Railroad Stories: Katy Railroad Made Dream Come True

In the summer of 1933, when I was 6 years old, we lived in Woodward, Okla. A spur line of the Katy Railroad was just north of our house. The roundhouse, which was where the railroad crew worked on the trains, was about a block west of us.

The switch engineer and his crew, a fireman and a brakeman, walked to work every day. Sometimes I ran up the street and walked back with them. They were my heroes, all because they worked in a Choo Choo.

One morning, the engineer told me if I ever caught him with his steam running, he would take me for a ride, but that his train was currently deader than a door nail. After that day, I constantly checked to see where his train was.

One afternoon, while walking home from school, I saw the engineer’s train way up the tracks. I took off running as fast as my legs would carry me. When I reached the front porch, I dropped my books and ran over to a switch where I was sure he would stop at.

When the train got to where I stood, the engineer climbed down from the cab and helped me climb up. Then he sat down in the engineer’s seat, picked me up and put me on his lap. He untied his sweat rag and tied it around my neck, put his cap on my head, then told me to pull the cord to ring the bell. Then he told me to pull the other cord, which would blow the whistle. Then he helped me turn a lever and we were rolling down the tracks. I was driving a real Choo Choo. Not many little boys ever got to ride one, and here I was driving one.

We went south about a mile, crossed Main Street, past the depot and went about two more blocks before we stopped in the freight yard. The engineer sat me on the fireman’s lap so he could move some boxcars. When he was finished, he climbed back up and we put the train in reverse and backed up all the way to the switch where I had gotten on.

Though it has been more than 60 years since my fabulous experience, I smile every time of think of that engineer and the way he let me think I was really driving that Choo Choo.

Ernest Scharnhorst
Concordia, Mo.

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.