My Train Recollections: Mary McPherson

This month’s train recollections come to us from Ms. Mary McPherson. Thanks for sharing your fond memories, Mary!


Mary P

I’ve been asked how I got interested in railroads. Fair enough question, I suppose. The railfan community is, after all, mostly a male domain.

Mostly, but not exclusively.

In many, if not most, instances, the interest is something passed down from generation to generation. A father, grandfather, uncle or cousin worked for the railroad and the interest was handed off through the experience of being trackside. Not so, in my case. If asked how I came to my interest in railroading, I blame Captain Kangaroo.

“What?” you may ask, “Captain Kangaroo?!?!”

Yup. I got it from a seventies kids’ T.V. show featuring the guy with the big pockets on his jacket. My attention was grabbed by a segment featuring film of a steam locomotive with the musical accompaniment of Albert Hammond’s “I’m A Train.” That was it; the ground zero that planted a seed which quickly sprouted.

Trips to the public library found a supply of railroad photography books. The works or Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg were in abundance; “Trains In Transition” and “Highball” were frequently checked out. My favorite title was Don Ball Jr.’s classic “Portrait Of The Rails.” His writing of days spent alongside the Kansas Division of the Union Pacific around Lawrence were particularly evocative to me.

The subject matter of the books I read gave me my particular preference for steam power. By the time I was in fourth grade, I could draw up a diagram of just how a steam locomotive functioned. By the time I was in junior high school, terms such as Stephenson, Walschaert, superheater, staybolt and crown sheet were cemented in my vocabulary.

I was lucky enough to grow up near Carbondale, Illinois. Carbondale was split by the mainline of the Illinois Central Gulf, and was only twenty miles from the Crab Orchard & Egyptian Railroad, which at the time was the only steam powered common carrier in the United States. Six Amtrak trains a day called on Carbondale and when Amtrak hired its own operating crews in 1987, Carbondale became home to Amtrak crews.

I became a common sight around downtown Carbondale, pedaling about on a red ten-speed and hanging out along the tracks with a camera and tape recorder. I was ten when I took my first real train ride, and got my first cab ride on a freight hauling 2-8-0 when I was 12.

If one were to ask me why I am interested in trains, I frankly couldn’t say. There is not any way for me to break it down and quantify just what it is about the railroad that is so appealing. Why does anyone do or like the things they do? Stamp collecting, fishing, whatever it is; either you get it, or you don’t. The why, I suppose, isn’t all that important anyway.

The sound of locomotive prime movers shouting in the night as they climb the grade near my home, with the metallic screech of flanges biting into the rail and echoing through the hills brings a smile to my face every time I hear it. The scent of coal smoke from a locomotive stack, mixed with the smell of hot valve oil, smells just as good to me as a hamburger broiling on the grill. The why isn’t important. The thrill of the moment is what it’s all about.

That fourth grader drawing steam locomotives on homework pages has long ago grown up. Since then, I’ve ridden aboard and behind steam locomotives large and small. I’ve paced Union Pacific hotshots along U.S. 30 in Nebraska. I’ve shot BNSF coal trains fighting the grade of Nebraska’s Crawford Hill. I’ve shot a 2-8-4 blasting around Horseshoe Curve, and chased F-Units trundling along a Nebraska short line. I’ve shot the Southwest Chief climbing the grade Raton pass on the Colorado/New Mexico border. I’ve slept on the ground beside my car to be in position to catch a Frisco 4-8-2 or a N&W 2-6-6-4 the next morning, and I’ve slept on the floor of a church rectory when the person working the gift counter at a depot offered the space to a nearly broke college student toting a camera and a couple of microphones.

They are all singular moments; accumulated over the years into a life well spent.

Those moments are best when shared; whether through bringing a friend along on the adventure or through sharing the documentation of the experience through the media of photography, sound and video.

There is such an abundance of things to experience and places to visit along the high iron, that it is plenty to fill a life’s work. I’ve only now begun to scratch the surface.

And those Amtrak crews that watched that kid riding around on the bike way back when? Some of them were the ones that said “they’re hiring; you’d better put in for it!” as I was graduating from college. Glad I did, for it has now been fifteen years and counting since I donned the conductor’s hat myself.

Highball!

Mary McPherson
Dongola, Illinois


Rock on Trains © 2020, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.

My Train Recollections: Allan Bishop

This month’s train recollections come to us from Mr. Allan Bishop. Thanks for sharing your memories, Allan!


AllanB“I was born and raised in eastern Canada near Moncton, NB. I grew up in Albert Mines where the old abandoned rail bed of the Salisbury to Albert branch of the Canadian National Railway ran through our back yard. It actually went all the way to Alma at one time but only briefly. My great grandfather was an Engineer for CNR and drove steam engines right up until he retired in ’52; my grandfather was a Hostler for CN at the Moncton shops up until he retired in the late 80’s, and my great uncle worked in the shops as a machinist, so I guess you could say the railroad was bred into me and running through my veins right from the beginning.

