Tender Teacher

Sharing stories about my personal and professional life as a teacher.

Forties: The Steam Locomotives

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Petticoat Junction

Image by Redgum via Flickr

My parents owned four small city lots on the west side of town in the flood district.  We lived two blocks west of the Muskingum River, and three blocks north of the Ohio River.  Our house sat on the northeast lot and faced Lord Street.  A water tower (almost like the one in Petticoat Junction) was located at the southwest corner of our land.  Next to our property on two sides were the railroad tracks.  A north south track crossed an east west track behind our house near this water tower. Beside our house, on the other side of the north south track, was a tie yard.  In this tie yard new railroad ties were stored until they were loaded into boxcars and transported to a facility where creosote was applied to preserve the railroad ties for between 25 and 50 years.  They were used to replace the old rotted ties.   My cousins lived in the house on the other side of the tie yard. After my father came home from World War II his first job was working in tie yards.  He unloaded these ties from the trucks that transported them from the saw mills, and later he loaded them into the boxcars.  It was a job for a very strong young man.

The  B & O steam locomotives could be heard for miles as they rumbled towards our home.  They came to a stop and filled their steam boilers with water.  Just behind the huge black engine was the coal car.  A railroad employee would shovel coal into the steam engine’s firebox, and the engine would sit there and power up.  It would huff and puff, and dense black smoke would roll up from the smoke stack.   Our house would shake, and tiny cinders and coal soot from the smoke would settle over everything nearby.  You could feel the heat from the engines if you were playing in our side yard, so we would usually run to the porch and watch from there until the train went on by.   We would often have black streaks, a mix of coal soot and sweat, smeared all over us, and cinders in our hair when we came inside from playing.  Sweeping our porches from top to bottom was a daily job.  Even though my mom knew the train schedules, sometimes a surprise train would be heard in the distance.  There would be a mad dash to yank all of our clothes from the clothes lines before the train arrived.  Coal soot would not wash or bleach out of light-colored clothes.  Our clothes and white sheets were forever a dingy gray if the train caught us by surprise.

There was always a little red caboose as the last car on the train.  Mom said that the men who worked on the train took turns sleeping in the caboose.  Often men in the caboose would wave to us.  The engineers would wave also, and pull the chain that would ring the bell.

I’m not sure of the exact year when the steam locomotives were replaced by the diesel-powered trains, but it was in the early to mid fifties.  They were much quieter and cleaner.  Eventually the water tower was torn down.  I’m sure that nearly everyone who lived near the “tracks” appreciated this change, but as a child I missed the excitement of the old smoke belching locomotive that drank from the water tower, and chugged the familiar loud, “Choo, Choo, Chooooo.”

Smoky, Tarantula Train Steam Locomotive, Ft. W...

Image by StevenM_61 via Flickrrived.

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