Saturday, May 16, 2009
We crawled under the train
Living on Swan Street meant that you lived on “the other side of the tracks”. Many times we had to wait for the Wabash Railroad train to move on so we could get to school on time. Then there where times that the train had over 100 box cars, coal cars and chemical cars and the train would slow down and come to a complete stop. It would shut off its engine until the Erie Lackawanna train crossed over at the junction near the Majestic Furnace Company.
We knew we were going to be “tardy”, so we would have to stand there and wait and freeze our butts off even if it was below zero. Most of the kids had not choice but to wait. However my brothers and I decided that if we went under the center of the box cars we could get to school on time.
We knew that the train would sit there for awhile and when the engineer was ready he’d blow his whistle before he started the engine. Then with one big yank the engine pull the box cars and you could hear each unit yank on the next one until the entire train began to roll.
Being “Swan Street wise” was helpful because we felt safe enough to make our move and slip under the center of the huge steel box cars, on many occasions.
One day on the way home the Cross watchman from school spotted us going under and promptly reported us to the principle. We were called in for the main course verbal chew out and for dessert we got a paddling.
Even though we’d occasionally walk on the rails and pickup stuff or see a decomposing animal that didn’t make it. We could always see the train coming and then hop off the tracks at the last minute. It was really no place for kids to play, but I guess they had our interest in mind because at our age of 10 or 11 anything could have happened.
I recall one of our neighbors who lost her life to the train. She was drunk one afternoon and tried to beat the train to get home. The second her car made contact with the train engine it ripped her car apart and promptly drug the twisted steel down the tracks for about a half a mile before it came to a full stop. In the process she lost her life through decapitation.
I distinctively remember her because she would scream at the top of her lungs at her kids every day in the summer and tell them to “get out of the _# # # #@$ $ @ * *!!!! refrigerator or to get out of the _# # # #@$ $ @ * *!!!! peanut butter”!!
All day she’d smoke, watch soaps on TV on the modern 1960’s orange couch and drink as she had one nasty mouth and bad attitude for a frazzled skinny boned mom.
Another older lady at the end of the street with white hair had only one arm (which was always exposed) as a result of another train accident.
She lived in a little faded light blue trailer next to a junk dealer named Dale Reed, where we would take our scrap aluminum metal and he’d give us 15 cents and we’d think we were rich.
I found that Living near the railroad tracks was a good place to learn a few common sense street lessons real fast. Playing on the rails you learn the impact of reality and you soon realize that the mass of steel really doesn't care about your name and Ignoring warning signs only puts you in a position of failure or one step closer to standing before your maker.