I never knew my great grandfather (he passed away two years before I was born), and I was neither close with my grandfather nor that side of the family, so my personal interests start from memories from the late 60’s and early 70’s, before the railroad started to disappear in the Moncton area. Moncton was known as “The Hub of the Maritimes,” as it didn’t seem to matter where the trains were going to, they had to go through Moncton. My fondest memories are of looking through the car window at all the different cars in the small yard next to the river as my parents would drive to town to go shopping. Even at the age of 5 or 6, I remember seeing the CNR “Maple Leaf” logo on the older cars and thinking I liked it a lot better than the modern “Noodle” style. My other fond recollection is when the branch line was still running to Hillsborough — I recall seeing what I believe was an F unit hitting the snow banks at the Weldon crossing, thinking how cool it was to see the snow exploding into the air.

At around 10 years old, I received my first train set for Christmas and have never lost the love for modeling since then. Teen years spent with a girlfriend and then my wife all kept my interests away from the hobby. On September 5, 1989, I quit my two pack per day cigarette addiction for good; I told my wife I was going to take the money I’d been wasting on cigarettes and spend it on my train hobby. Our first baby came along and a couple years later our second, and the train hobby was once again tucked away. As the years went by and the kids got a little older, I built a small plywood layout, but wanted more. With the help of some of my train friends, my home layout started. I worked on a plan and when the space became available — my oldest graduated and moved out, and my youngest was in his last year of high school — I started building. The build went fast for the first 5 months, but tragedy hit our family on the evening of January 2, 2012: my 17-year old son passed away in a car accident. The passion just isn’t there like it once was for the hobby, and the layout gets worked on as I feel like it, but in the past several months it has been proceeding at a more “regular” pace.

My modeling interest is kept between the 40’s up to the early 70’s as I have very little interest in modern diesel locomotives. My current modeling involves a Maritime based modular group known as UMG and my home layout WVR. The UMG group is an HO Fee-mo type (not exact Free-mo) modular group; we attend and set up at maritime club shows and operate our layout with a bit of a twist. We actually let some of the kids get involved by handing them the “throttle,” showing them how it works, and then we act as the Conductor as the become the engineer. My home layout, Wolf Valley Railroad, is an N scale layout. If you’d like to know more, you can follow my blog: wolfvalleyrr.ca.”


Rock on Trains © 2020, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.

 

My Train Recollections: Mary McPherson

June’s train recollections come to us from Ms. Mary McPherson. Thanks for sharing your fond memories, Mary!


Mary PI’ve been asked how I got interested in railroads. Fair enough question, I suppose. The railfan community is, after all, mostly a male domain.

Mostly, but not exclusively.

In many, if not most, instances, the interest is something passed down from generation to generation. A father, grandfather, uncle or cousin worked for the railroad and the interest was handed off through the experience of being trackside. Not so, in my case. If asked how I came to my interest in railroading, I blame Captain Kangaroo.

“What?” you may ask, “Captain Kangaroo?!?!”

Yup. I got it from a seventies kids’ T.V. show featuring the guy with the big pockets on his jacket. My attention was grabbed by a segment featuring film of a steam locomotive with the musical accompaniment of Albert Hammond’s “I’m A Train.” That was it; the ground zero that planted a seed which quickly sprouted.

Trips to the public library found a supply of railroad photography books. The works or Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg were in abundance; “Trains In Transition” and “Highball” were frequently checked out. My favorite title was Don Ball Jr.’s classic “Portrait Of The Rails.” His writing of days spent alongside the Kansas Division of the Union Pacific around Lawrence were particularly evocative to me.

The subject matter of the books I read gave me my particular preference for steam power. By the time I was in fourth grade, I could draw up a diagram of just how a steam locomotive functioned. By the time I was in junior high school, terms such as Stephenson, Walschaert, superheater, staybolt and crown sheet were cemented in my vocabulary.

I was lucky enough to grow up near Carbondale, Illinois. Carbondale was split by the mainline of the Illinois Central Gulf, and was only twenty miles from the Crab Orchard & Egyptian Railroad, which at the time was the only steam powered common carrier in the United States. Six Amtrak trains a day called on Carbondale and when Amtrak hired its own operating crews in 1987, Carbondale became home to Amtrak crews.

I became a common sight around downtown Carbondale, pedaling about on a red ten-speed and hanging out along the tracks with a camera and tape recorder. I was ten when I took my first real train ride, and got my first cab ride on a freight hauling 2-8-0 when I was 12.

