Railroad Stories: Old Steam Engines Made Shipping Livestock Possible

Old steam engines and livestock provided boy with job.

| Good Old Days

As a teen-ager in the late 1940s, I was at our county fair when a man I knew approached me and asked me to accompany him to the State Fair in Pueblo, Colo., to help him show cattle. I lived in eastern Kansas and had never been to Colorado. My eyes lit up, and I was ready to board one of the one-of-a-kind old steam engines.

One night in late August, we loaded 18 head of Ayrshire dairy cattle into the bottom of a double-deck sheep car and headed out on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. The top deck was raised to accommodate the cattle, with their feed, water, straw, etc. We crawled around in the top half. My employer had a cot he slept on, but I was forced to sleep - or should I say, try to sleep - on the feed sacks. It got very chilly at night, too, and all I had was my suitcase and no blanket.

Our cattle car had open slats for ventilation and we were placed right behind the steam engine, since that was supposed to be the smoothest place in the line of cars. The black smoke came back into the car along with steam and the cold night air. All that combined with the clickety-clack of the tracks, the swaying of the train, the blowing of the whistle at each cross road and the speeding up and slowing down made a very uncomfortable ride.

The next morning, we pulled into a freight yard, where I found out that part of my job was to milk three cows. I started milking but the car kept moving around, as it was switched to another train. Suddenly, our car apparently got bumped by another string of cars, and the cows fell over sideways, like a bunch of dominoes, with me in the middle milking.

After things settled down, and we fed and watered the cows, the train crew stopped and asked if we wanted a ride to breakfast. So we hopped into the big steam engine and proceeded down the tracks to a small cafe. Inside, I was encouraged to order a stack. I had never heard the term before, but that's what I ordered – every morning for the rest of the trip. Those sure were good pancakes in that nice, warm place. Especially after the night I had spent. They cost $1. I had agreed to work for $3 a day, so I couldn't spend over $1 a meal.

After boarding the cattle car again, I found we had a small tub of pop bottles, but the ice had melted. I was told to look for a refrigerator car, also know as a reefer. In each end of a reefer, there was a big ice compartment, with a door in the top where they put the ice in. Whenever the train would stop, I would look for a reefer and run up the ladder looking for ice, trying to hurry so I wouldn't get left behind.

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