When I was 8 years old, the first diesel engine train pulling one passenger car stopped at our train depot in Oxford, Fla. The principal let the whole school out early, so the children and faculty could go see it. The engine was green trimmed in yellow. The engineer gave us all pamphlets with information about the new diesel engine. He also let us go through it, to see for ourselves what it was like.
The engineer said he would give us a ride to Wildwood, about five miles away, if we could make arrangements to get back to Oxford. I knew I didn't have a way to get back, but I was determined to ride anyway. On the trip, one boy asked me how I was going to get back. I told him I was going to go back with him and his mother, which was news to both of them.
When we got to Wildwood, there happened to be a train headed toward Oxford, so the engineer said we could ride back on it. My parents didn't know anything about it until I got home.
My family eventually moved to Wildwood, the largest railroad center in the southeastern United States of America. Most everybody there worked for the railroad. It was known as The Seaboard Coastline Railway.
I remember walking home from school. The train tracks were right beside the highway, and the coal smoker engines blew smoke in my face and cinders would get in my eyes. Sometimes they would let off steam, and I was so scared I would get burned that I would run to the other side of the road.
I went into the service when I was 18. That was in 1945, during World War II. I was inducted into the service and got on one troop train after another and traveled to many different states. These trains were the old coal smokers with no air conditioning, just glass windows with screens.
When the trains went through small towns, people were waiting at the stations to see the soldiers. One kind lady handed me a plate of doughnuts through the window.
While going through New Mexico, our train made short stops in small towns. Young boys got ice cream from the stores and ran alongside the train and the soldiers would hand them money to pay for it.
I was sent to the Philippines on an old Dutch boat that still had the Dutch crew. The war was just over, and about halfway across the Pacific Ocean, they got orders to take the guns down and throw all ammunition overboard.
While stationed in Japan, I had to take a train to the other end of the island where we were stationed to deliver supplies and mail to a soldier at the outpost about 90 miles from the Russian border. I had a whole passenger car all to myself; no one else was allowed in. I stayed with the soldier for a few days in his three-story building, which he had to himself.
I was glad to get on the train to come back to the United States of America for discharge. The train was so long, it took three coal smoker engines to pull it. I had to cook on the train, since I was an Army cook, and we couldn't fill the pots more than half-full or they would spill over. When we got ready to serve the food, we had the soldiers line up and come through the kitchen car, holding their mess kits down beside the pot with the mashed potatoes. We scooped a large spoonful and about that time the train would jerk and the potatoes would land on the floor.
We came to a place out West, where a large pile of rocks had fallen on the tracks. The train crew got mad because the soldiers wouldn't get off the train and help move the rocks. Our commander said that it wasn't our job. We almost ran out of food before we got to the next town, because we sat there for a whole day before the rocks were cleared from the tracks.
In 1949, I decided to make a career of the Army. In 1950, I married the girl of my dreams. We had a son, who now lives in Jacksonville, Fla. I still like trains. In fact, I have a couple of model trains I made from scratch. They are mounted on the wall.
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.