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Riding The Rail

In the lat 1800’s and up through the mid 1900’s the best way to travel was by train.
Some of the luxury trains had all the comforts of home including a well stocked
kitchen, dining car, club car, an observation car and a sleeper with berths for over
night traveling. I only rode one of these trains on one trip to New Mexico. The
view from the observation car was supurb.

Most of the times that I rode the train, it was what was called the “Mail Train.” Most
of the mail at that time was carried by trains. The mail train consisted of an engine,
a mail car, baggage car and four to six passenger cars. These trains stopped at every
town that had anything that looked like a depot, not so much to let off and pick up
passengers, but to drop off and pick up mail.

If the town did not have a depot but was large enough to have a post office, someone
from the post office would meet the train at a designated spot with their outgoing
mail. There would be a pole by the tracks with a hook on it for the mail sack to be
hung on. There was a hook on the mail car that stuck out just far enough to catch
the loop of the mail sack just under the hook on the pole and take the sack off the
pole. The train would slow down to about 20 mph as they came to a mail drop and
as the hook was removing the mail sack from the pole, the mail handler in the mail
car would toss the bag of incoming mail to the postal employee on the ground. If
you were riding on the right side of the first passenger car after the baggage car, you
could look out the window and watch this exchange take place.

After the mail sack had been picked up from each town, the mail handler would sort
it by destination while waiting for the pick up at the next town.

My dad worked for the railroad and could get a “pass” to go anywhere on the system
that he wanted to go. After he had been there ten years he got an “Annual Pass”
that could be used anytime you wanted to take a trip. I could use this pass until I
reached 18 years of age. There was one limitation to this pass. It was only good to
destinations within 250 miles of home. For trips of more than 250 miles you had to
apply for and get a “Trip Pass.” The annual pass would let me ride to Galveston and
to Sweetwater in West Texas where we had relatives, and I made good use of it.

One of the mail trains came through town heading south each night just before 1:00
AM. I could catch the train and sleep until we got to about Houston, which was
about daylight, and then be in Galveston before 8:00 AM. I would then have all day
to play around on the beach and be back at the depot by 6:00 PM to catch the train
back home. A trip like this would usually cost a little less than $10.00. There was a
restaurant across the street from the depot that served a great deviled crab plate for
$4.25, try to get that now for less than $20.00!
For a couple of summers I think that I was in Galveston once or twice a month. One
time, I believe it was in August of 1957, when I was on the beach, I noticed that
there were some dark black clouds hanging low over the water in the gulf, and the
surf was extremely high. After getting on the train to go home that night I overhead
some of the passengers talking about a hurricane being out in the Gulf of Mexico.
The next day I saw on TV where the hurricane had made land fall just west of
Galveston. The area where it hit happened to be sparsely populated and not much
damage was done.

After riding the night train to Galveston so much, I decided that I would like to see
the scenery on the way. At that time Santa Fe had the superliner called The Texas
Chief coming through town twice a day, one northbound and one southbound. This
made a total of four passenger trains a day going through town, today I think we
have two each week.

The Texas Chief southbound came through town about 1:00 PM and got into
Galveston about 5:30 PM. The Chief only made two stops between home and
Galveston, thus cutting two hours off the travel time. In order to ride the Chief, that
meant that I was going to have to spend at least one night away from home.

I decided to go ahead and ride the Texas Chief one time, just to be able to say that I
had ridden the Texas Chief and also to see some of the scenery. The hotel across
the street from the depot, where the train crew stayed, had rooms for $12.00 a night,
which was fairly reasonable for a hotel.

The conductor was checking in at the same time as I was. He ask how long I was
going to be in town and I told him that I would be on the train going back with him
in the morning. He looked rather perplexed, and asked if I had made the trip just for
the ride. I told him that was just about it, I just enjoyed riding the train and listening
to the clickety clack as I rode down the track.

The former Santa Fe Hotel, Cleburne, Texas.


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