soar as they did.

The next day, not a store in lower Trainswitch was open… and not one person was at home.  By the time the sun came up, every villager was hiding in the meadow along the tracks.  And each of them had a red flag!  It had taken all the red cloth in Lower Trainswitch, and hard work by the Oilers, but there was a red flag for everyone.

Soon Tootle came tootling happily down the tracks.  When he came to the meadow, he hopped off the tracks and rolled along the grass.

But just as he was thinking of what a beautiful day it was, a red flag poked up from the grass and waved hard!

Tootle stopped!  For every locomotive knows he must stop for a red flag waving.

“I’ll go another way,” said Tootle.

He turned to the left, and up came another waving red flag, this time from the middle of the buttercups!

When he went to the right, there was another red flag waving!  There were red flags waving from the buttercups, in the daisies, under the trees, near the bluebird’s nest, and even one behind the rain barrel.  And, of course, Tootle had to stop for each one, for a locomotive must always stop for a red flag waving.

“Red flags,” muttered Tootle.  “This meadow is full of red flags!  How can I have any fun?  Whenever I start, I have to stop.  Why did I think this meadow was such a fine place?  Why don’t I ever see a green flag?”

Just as the tears were ready to slide out of his boiler, Tootle happened to look back over his coal car.  On the tracks stood Bill, and in his hand was a big green flag.

“Oh,” said Tootle.

He puffed up to Bill and stopped.

“This is the place for me,” said Tootle.  “There is nothing but red flags for locomotives that get off their tracks.”

“Hurray!” shouted the people of Lower Trainswitch, and jumped up from their hiding places.  “Hurray for Tootle the Flyer!”

Now, years later, Tootle is a famous two-miles-a-minute Flyer.  The young locomotives listen to his advice.

“Work hard,” he tells them.  “Always remember to stop for a red flag waving. 

But most of all…

Stay on the Rails No Matter What!”


That’s the end of the story.  Did you like that story?

We can all learn something from this story not just the children, but us adults too.

I want to tell you children that sometimes things in some story books, ones like "Tootle," and also in the Bible, can picture other things  more important things.

Let’s think about this just for a minute, in the story of Tootle, and let’s see what some of the main things in the story might picture   – what they might be like.

Let’s start with trains and locomotives.  

In the story of Tootle, trains are like people.  You all know, of course, that trains don’t talk or jump off tracks by themselves. 

Big locomotives are like grown-up people, like your Moms and Dads.  And baby locomotives, or young ones, are like children. Tootle is like a child.  He is like you! 

The New York to Chicago Flyer is a big, fast locomotive.  He may be something like grown ups who you look up to and respect   people like your Mom and Dad, or your big brothers, sisters or cousins.  Maybe they could also be something like what you children and you grown-ups as well, will be like when Jesus comes back to earth. 

The Old Engineer, Bill, is a teacher, who teaches the young locomotives.  With all due respect, Old Bill might be something like Jesus.  Why?  Because Jesus was a Teacher too. We can read in the Bible where Jesus said to His friends, 

“You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am (John 13:13).

Yes, Jesus was a Teacher; and still is.  Jesus is a Teacher something like Old Bill. 

But is Jesus old like Bill?  Yes, He is old.  One of Jesus’ names is YHVH, which means Eternal One.  Both Jesus and God the Father have lived forever!  They have lived forever in the past, and they are going to live forever in the future.  That is fantastic isn’t it?  That is hard for us grown ups to understand too!

What about those Oilers?  They might be like angels, because they work hard.  The Day Watchman and the Chief Oiler might be like archangels.  

Do you know what an archangel is?  He is like a big "boss" angel.  We only know about three of them.  One was called Michael, and one is called Gabriel.  And there is another one whose name was Heylel.  But Heylel went off the rails.  Why?  Because he didn’t stop when he saw God’s red flags waving. 

Maybe Heylel is something like that black horse who was such a bad influence on Tootle.  The black horse influenced Tootle to have fun, but in ways that were not right for Tootle.  It isn't right for a train to go off the tracks and run around in a field like a horse, is it?  No, of course it isn't.  Trains cannot do everything that horses can do.  

