In 1945, I was a senior in high school in Herington, Kan., a division point on the Rock Island Railroad. During the war years, things were tight and busy, and help was hard to find. Ordinarily, men had to be at least 18 years old to work on the railroad, but the Rock Island Railroad got permission to hire 17-year-olds, which is how I got my first real job.
The railroad people came to the high school, gave their pitch and received several applications. They were looking for brakemen and firemen. After applying and being hired, we were able to make student trips on evenings and weekends. We also had to learn railroading rules and have physical exams.
Most of us were sons of men who were railroaders, and it was exciting for us to follow in our fathers' footsteps. That was especially true for me, since my father was a newly promoted engineer.
It was thrilling to get to work on the railroad. We had our high-school graduation ceremony the evening of May 17, 1945, and as soon as we got out of our caps and gowns, we went directly to the principal's office to use the phone. We called in and signed up to go to work for the Rock Island Railroad.
My first trip was May 18, 1945. I was called for a Wichita turn, which consisted of doing local work from Herington to Wichita, where we turned the engine around and brought freight back to Herington. What a wonderful experience for a 17-year-old, and I got paid for it, too.
I worked for the Rock Island Railroad for 10 years, and enjoyed every minute of it. I enjoyed each and every experience there. After leaving the railroad, I went back to school and became a pharmacist. Still, I have never really gotten those steel rails out of my blood.
Eddie V. Bales
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.