One of my stories published in the "Birmingham Post Herald"
FREIGHT TRAINS AND POT-BELLIED STOVES
Granddaddy worked for Seaboard Coastline Railroad for 45 years. He had several different jobs during this time including Breakman, traveling work crew during WWII, freight conductor and passenger conductor. I came along during the freight conductor era. Lucky me – no really, it was terrific. He had the Birmingham to Atlanta run which was perfect since we had a lot of family there. Great excuse for a train trip. In the summer I would ride with him to Atlanta and one of my aunts or uncles would pick us up. Sometimes he had a little while to visit before he had to turn back around. I would stay for a week of two and play with my cousins and either ride back on the train or Mother and Daddy would load my brothers in the car and come over for the weekend and pick me up.
One of the best parts of riding the train was the trip to and through the Terminal Station. It was so grand and beautiful. I, like so many other Birmingham natives, miss this architectural marvel so much. In case you weren’t here at the time or don’t remember, it had a high, domed ceiling and lots of gold gilt everywhere. There were long wooden benches for people to wait and, as well as I can remember, some little places where you could purchase newspapers, magazines, cokes and snacks. I wasn’t allowed to wander around very much.
Riding on the freight train was the absolute greatest – one of the highest points of my youth. I have a sneaking suspicion that I wasn’t really supposed to be on the freight train, but that’s where I rode anyway. I’m sure everybody on the train knew I was there. They just overlooked it if you kept a low profile. Besides, everyone liked my Granddaddy. They called him “Doc.” I don’t know why – I never asked. Probably wouldn’t have gotten an answer anyway. He never had very much to say.
Granddaddy had Caboose # 5678. That was my domain for the ride. I loved the pot-bellied stove that heated the car and kept the eternally brewing coffee hot. You never threw coffee out. There was no such thing as bad coffee, no matter how thick it got.
My favorite place was up the ladder into the observation area of the car. It was great – like being queen of the hill. I wish I had realized at the time just how fortunate I really was. Not many children had this opportunity. My brother Steve got to make the trip only a couple of times. He wasn’t nearly as calm and quiet as I was. I can’t imagine him ever keeping a low profile.
I still love a train ride: the rocking motion, click-clack noise of the tracks and the scenery speeding past. I’ve never minded the side tracking for other trains to pass. Admittedly, a freight train in August can be less than pleasant when standing still. I still liked it better than the passenger train that he started working during the last few years of his career. I had no choice but to ride with the people who were mere passengers. Granddaddy would get me settled in and come check on me off and on. I still have his uniform and hat. He was so handsome in it as he walked up and down the isles. I was a very proud and happy granddaughter.
Sometimes Granddaddy would get “rolled” for his run by one of the men with more seniority. I don’t know who was the maddest when this happened – Granddaddy, my Grandmother or me. He was upset because of lost work, Mama was mad because they were mistreating her beloved husband, and I, of course, was mad for all of those reasons plus the depth of disappointment over a missed trip. When you are a child, waiting until tomorrow or the next day just isn’t seen as an option.
November 16, 2002
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