But that is the same for you kids too.  You have some friends who perhaps don’t go to our church; and they might be really nice kids; but some of the things that they are allowed to do isn't right for you to do.  That doesn’t mean to say that they are necessarily bad kids; but again, they are allowed to do things that are not right for you to do.

What about the Mayor Himself?  He is a funny character, isn’t he?  When I read this story I think that he might be like a church minister!  We should have proper respect for his position; but again he's a funny character and he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously.

What about that big roundhouse that all the locomotives and engineers go back to at night?  That might be something like your home – the  place where you feel most safe and comfortable.  Isn’t that is your favourite place to be, back in your own home?

That School for Locomotives in Lower Trainswitch might be the place where you go for Sabbath and Holy Day services.  This is where we all go to learn.  It might be where you go to Sabbath school, if you have one.

What about that meadow with all those buttercups and daisies?  It is a lovely place for horses, butterflies and frogs to frolic around in.  But it is not a proper place for locomotives and trains, is it?  No! 

For you, these meadows might be like places or activities that might seem okay for other kids; but certainly not for God’s children.  By the way, when Jesus comes back to earth... we don’t know exactly when that will be, but when He does come back, all children will quickly get to know Jesus, they'll all get to love Him, and they will all soon become God’s children too.

Now let’s talk about those green and red flags. What should you do if you see a green flag?  Go!  What about a red flag?  Stop!

So, a green flag means "Go!"  It means "Do this!"  A red flag means "Stop!"  It means "Don’t do that!" 

These flags might be something like God’s Commandments.  How many Commandments are there?  Ten!  Right!  Yes!

Do you know any of them?  Each of the Teddy Bears in front of the podium is showing one Commandment.  

We used to know a little boy many years ago, who was asked by his Mommy, “Michael, do you know any of the Ten Commandments?”  And Michael proudly answered, “Yes!  Don’t pee your pants!”

I am going to tell you about some of the Commandments.  First, I'll tell you the ones that are the "Green Flag Commandments." 

The first one is that you must put God the Father and Jesus Christ as first in your life.  Yes, they have to be Number One. 

The second one is that you have to keep God’s special Sabbath days.  You have to keep them in the right way.  On the Sabbath Day, you must do things that are right for the Sabbath, and you don’t do the things that you would normally do during the rest of the week. 

The next one is that you should honour your Mom and Dad.  That means that you have to love them, obey them, respect them, and you are not to back-answer them.

Now I will give you some "Red Flag Commandments."  These are some of the things God tells us not to do.

God tells us that we should not keep statues or pictures of Jesus.  Some people really do this.  They usually have pictures of Him with long hair.  Jesus certainly did not have long hair.  No-one really knows exactly what He looked like; and they usually get it wrong anyway. God tells us not to do this.

God tells us that we should not use His name in an improper way.  You might hear this kind of thing on television, where people will say thing like, “Oh my God!” or “Oh my gosh!” and that kind of thing.  God does not want us to say those kinds of thing, because His name is important.  We are to respect Him and His name.

God tells us that we must not take things that do not belong to us.  That is called stealing, right?  That is a red flag.

You should not even want everything that your friends have, even if they have neat toys that you might like to have as well.  If we are not careful, that could lead to stealing.

What about telling lies?  We should always tell the truth.  A Red Flag is that we must not tell lies.  A Green Flag is that we must always tell the truth.  Yes, even if you have done something wrong.  By telling the truth you might get in a bit of trouble; but your Mom and Dad will be really happy with you for telling the truth.  And God will be happy with you too.

One more thing that I want to tell you about is the tracks that the trains run on.  They are something like Jesus’ way of life.  Staying in  God’s church is like Staying on the Rails No Matter What.  Staying in God’s church and staying in God’s way of life no matter what.  This is most important. 

So kids, even if you don’t remember anything else from this message, I want you to remember these two things:

Remember those red and green flags waving.  Learn God’s Commandments, remember them, and keep them always. 

The second thing, that I want you to remember, is to “Stay on the rails, no matter what.”

In other words, Stay in God’s church; stay with God’s Way of Life No Matter What!