Railroad Stories: Passenger Train Travel Was Exciting

Children loved passenger train travel.

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My father was a conductor for the Missouri Pacific. I have many precious memories of him and trains. We had a pass, so going to visit my grandparents in Oklahoma was not a problem. Visiting friends or shopping in the city was fairly easy, too. Many years later, the Stream Liner came through Winfield, Kan. My two older children would ride it to Wichita and spend the day, then ride it back home. To us, passenger train travel was exciting.

During World War II, many of us went to the depot to see the troops go through - they made a short stop, and the ladies of various organizations distributed cookies to the soldiers.

I remember the call boy who came around calling my father for work. When my father came in from his run, we would race down the street to meet him. If he had been gone overnight, which he usually was, he always had something for us and our mother. I got my start sewing by making clothes for the doll my father brought me from one of his trips.

In 1915 or 1916, my father brought my mother two pairs of bloomers, which had just become fashionable. Hers were one of the first pairs in our little town. The telegrapher at the depot gave much of the day's news to the locals, such as baseball scores and important events. Watching the trains pull in was a social time; people visited among the passengers and each other. With today's technology, it's hard for the younger generation to comprehend all of this.

I have made 17 round trips to California, watching the sunset from the dome car as we sped across the desert. For many years, I changed trains in Barstow and had a layover around midnight. I would take advantage of the restaurant in the Harvey House - one of the last ones on the Sante Fe line.

I had many rewarding experiences. Being a nurse, I was once asked by the conductor to go to the ladies lounge where a mother and child were. He had already alerted the hospital at Gallup, N.M., to have an ambulance meet the train. I could only offer comfort to them, but it seemed to help. Another time, a mother in the dome car was frantically sewing sequins on a costume her daughter would wear as she competed in a baton-twirling competition in Chicago. She had already won the state competition in California. All of a sudden, the box of sequins slid to the floor. All the passengers quickly dropped to their knees, and in a short time, the mother was back to her sewing. I've often wondered how that youngster did in her competition.

Another time, I was reading in the dome car and half-listening to a conversation between two college students. I heard the girl say something about having the article in her luggage. She said she would be glad to explain it to him in case he would be interested in obtaining one. I was startled when the young man politely asked me if I would keep an eye on his camera equipment. I'm not an expert by any means, but I knew this was costly equipment and said I would watch it for him. The two went off, and I began wondering if they were ever coming back. About four hours later, they returned. I left the dome car for the car I was in, and the couple greeted me with, "Where have you been?" They had paged me, looked through all the cars, including the dome car, where I had been. I'm small, but not invisible!

Trains and their whistles were a part of my life, until about three years ago, when the railroad through our town was discontinued. I'm close to 90 years old, and I'm thankful for the memories of trains and whistles. Even yet, I miss seeing them and hearing their whistle.

Clara Young
Oxford, Kan.

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.