Railroad Stories: Loved Passenger Train Travel

Passenger train travel was exciting to child.

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In the summer of 1941, my mother, father, sisters, grandmother and I enjoyed passenger train travel from Rock Island, Ill., to Oroville, Calif. All his life, my father had been a railroad enthusiast. His growing up years had been spent on a farm in Missouri, but in his heart, he loved trains. He always wore blue-denim bib overalls, a matching railroad cap, and either a blue or red bandanna stuffed in his left hip pocket. And he always carried his watch in the watch pocket of his bibs.

So, when my uncle wrote and told Dad that he could get a job on the logging train that ran up and down the Feather River Canyon in California, Dad didn't hesitate. He packed us up, sold what he could, gave away what he couldn't, and we were on our way.

I was 5 years old, but to me, it was wonderful to watch the countryside whiz by. Seeing the towns and cities come and go at such a rapid speed was truly amazing. I can remember the three of us girls sleeping in an upper berth, Mom and Dad in the lower berth beneath us and Grandmother in the neighboring lower berth.

We pulled the little curtains closed, and it was like a big camp-out to me and my sisters. We talked and giggled most of the night, because we were too excited to sleep. Our parents had to tell us several times to quiet down, because we were getting too loud and disturbing the neighbors.

Mom and Grandma had packed food for our trip. We had fried chicken, sandwiches, boiled eggs, canned pork and beans, and fruit. We ate, told stories and enjoyed each other's company. It was like a great picnic.

When we got to Denver, Dad got off the train to get a newspaper and stopped to talk to a man standing on the platform. He didn't notice when the train began to leave the station, until Mom shouted out the window. Dad began running and almost missed the train.

On our last day, Dad decided to treat us to dinner in the dining car. Mom took us girls into the bathroom and washed us up, then we put on our Sunday dresses. She reminded us to behave at the table and to mind our manners. When we got there, we marveled at the fancy, white, linen tablecloths, the big, linen napkins we put in our laps, and the waiter, who was dressed in black pants, white jacket and had a towel draped over his arm.

When the waiter sat a small plate filled with little yellow squares in the center of the table, my sister Donna reached over, picked up one of the little squares between her thumb and forefinger, with her pinkie finger arched way up high, and began nibbling daintily away. Dad nudged her under the table and told her that she was about to eat butter, not cheese.

We were back in our regular seats when the train went through the famous Moffett Tunnel. Just as we entered the tunnel, all the lights went out on the train. We thought it was great, but it scared Grandma so bad that she fainted, which scared the rest of us because we knew she had a bad heart. Luckily, there was a doctor on the train, and Grandma came through it just fine.

The rest of the trip was fun, and without further incident. Dad got the job on the logging train as a fireman, but was soon promoted to engineer. Sometimes when he came into the railroad yard to turn his engine around, he would let me and my sisters ride with him on the turntable, before he started back up the mountain. That was the happiest time for all of us.

Helen Wilson
Anderson, 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.