Railroad Stories: We Were a Railroad Family

We were a railroad family, and trains played a large part in my life. My father was a section foreman for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and my two brothers were wreck derrick operators.

When I was quite young, my father would take me with him on Saturday mornings to run the rails. We would get the old push car out, and Dad would call ahead to get clearance on which way to go first. By doing this, he knew where the trains were and which way they were going.

We watched the rails as we rode, and if we found a broken one, it was marked with a yellow marker. Dad would climb the pole and hook the wire to the telephone he carried with him. Then he would report the findings, and the gang would come out and change the rail.

Several times we went one way, removed the push car from the track and waited until the train went by. I always enjoyed waving to the engineer.

One time, Dad called ahead and was told to stay put until 11 a.m. We waited and waited, and finally, a train whistle blew. Then two more whistles blew.

Dad said, “There’s a bad wreck on the west end.”

Sure enough, there was the wreck train with both derricks. That whistle had a different sound and you knew what was wrong when they blew the whistle.

Dad phoned again after the train had passed and was told to go back to home base, get his section gang and head west. There were 13 cars, including the engine, off the tracks. In those days, if a refrigerator car was damaged and broken open, whatever was in it was given to the workers and the people in the neighborhood. I can remember Dad bringing home two No. 3 washtubs of dressed chickens. My mother canned them.

To this day, I love to hear a train whistle. I am sure a lot of old-timers remember those days.

Virginia (Holcomb) Steele
Burnettsville, Indiana

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.