The lonesome whistle of a train was quite an experience for country kids.
When my sisters and I were growing up, we lived too far from town to hear the lonesome whistle of a train. One night, our parents took us to visit some friends who lived beside the railroad tracks. We were outside playing, after dark, and we heard a train coming. We raced to climb on a wooden gate closer to the tracks, where we could see better.
The train had one strong light that didn't shine straight ahead like car lights, it swung in semicircles. We smelled the coal smoke and felt the gate vibrating slightly. We knew the engineer in the lighted cab could not see us in the dark, so we were curious when he raised his hand. Suddenly, the whistle blasted so loudly that we almost lost our balance on the gate as we put our hands over our ears.
We screamed and waved our hands as the caboose came into sight, but the engineer couldn't see or hear us. We heard a new sound, though. Our parents were yelling our names. We ran to them, and they hugged us. They thought the train had hit us when we didn't answer them.
Years later, we moved to Queen City, Mo., where Dad began carrying the mail from the post office to the night train. On non-school nights, my sisters and I took turns going to work with Dad. The postal man on the train threw out a sack of mail and grabbed Dad's sack. The train barely stopped moving. I came to the conclusion that the whistle sounds much more lonesome at night.
Our last train experience as children came when our family attended a festival in town. We had ridden to town with our neighbors in their car. They decided they were ready to leave earlier than we were, so our father told them we'd take the train home.
This was during World War II, when gas was rationed and there were a lot of people taking trains. Our train was so crowded that the conductor had us stand in the covered space between the cars. I was a little disappointed that I couldn't see the other passengers, but happy that I got to feel the click-click as the wheels rolled over the cracks in the rails.
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.
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