Norris Chambers Old Timer's Tales

Railroad Remembrances

by Norris Chambers

   Until I was about six years old, I lived in Galveston County, about fifteen miles north of Galveston near a little town called Hitchcock. We were on the west side of the road, and the railroad was about a quarter of a mile from our house. The first time I remember the trains, I thought they might leave the track and come down the road toward our house. I soon found out that they were confined to their path, and when I got a little bigger, my nephew and I would put pennies or nails on the tracks at Alta Loma, another little town just north of us. The train would flatten these when it came by, and we would run to the track and try to find our flattened articles. Many of the trains didn't stop at Alta Loma, and would throw off mail bags from the speeding train. There was a catcher that picked up mail from a post that was prepared for the purpose. It was interesting to watch it grab the sacks without stopping.

  But some of the trains did stop, and I accompanied my mother on numerous occasions to Galveston, where she did necessary shopping. I remember these rides, especially when we were crossing from the mainland to the island. We could see parts of an old wooden bridge that they said was used before the new concrete one was built.

   My dad and my brother had a small farm where they raised many kinds of vegetables. These were hauled in the wagon to Hitchcock, where a "commission" company bought them and shipped to the markets in other areas. They were loaded in box cars and packed with ice. I often got ice to eat, and sometimes we brought some home and made ice cream.

  My parents had moved to Galveston County from Brown County in 1918. They told about the trip on a train. They "chartered" a box car and loaded it with farm implements and household items. Because they brought some livestock that had to be tended, my dad rode in the box car. My mother "tended" me in the regular passenger section.

  Because all of our kin lived in Brown County, my mother made several trips back and forth. I remember two of them. I thought it was a long, long distance. On one of these trips, there was a minor train wreck. Some people were injured, and I remember some being carried away on stretchers. I don't remember the wreck, so it must not have been very severe.

  One time we rode a train to Alvin and went to a moving picture show. That was the closest town that had a theater. The actors didn't talk then, and I could not read. But I followed some of the action - at least when the cops were chasing someone.

  The train in those days was used for local transportation. There were few automobiles, and the railroad offered speedy transportation to and from the cities. I remember at least one train and auto collision at Alta Loma, although I don't recall how many were killed. I can still remember how the auto looked. It was a bundle of scrap several hundred feet down the track from the crossing. I also remember hearing about a boy that was run over by a train, and he emerged from the accident with a severed leg. My brother had a cow that got out of the field and strayed to the railroad where she was made into hamburger prematurely.

  In the fall of 1924 we moved back to Brown County. I found out later that the vegetable commission company left Hitchcock, and there was no market for farm produce. My dad and by brother got a Model T roadster and put a small extension on the back, making the forerunner of a pickup. They hauled produce to Galveston and peddled it door to door and to the stores for a while, but finally decided to return to the old cotton and corn farming in Brown County. We moved all we took with us on the Model T pickup.

  For several years after we moved I did not see very many trains, and did not ride on one Occasionally, when the wind was right, we could hear a train about twelve miles north of us. It was on the Katy line that ran from Rising Star to Cross Plains. Sometimes we had to wait at the crossing for one to pass when we went to Brownwood. A Cross Cut resident was killed in a wreck at that crossing.

  My next encounter with trains came during World War II. While working at Kelly Field, I was sent to Pyote, Texas for about 90 days, and the transportation was by Pullman car. This was the first time I had ever seen Pullmans, and eating in the dining car was quite an experience for an old country boy. It took us from about noon on a Tuesday until two o'clock the next day to make the trip. We went by way of Austin and Fort Worth. I remember that we got to Fort Worth sometime before midnight.

  While at the Air Force Base in Pyote, three of us made several trips on the train to Pecos. Since there were so many servicemen in the area, there was standing room only. But the trip was short and did not take very long. From Pyote we took the train to El Paso, where we spent several weeks at the Air Force base there. This was an uneventful ride in the coach section.

  When it was time to return to San Antonio, we had a Pullman again. About the only thing I remember about this trip was going over a very high bridge somewhere in southwest Texas.

  In the first part of 1945, I joined the Maritime Service and rode the same line through El Paso on to Los Angeles. This was a slow trip, since we had to wait for other trains much of the time. We were on a Pullman, but since there were 25 of us, we had to share the bunks - two to each. I had to sleep with a big fellow who snored.

  After a stay at Catalina Island, I again boarded a train and headed to New York City. The time it took to get to New York might be a record. We started on a Saturday morning, traveled through the week end, through the following week and until about ten o'clock on the next Tuesday. Again we were on a Pullman with two men to the bunk. My bedmate on this trip was not very big and didn't snore. The reason for the unbelievable delay was the same - we spent most of the time on sidings waiting for other trains to arrive or pass.

  Some day we are going to take another train trip - on these new fangled ones that don't whistle or go "choo choo."


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