My love for trains began when I was just a little fellow. We always lived in the country, close to the tracks, while I was growing up. I loved to hear the trains coming up the grade next to our house. It was about a two or three-mile hill, and boy did those old steam engines have to huff and puff to pull all those cars up it. In my mind's eye, I can still hear it.
I remember lying in bed at night and listening to the huffing and puffing. It was an awesome sound to hear in the middle of the night, and a sound I will never forget. The engineer would blow his whistle as they rolled past our house.
During daylight, we would wave to the engineer and anyone else we saw on board as the train went by. There was a sidetrack almost in front of our house where freight trains often pulled over to let fast-moving passenger trains go by.
My brother and I used to go over to the sidetrack when the trains stopped and talk to the engineer. We got to know a lot of them by name. One day when I was about 6 or 7, we walked over to talk to an engineer and he asked us if the blackberries were ripe yet. When we told him they were, he asked if we would pick him about three gallons, so he could take them home for his wife, so she could make blackberry cobbler.
We told him we would, and he told us when he'd be back to pick them up. So, we went to work picking berries. If you've never picked blackberries when it's so hot you can't hardly stand it, let me tell you, it's not a good thing to do. It is a hard job - thorns stick your fingers, you have to be on the lookout for snakes, you get bit by chiggers and you have to be careful of the ticks. But we picked those berries and had them waiting when the engineer came back.
You won't believe what we made per gallon. Would you believe we got 50 cents a gallon for all that hard work? We made $1.50 for that job, or 75 cents each. We thought we were rich. We showed our money to our brothers and sisters and told them what we were going to buy with it at the old country store down the road.
We could hardly wait to go to the store and buy 75 cents worth of candy. We ended up with enough candy to last us two or three weeks. And the next time the engineer came by, he brought our buckets back, and said that his wife had made some of the best blackberry cobbler he had ever eaten. We sold blackberries to the engineers three or four times that summer.
Jonathan Clyde Preas
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.