Railroad Stories: Old Steam Engines Were Scary

Trains that ran old steam engines made awful crashing and banging sounds.

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When my husband was in the Army Air Corps, in 1943, I left my two small children with my parents and set out for Tennessee. I boarded a train in Oakland, Calif., that ran on one of the old steam engines, and was to ride to Nashville, then take a bus to Cookeville, Tenn.

I wasn't too thrilled to be on a train going up into the Sierras, but after a few hours, I was completely unnerved by the crashing and banging sounds of a train. I asked a conductor what all the noise was, and he said that in order for the train to make it over the mountains, it was necessary to hook on a couple more engines, and that was what the racket was.

I wasn't completely convinced. I was sure we were going to go over an embankment, or some other dire fate would befall us. At that point, the conductor told me, "You are as safe as if you were in God's pocket." I often think of that kind man who was so reassuring to a 25-year-old fraidy cat. I was a city gal at that time and had never been on a train in my life.

Dorothy L. Odetto
Novato, Calif.

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.