If one were to ask me why I am interested in trains, I frankly couldn’t say. There is not any way for me to break it down and quantify just what it is about the railroad that is so appealing. Why does anyone do or like the things they do? Stamp collecting, fishing, whatever it is; either you get it, or you don’t. The why, I suppose, isn’t all that important anyway.

The sound of locomotive prime movers shouting in the night as they climb the grade near my home, with the metallic screech of flanges biting into the rail and echoing through the hills brings a smile to my face every time I hear it. The scent of coal smoke from a locomotive stack, mixed with the smell of hot valve oil, smells just as good to me as a hamburger broiling on the grill. The why isn’t important. The thrill of the moment is what it’s all about.

That fourth grader drawing steam locomotives on homework pages has long ago grown up. Since then, I’ve ridden aboard and behind steam locomotives large and small. I’ve paced Union Pacific hotshots along U.S. 30 in Nebraska. I’ve shot BNSF coal trains fighting the grade of Nebraska’s Crawford Hill. I’ve shot a 2-8-4 blasting around Horseshoe Curve, and chased F-Units trundling along a Nebraska short line. I’ve shot the Southwest Chief climbing the grade Raton pass on the Colorado/New Mexico border. I’ve slept on the ground beside my car to be in position to catch a Frisco 4-8-2 or a N&W 2-6-6-4 the next morning, and I’ve slept on the floor of a church rectory when the person working the gift counter at a depot offered the space to a nearly broke college student toting a camera and a couple of microphones.

They are all singular moments; accumulated over the years into a life well spent.

Those moments are best when shared; whether through bringing a friend along on the adventure or through sharing the documentation of the experience through the media of photography, sound and video.

There is such an abundance of things to experience and places to visit along the high iron, that it is plenty to fill a life’s work. I’ve only now begun to scratch the surface.

And those Amtrak crews that watched that kid riding around on the bike way back when? Some of them were the ones that said “they’re hiring; you’d better put in for it!” as I was graduating from college. Glad I did, for it has now been fifteen years and counting since I donned the conductor’s hat myself.

Highball!

Mary McPherson
Dongola, Illinois


Rock on Trains © 2016, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.

My Train Recollections: Ronnie Phillips

February’s train recollections come to us from Mr. Ronnie Phillips as published in the Cleveland Daily Banner.


RonniePhillipsCleveland has seen many changes in transportation over the years. Among those was rail service when passenger trains stopped at the Southern Railway Depot.

Seventy-five year old Ronnie Phillips has witnessed many of those changes during the 50 years he and his wife, Beverly, have lived in Cleveland.

He arrived in Cleveland in 1962 after being discharged from the Army to take a job at the local station as the agent on the third shift. During the 36 years that followed, he held several jobs before his retirement in 1998 after 40-plus years with Southern Railway.

Everything was done by telephone, two-way radio or telegraph. There were six telephones on his desk. Two were direct lines to dispatchers in Knoxville and Atlanta; two were dedicated to company business and two were local lines for customers. In addition, there was a two-way radio for communicating with the trains. Also, Cleveland was the division point between Knoxville and Atlanta and it was Phillips’ responsibility to have crews standing by.

“Handling crews efficiently required knowing the location of trains at all times. The most efficient way was for two trains to meet at Cleveland and have the crews make a turnaround back to their respective division, but it didn’t happen that way very often.”

Six passenger trains passed through Cleveland daily when he first arrived and each train’s arrival always brought a little anticipation and excitement.

“There was a flurry of activity for the few minutes the train was stopped. Even if there were no passengers to unload or board, there would be mail to be loaded or unloaded by the Railway Post Office car.

“A contractor carried the mail between the post office and train station in a station wagon that was sometimes loaded to the hilt.

“With the Church of God publishing house and everything else here, Cleveland was a busy post office,” Phillips said. “The contractor would bring the mail over and meet every train.”

But, there was always express, and if Smoky Mountain Kennels was shipping out hunting dogs, the canines might get caught up in the excitement and add their voices to the din, he said.

“We always looked forward to the annual Church of God assembly week,” Phillips recalled. “There would be delegates from all over the country and some from foreign countries arriving by train with loads of luggage.”

Another special day was April 14, when people who put off filing their federal tax returns until the last minute waited for “The Tennessean” to arrive at 11:05 p.m.

“April 14 brought a different crowd,” he said. “People would wait until the last minute and bring their tax returns to hand deliver to the clerk in the RPOI car. Train No. 45, ‘The Tennessean,’ was scheduled to arrive in Cleveland at 11:05 p.m., and that got them postmarked just under the midnight deadline. Some of them would actually finish their tax returns in the depot.”

All of the passenger trains stopped in Cleveland, but there were smaller stations where he worked that trains did not stop. In those cases, he described how mail was transferred to and from the Railway Post Office car.

