The Train Ride

When I was a child of 11, I used to walk the railroad tracks with various friends and pick up spikes and other pieces of metal that are always lying around.  We would collect these and take them to Keeling's Junk Yard and sell them for scrap metal.  This along with picking up pop bottles were the main means of acquiring spending money.

At a very sharp curve in the tracks there was a trestle.  This trestle was a favorite place.  It was there that some of the older kids kept magazines containing pictures of nude blonde women playing volleyball, and partial packs of cigarettes.  We, being so young weren't interested in either.  We didn't really know why anyone one would play volley ball with no clothes on and we didn't smoke.  However we did like to climb on the trestle.  We liked to hear the train as it crossed the trestle with a clickety-clack.  The train would go very slow as it crossed the trestle in preparation of the sharp curve.  As I said before, we would usually walk the tracks picking up metal items.  We also finally realized that as we picked up metal to put in out "tote" sacks, it would get heavier and heavier the farther we would walk. By the time it got real heavy, we were real far from home, and had to carry the load another long distance.

One Saturday a friend (who shall remain nameless) had a brilliant idea.  When the train slowed down to navigate the curve, we would climb into a freight car (we had seen this done a hundred times in the movies).  We walked to the trestle and waited for the train.

We heard the whistle of the train as it passed through Calvert City, and we prepared ourselves.  After a while the train arrived and slowed to a crawl.  We ran to the train and managed to climb up into an empty freight car.  We had it made now.  We had discussed that we would get off in Gilbertsville, a small town about 5 or so miles from Calvert, and walk back toward Calvert picking up metal.

We thought we were so big and smart.  We settled in for our ride.  The train picked up speed and seemed to fly down the tracks.  We were nearing Gilbertsville now and began to prepare to get off.  The train got closer and closer, and we noticed one thing.  The train was not slowing down.  The train flew through Gilbertsville with us sitting dumbfounded in the empty freight car.  We had thought that trains automatically stopped in every town.

We now were faced with the possibility that the train might not stop at any of the local towns.  This possibility came true.  The train kept on flying down the tracks for what seemed like an eternity without slowing down at all.  Now we were scared.  What were we going to do?  We had no idea where we were going, how far we had gone, or if we would ever get off the train. 

The train finally slowed enough at one point that we decided we could jump out of the freight car without being killed.  We jumped.  What seems like slow speed in a moving train is a lot faster when you jump and your feet first hit the ground.  I think I might have taken 3 or 4 steps before finally falling and rolling in the gravel beside the track, and down into a ditch.  We got up and tried to figure out what to do.  There are not many choices available to two eleven year olds with no money, no idea where they are, and no idea how far we were from home.  After considering our choices, we decided that crying was probably the right thing to do at this point, and we did.  After settling down, we decided to find the nearest road and start walking till we could find someone who could tell us where we were.

We got to a road and walked to a farm house.  There was a man out in the yard working on a tractor.   We walked up and ask him where we were.  He asked us what had happened to us, since we were covered with dirt and scratches from our exit from the train.  We told him what had happened and all he did was sit and stare at us.  After several minutes, he said, "You boys know how much trouble you're in?"  Oh no, this was not fair.  First we had endured the agonizing train ride, and now we realized that we were in BIG trouble.  When asked, we told the man where we lived.  He told us to go get into the car, and he would take us home.  We rode for a very long time.  And the closer we got to home the more scared we got that we were going to be in the biggest trouble we had ever been in.  The whole way home, the man kept telling us what could have happened to us, and how stupid we were to pull a stunt like that.  We assured him we had not intended this to be a stupid stunt.  We started to cry.  I'm not talking about low sobs, I am talking about crying.  The man kept telling us how much trouble we were going to be in.  When we got just about to the sand road where I lived, the man pulled his car off to the side of the road and turned to us and asked if we had learned anything from what we had done.  We told him through our tears that we were never going to get on another train for the rest of our lives.  The man made us promise on our mother's eyes that we wouldn't do anything that stupid again.  We assured him we wouldn't.  At this point, he said "You boys walk on home ain't no need to worry you mothers by tellin' her what you done."  We were speechless.  How could this be?  This was an old man.  Older people always stuck together when it came to dealing with kids.  It was beyond our comprehension that this man was not going to take us to the house and tell our folks what we had done.  This was a moment I would never forget. 

Even today, when I hear the lonesome whistle of a train engine, I am momentarily taken back to 1959, and the train ride.

Dave Wilson © 2001

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