When I was about 12 years old, my family came to greatly appreciate the railroad industry. That was about the time my father had an emergency appendectomy, and in those days, you had to stay in bed for six weeks to recover, so money was very scarce with him not being able to work.
Thank God we lived across the road from the Wabash and Santa Fe Railroads. Since we had no coal to cook with, I would take the coal bucket to the tracks each day to scout for pieces that fell off the trains.
A lot of times, the conductors would see me doing this, and they would throw out a shovelful for me. It was just like black gold. They’d smile and wave at me. They had no idea how grateful my family was for this.
About 3:30 each afternoon, a freight train would stop in front of our house. All the men in our little mining town would get on top of the fruit shipping cars and check to see if they were open. If so, that meant there was ice in them, not fruit. Then the men would pitch the ice out on the ground. The women and kids stood there with tubs to carry it home.
We would put the ice in our iceboxes at the house. Then we could have ice water, iced tea and lemonade. We kids would chip off chunks of it with an ice pick, wrap it in paper and eat it that way. We enjoyed that more than the kids of today enjoy their Popsicles.
Life was hard, but by the grace of God, the trains and the conductors, it got a little bit easier.
Excelsior Springs, 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.