Phillips said the mailman put the mail in a big, heavy canvas pouch reinforced with leather on both ends. The pouch was hung on a pole. The mail car was equipped with a steel arm that would reach out and snag the pouch on the fly and they’d kick off a pouch of mail at the same time.

“The mail clerk raised the arm into the horizontal position and it would grab the mail pouch as they went by at 60 mph. At the same time, the clear kicked the mail off and hoped it didn’t open up and have the mail go all over the place,” he said.

Phillips said the railroad had a lot of strange rules and signals to move trains, but as can be imagined, moving 16 or 18 trains a day through Cleveland on a single track required coordination and clear-cut rules that spelled out how it was to be accomplished.

“There were three ways a train could move on a track,” he said.

Trains traveled by right, class or direction.

Normally, trains ran on a timetable that listed when each was due at each station along the run. There were only three classes of scheduled trains though Phillips only remembers first- and second-class trains passing through Cleveland.

“That train could run on the scheduled timetable and that was his authority to move on the track,” Phillips said.

Trains traveling east had superiority over westbound trains in this area, but train orders bestowed superiority over either class or direction.

“Trains could also run on orders and that took precedent over anything else. We ran a lot of extra trains. If you had more freight than you had schedules for, they would run an extra.”

Phillips said there was no other job like working for the railroad. It was a good life. They were almost like a big family; working together, playing together and helping each other. They always looked forward to the annual company Christmas dinner party every year for all the families in the area.

“Everyone looked forward to getting together, just as family would. There are so many memories,” he said. “Not all were good, but most were and I prefer to dwell on the good ones.”


Credit: Cleveland Daily Banner | January 20, 2012 | Cleveland Life Article
Author: David Davis


My Train Recollections: Allan Bishop

January’s train recollections come to us from Mr. Allan Bishop. Thanks for sharing your memories, Allan!


AllanBI was born and raised in eastern Canada near Moncton, NB. I grew up in Albert Mines where the old abandoned rail bed of the Salisbury to Albert branch of the Canadian National Railway ran through our back yard. It actually went all the way to Alma at one time but only briefly. My great grandfather was an Engineer for CNR and drove steam engines right up until he retired in ’52; my grandfather was a Hostler for CN at the Moncton shops up until he retired in the late 80’s, and my great uncle worked in the shops as a machinist, so I guess you could say the railroad was bred into me and running through my veins right from the beginning.

I never knew my great grandfather (he passed away two years before I was born), and I was neither close with my grandfather nor that side of the family, so my personal interests start from memories from the late 60’s and early 70’s, before the railroad started to disappear in the Moncton area. Moncton was known as “The Hub of the Maritimes,” as it didn’t seem to matter where the trains were going to, they had to go through Moncton. My fondest memories are of looking through the car window at all the different cars in the small yard next to the river as my parents would drive to town to go shopping. Even at the age of 5 or 6, I remember seeing the CNR “Maple Leaf” logo on the older cars and thinking I liked it a lot better than the modern “Noodle” style. My other fond recollection is when the branch line was still running to Hillsborough — I recall seeing what I believe was an F unit hitting the snow banks at the Weldon crossing, thinking how cool it was to see the snow exploding into the air.

At around 10 years old, I received my first train set for Christmas and have never lost the love for modeling since then. Teen years spent with a girlfriend and then my wife all kept my interests away from the hobby. On September 5, 1989, I quit my two pack per day cigarette addiction for good; I told my wife I was going to take the money I’d been wasting on cigarettes and spend it on my train hobby. Our first baby came along and a couple years later our second, and the train hobby was once again tucked away. As the years went by and the kids got a little older, I built a small plywood layout, but wanted more. With the help of some of my train friends, my home layout started. I worked on a plan and when the space became available — my oldest graduated and moved out, and my youngest was in his last year of high school — I started building. The build went fast for the first 5 months, but tragedy hit our family on the evening of January 2, 2012: my 17-year old son passed away in a car accident. The passion just isn’t there like it once was for the hobby, and the layout gets worked on as I feel like it, but in the past several months it has been proceeding at a more “regular” pace.

My modeling interest is kept between the 40’s up to the early 70’s as I have very little interest in modern diesel locomotives. My current modeling involves a Maritime based modular group known as UMG and my home layout WVR. The UMG group is an HO Fee-mo type (not exact Free-mo) modular group; we attend and set up at maritime club shows and operate our layout with a bit of a twist. We actually let some of the kids get involved by handing them the “throttle,” showing them how it works, and then we act as the Conductor as the become the engineer. My home layout, Wolf Valley Railroad, is an N scale layout. If you’d like to know more, you can follow my blog: wolfvalleyrr.ca.


Rock on Trains © 2015, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.