Soaping The Tracks
I remember mother telling about when she was growing up at home. She came from a
large family, 4 brothers and 5 sisters. My granddad was a sharecropper and they moved
around a good bit during the depression years. This particular incident took place one
year when they were living near the town of Sweetwater in west Texas.
It was late summer as cotton picking season was in full swing. This was before the
mechanical cotton strippers and all the cotton was picked by hand. A sharecroppers
whole family, or all that were old enough to pull a cotton sack, worked in the field. The
children did not start to school untill after all the cotton was picked.
A couple of my uncles were just young teenagers and full of mischief. They were always
looking for something to do to pester someone.
There was a railroad track that ran along beside the field where they were picking cotton.
At this particular location it was a long upgrade slope coming out of town. My uncles
noticed that a frieght train came by each morning about nine o’clock. They got together
and hatched up a plan.
The next morning they brought two extra buckets of water and two bars of soap to the
field with them. About forty five minutes before time for the train to come by they ran
over to the tracks and started to rub the tracks down with the wet bars of soap, one on
each track. They got a good long stretch of the track soaped down before they spotted
the train coming and had to go hide.
The train got about halfway through the soaped area when the main drive wheel on the
old steam engine started to lose traction. The soap and water on the tracks had made
them slick enough that the iron wheels could not hold their traction on the steel rail and
soon the train was just sitting there, its wheels just spinning.
All trains then carried sand in the winter to sand the tracks with when it got icy and slick,
but this being in the late summer they were not prepared for the slick tracks. Finally, the
engineer decided he could make it downhill better than he could uphill, and so he started
to slowly back the train back toward town.
After backing almost to town, about two miles, the engineer started back and this time
got to going a little faster and made it all the way this time. My uncles thought that they
had really done something when they made the train stop and have to back up and take
another run at that incline. I just wonder what kind of excuse that engineer gave
for being late.
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