Cappers Farmer Blogs > Old Dog, New Tricks

A Final Hour on the Farm Where I Was Raised

Mary ConleyDear friends, 

Do you still get to visit your childhood home? I’m 73 and the youngest in my family. My parents have been gone for several years, and the farm where I was raised was sold long ago. We just passed it on the way to visit relatives a few days ago, taking in all that has stayed the same, as well as the changes. I always look forward to seeing it, but then so many emotions start flooding in, I tear up, and almost wish I hadn’t. If I could, though, I know without a doubt which part of the farm I would love to relive again. Even for an hour or so. The railroad track.

A few years ago, I decided to write short stories of my life to pass down to our children. It surprised me how many of those memories involved the railroad track.

Our farm was in the Little Sioux River Valley 1 1/2 miles south of Washta, Iowa, and the track ran parallel to the farm, highway 31, and the hills. I wrote about walking on the rails and ties, and riding our pony in the safety of the surrounding ditches. There was an exciting summer my cousin, Gary, and I spent Sundays in the slimy water under the trestle witnessing the gradual change of tadpoles. We always acknowledged to each other when we heard the sound of the train that passed once a day, and I often waved to the friendly men who pumped the handcar checking the track between Correctionville and Washta. Occasionally, a black man helped repair the track; he was the first person of color I had seen in small-town Iowa.

And, it was while wandering along the railroad track as a young girl that I looked at the hills and decided there must be a God who made it all.


A small trestle just like the one by our farm. Photo: Roxy Lang Photography

Mostly, I remember the many hours herding cattle along the track on the hot, dry, summer days of July and August. The pastures had been grazed bare, but there was plenty of lush grass and tall weeds along both sides of the track. It was my job to take the cows down the lane and along the track to the next farm, turn them and head back. Cows are sneaky and there were many scary moments. If it were not for my trusty dog, Shep, it would have been impossible to keep them off the road, turn them towards home, and then back down the lane and through the gate to the barnyard.

Although herding cattle required my full attention, there were so many distractions such as beautiful wildflowers in bloom, and birds nesting in the grass and singing their special songs. Can’t you almost feel the soft winds and warm sun making me drowsy? Cars passed by now and then, and trucks with guys who honked and stuck their arms and heads out the window to wave and whistle. (No air-conditioning in vehicles in those days.) I was quite shy with my grubby clothes and windblown hair, but I wondered what they were like. Were they young or old? Were they already married? Cute? Would it be fun to date them? Would – OH, NO! There go the cows!

As adults, we often drove back to visit my parents on the farm. I can still picture our four children leaning forward to see who could be the first to spot their grandpa’s silos as we rounded the bend. On one of those trips, much to my horror, we noticed the railroad track had been ripped out and the ground graded smoothly in its place. To me, those tracks had been as permanent as the hills, or the winding Little Sioux River bordering the opposite side of our farm. It was part of my identity. How could they? They didn’t even ask me. It was so very sad.

Yes, if only I could spend even one hour back along the railroad track.  

I guess I just did!

* Check out my last blog on How and Why You Should Write Your Memories!