Some of the happiest recollections of my childhood involve riding the rails. I grew up in a small railroad town during the Depression years. In those days, things were quite different; cars were definitely a luxury item, and not many people owned them. We walked every-where we went.
There was one passenger train that came through town at 7:30 a.m. en route to Indianapolis and returned at 7:30 in the evening. During that time, the railroad issued free passes to their employees, entitling them and their families to ride their trains. So we occasionally went to Indianapolis for the day.
What a treat that was! My mother, brother and I would get up early, eat breakfast and walk the six or seven blocks to the train station. If we were a little early, we would go and sit in the waiting room, which had an atmosphere all its own. Wooden seats with fancy wrought iron dividers defined each person’s allotted space.
The telegraph operator had his own little cage where he tapped and received mysterious and important messages. From time to time, he would report the arrival and departure of trains. He also doubled as a ticket agent.
At last, we would hear the whistle of our train and rush out to see it steaming grandly down the track, bell ringing, whistle blowing and the headlight shining like a giant yellow eye. The train crew always waved; they seemed to have a special place in their hearts for children. The conductor would call, “All aboard,” and we would climb the magic steps into another world.
The train consisted of the steam engine, one mail car and one passenger car. The seats were covered in a beautiful, bright-green plush material with white linen-like covers on the head rests. The backs of the seats could be pushed forward or backward, so that one or two of us could ride backwards while facing Mother, who preferred riding forward.
At last, the wheels would begin to slowly turn, and before we knew it, we would be crossing the Wabash River. It was a leisurely journey as we stopped at every little town along the way, but we enjoyed every minute of it. The high spots of the trip were when we crossed the Tulip Viaduct and went through the tunnel.
All too soon, the conductor would announce Union Station, and we would marvel at all the trains as we made our way out into the city. Before we knew it, it was time to return home. By the journey’s end, we were all ready for supper and bed, but very happy we had gone.
West Salem, Ill.
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.