If Mama Sang: Gerry

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Bio | Gerry's published article | Photos

Memories of Steam Days-Gone By ... by Kirby
Published in the September-October, 1997 Colorado Timetable

On a very quiet night I can sometimes hear the distand sound of a train whistle. That sound will awaken me like no other sound. In my mind I travel back 50 years to my youth and to a gentler, quieter time in my life.

I am 56 years old. In my youth I grew up in a small railroad town of about 6,000 in Ohio. Our lives revolved around the train schedules. It was time when the term "they lived on the worng side of the tracks" meant you were from an undesirable family. The Erie Railroad and the New York Central rails ran through my little town.

The house I grew up in was one of six houses that sat on a street between the two main tracks and on the North side there were two "switch" tracks.(So, we didn't come from the wrong side of the tracks. We came from the middle of the tracks.) Most of the teachers at the school didn't know or care where any of the students lived. If we were ever late for school all we had to do was say we were delayed by a train. That worked for my siblings and me all through school.

There were four trains that stopped at the depot every 24 hours. The No. 1 arrived at 1:00 a.m. No 5 was due at 5:00 a.m. while the No. 4 arrived at 4:00 in the afternoon. The last one of the day was No. 7 at 7:00 pm. Train service now has all but stopped. The Erie depot is no longer there but across town the New York depot still stands -- shabby but still there.

As a five year old I knew very little of the war that was just getting over or why all of the troop trains were going through my town. For reasons unknown to me the No. 4 was always the one that carried the flag-draped coffins of the military. They would set there by the tracks until the next east-bound train would take them off to their final resting place.

I am the youngest of seven girls with my oldest sister being 20 years older than me. When the troop trains went by, at all hours of the night and day, the servicee men would throw silverware out of the train windows with their names and addresses written on some sort of paper. None of my sisters ever ended up meeting any of the individuals. It was many years later that I had an inkling of why the troop trains were there in the first place.

In the late forties and early fifties there were hobos that traveled the rails for free and would stop along the way to pick up work so they could eat. Being so close to the tracks we got a lot of them. My mother didn't believe in giving anything away so she would put them to work in the garden weeding or picking potato bugs. They were not like the "bad" people of today. They would thank you for the food and/or a place to wash and eat and be on their way. Once in a while there would be a "lady hobo" as they were called. The whole town would soon have heard about her and many people would drive by to get a look at her. If there are any "lady hobos" out there I would like to hear your stories about riding the rails.

As I grew older and started to date, the trains played a part in my evening life. You could not have your date pik you up at 7 pm, because the train was parked on theb track for over an hour. My parents were very strict and under no condition was I to be home after the 1 a.m. train or as we called it -- No. 1. If for soome ungodly reason any of we sisters got home around No. 1, we were really in hot water!

A couple of my sisters married and raised their children in and around the rail town. Having small children and living by fast moving tarins will give you nightmares for a life tme, not to mention all of the pets we lost to the fast-moving monsters!

The ground was black from the cinders of the coal that powered the trains. You were forever getting cinders in your eyes and you couldn't leave your freshly-washed clothes on the line if a train was due. The diesel locomotives cut down on the cinder smoke but because they moved so much faster they were a bigger threat to the community.

In my youth I rode the train like people use a car today. My family didn't have an automobile so we took the train to the next town for fun or shopping. For $1.50 we got a round trip of aobut 50 miles, a fun quick trip.

I'm sorry local passenger trains no longer run. It was a gentler but not quieter time. Go visit a train museum; take your little children, let them see a part of the past -- what moved the country years ago.



According to Mom's book, Gerry's birth.

"will be told here shortly." (If Mama Sang, p. 24)