Railroad Stories: Riding the Rails on the Night Train

Teenager spent weekends riding the rails to and from parents' home.

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I started teaching in September 1944, in a small town in Iowa. At that time, most 19-year-old girls didn't drive, let alone have cars. Weekends were spent riding the rails, traveling 60 miles on the night train to and from my parents' home.

The train I caught going west left at 1:02 a.m. Then coming back, the train I rode left at 2:20 a.m. Both trips, to and from, required a walk to the train station in the dark.

One winter night, there was a new railroad agent on duty. He offered to sell me a round-trip ticket, but I was not financially prepared to pay cash both ways, so I told him I would buy it, if he would accept my personal check. He told me he could not accept a personal check from a stranger, so I told him I was not a stranger. I pointed out to him where I taught school, where I banked and that I knew almost everyone on Main Street.

Eventually, he agreed to accept my check. I wrote out the amount and signed my name, Hope C. Robinson. He immediately said that his name also was Robinson. I didn't think much about it, I just figured it might be his way of making conversation.

On Sunday night, when I returned to my teaching town, this same man was standing outside the train, making a mail transfer. When he saw me, he asked how my folks were. He said if I'd wait about five minutes, he'd walk me home. I politely told him "no," and walked off into the darkness.

The next afternoon, after my students were loaded on buses and headed for home, the railroad agent showed up in my schoolroom and invited me to ride the train with him that evening. I later found out that he had just returned to his hometown from England and World War II. He had been discharged and was working as a railroad telegrapher again. His last name really was Robinson.

We later married, and we had seven little Robinsons. We spent 43 years together, and to this day, I still carry the name I was given at birth.

Hope C. Robinson
Perry, Iowa 

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.