Railroad Stories: Riding the Rails Was Great Fun

Author Photo
By Capper's Staff

Throughout my childhood, I traveled by train from Port Allegany to Williamsport, Pa., which was more than 100 miles. Twice a year, my mom, sisters and I took that trip to visit Grandma and Grandpa. We would go for two weeks around Christmas and two weeks in the summer. Riding the rails was great fun.

When I was about 8, I asked one of the train men what they did in the mail car and baggage car. I got permission to go back to the baggage car and observe the men doing their jobs. To this day, my oldest sister is jealous because I got to go and she didn’t. She was told by the train man that only boys were allowed in the baggage car.

As we went through a little town called Driftwood, the train slowed down, a man opened the door and threw out a couple of mail bags onto a baggage cart that sat beside the track. The engineer knew if they needed to stop, as he had a stick with a wire loop that he held out the window to snatch the train orders from the telegrapher at each section. The conductor let the engineer know when the train was ready to move, by pulling on a cord in the passenger car, which sent a signal that the train was ready to proceed.

One thing we kids thought was neat was going around sharp curves. As we did, we could look out the window and see the engine and the rear of the train at the same time.

Grandma and Grandpa lived right across the tracks from the railroad station, so Grandpa would meet us at the station, and Grandma waved from their back porch.

In those days, Christmas season on the train was a special treat. The train was always crowded with servicemen and others who were headed home for the holidays. One year it was so crowded that people were standing in the aisles because all the seats were taken. Mom put our suitcase on the floor and my sisters sat on it until we got to Renova, where some more passenger cars were added.

During World War II, many soldiers who had lost their lives in the war were being returned home for proper burials. Mom’s cousin was an escort for the Army, and it was his job to stay with the remains until he was returned to his loved ones. I always looked for our cousin when the baggage door opened. When I graduated from high school, I went to Williamsport to look for work. I was really interested in working for the Pennsylvania Railroad, but first I got a job working in the train station concession stand. Every day after work, I went to the trainmaster’s office and bugged him for a job on the railroad.

One day, when I got to his office, he gave me an application and told me he had a job available on the track crew. I was hired and sent to Newark, N.Y., which was a little spur line on a coal route.

When the trains jumped the tracks and tore up the railroad, the crew I worked with would get overtime to repair the track so the trains could move again. I only worked a short time on the five-man crew, as this was about the time the railroad was doing away with the section gangs and replacing them with special work trains.

William H. Grandin
Roulette, Pa.

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.

Published on Sep 14, 2011