TRAINS! JUST THE MERE WORD conjures up myriad happy recollections. To the young, trains were fascinating, exciting, and romantic. Who doesn't recall the many times he has watched a train pull into a station and looked in the windows at the passengers peering out and wondered where to and why that train was carrying them? Or in the night, you have heard the train whistles and wished you were there riding to some exciting, unknown destination. Those early train whistles had a different tone -- melodious -- not the shrill sound of those in the mountains that echoed back and forth in the canyons and not the mournful whoo-whoo of the present ones.
And those who have worked for a railroad remember the togetherness in the profession. The railroad family is a closeknit, loyal family. No matter what system or line you worked for, you belonged in the "family". They are solid people.
In Lawrence, one of the Sunday events for children to look forward to, was for grandparents or parents to take them to the station to see the trains come thundering in. The engineer always waved as did many of the passengers. Those early huge engines, fueled by soft coal, spewed out black smoke and soot.
Sometimes the train would stop below the station to take on water from the water tank. Sometimes, if it was a through train, the station agent would come out and flag the train to stop and take on a traveler going beyond Topeka or Kansas City. The engineer would toot to indicate he got the signal. Sometimes the station agent had a message attached to a long trooped stick and the engineer would reach out and take it off as he went by.
Occasionally the through train would slow down just slow enough to enable a man to hop off. This would most likely be a Smithmeyer, Kirchoff or Barteldes. They were big shippers and they would have been to Kansas City or Topeka on business. If the train came to a full stop, the bell on the engine had to keep ringing until the train pulled out. You might be able to see the fireman shoveling coal in the boiler and you'd watch the hot, red and orange coals lick up the black coal. Then the brakeman, and the conductor would call, "All aboard!" and in too short a time the train would slowly pull out.
On most through trains, there was an observation platform on the last coach and maybe there would be a celebrity or political figure standing against the brass rail and shaking hands with some of the town's spectators. Other travelers might be sitting on campstool chairs. Often at night, passengers took advantage of being able to get a little fresh air.
Another fascinating place was the inside of the station. Benches and brass cuspidors, more commonly known in those
days as spittoons, were the main furnishings in the waiting room. At the ticket agent's counter, the telegraph keys would be ticking away and you wished you knew the Morse code to decipher it, always imagining perhaps there might have been a train robbery or wreck and the news was just coming in. There was a wall telephone and the agent rang his party by turning a black-handled crank. Off of the waiting room was the baggage room and at the Santa Fe station, Mr. K. C. Evans was in command. Trunks, suit cases, express packages, and many other articles would be piled high. Mr. Evans was never too busy to exchange a few words with you.
Station agents in the early years were, John Robinson and before him, J. T. Shanklin, at the Union Pacific; and at the Santa Fe, Geo. C. Bailey and later W. W. Burnett, then E. P. Addy.
At one time, Lawrence was serviced by three railroad lines and there was a train to Kansas City almost every hour, and the same to return. The Santa Fe, in south Lawrence, had its "Plug". It was a "milk train", local, and stopped at every station from Lawrence to Kansas City. It probably was called the "Plug" because it plugged along. There was a branch line, south, that high school teams and fans took to Ottawa for football games.
The Union Pacific in North Lawrence had important through-train and a branch that went to Tonganoxie and Leavenworth.
The Rock Island used the Union Pacific tracks from Kansas City to Topeka and there were certain restrictions to passenger service. You had to be traveling west beyond Topeka and east beyond Kansas City to be able to board it at Lawrence.
In those days, about the only means of travel was by train. Passenger travel was heavy with students and vacationers. The trains were very long, consisting of chair cars, diners, Pullman coaches and sometimes five or six baggage cars.
When we started out on a trip, we went to the station in a hack either from Donnelly's or Moak's livery stable. Usually several hours earlier, our trunk and extra suitcases were taken to the station in a horse-drawn express wagon, to be checked and ready to be loaded on the train. Often we boarded the Pullman at night on the Santa Fe for Colorado Springs.
There were times to be remembered of violent wind storms, the roof of the paper mill being blown off and landing on the tracks, all communication wires down, and passengers stranded on the train until the tracks could be cleared.
These were the times before bedroom or roomettes. You either traveled Pullman or chair car. The Pullman seats were called "sections" and you had an upper and a lower berth for sleeping. They did have drawing rooms and compartments at the end of the Pullman coach, but in early times they were not generally patronized due to being more expensive. When it came time for bed. we undressed in the ladies lounge at the end of the
coach, while the porter made up our beds. A heavy green curtain hung down to cover both upper and lower berths. Each berth had a small green hammock strung across the windows for smaller articles of wearing apparel. Mother would put her watch and extra money, and rings, in a little chamois bag hung around her neck by a fine cord. In daytime, the chamois was firmly pinned to her corset. She kept her Elk pin on her dress. She always wore something to show she was the wife of an Elk or a Knights Templar. This was insurance for extra protection or service in case of an unforeseen emergency.
A child's observation showed most conductors wore a Masonic emblem or Elk's tooth, or both, attached to their watch chain.
Riding along in the night, you might be awakened by the train coming to a stop after much jerking and grinding of brakes. You would raise your window curtain to see the brakeman swinging his lighted lantern as he walked along. Or many times in the summer, as the train crept along slowly, stopping now and then, you could see water close up to the tracks and the conductor would tell you the next morning there had been a washout and the train would be several hours late. Sometimes a trainman would be seen climbing a telegraph pole to send a message. Or perhaps you would see a passenger being greeted at a lonely station platform by one person.
To get up or down the upper berth, you rang for the porter. He brought a ladder and while the train rocked and swayed, he'd steady you until you tumbled in. As the trains in summer time particularly, were sooty and dusty, the women wore dust caps to bed to keep their hair clean. They were crocheted or made of some fine cotton material.
Life on the train was full of excitement. As we sped over the prairies, we'd play a game of counting prairie dogs before they ducked down in their mounds, or watch coyotes loping for miles across the flat, hot, sandy land. The porter was always our best companion. He would play games with us. A train butcher broke the monotony by walking through many times during the day hawking his wares of fruit, candy, magazines and newspapers. We would stop the conductor to ask him if the train was running on time and he would solemnly pull out his gold pocket watch and give us the information and perhaps sit down and visit with us.
Another pastime was to watch through the window to see the engine and cars winding along through a canyon and then look back to see the end of our train. It would take two engines to pull the long trains when we started to climb into higher altitude. The extra one was added somewhere along the way.
Everybody was friendly. You became acquainted with every passenger in your coach, without exception. Passengers would walk down the aisle and stop and exchange pleasantries. The
children would play together. Before you got off, you knew everybody's name, where they were from, and their destination. If the train was going to do some switching, the conductor would inform everybody ahead of time and the passengers would get off and stretch and perhaps go into the station for a cup of coffee.
Some trains carried diners. In the morning and before each meal, a waiter walked through the train calling loudly, "First call for breakfast in the dining car" and at the end of serving time, "Last call for breakfast in the dining car". The road bed was rough at times and you'd stagger to your table as the dining car swayed and bumped. It was not unusual to see your dishes slide to the edge of the table or liquids spill all over the table cloth. But that was part of the fun.
Most often, the lunch meal was eaten in our seat. A shoe box holding fried chicken among other goodies, had been prepared at home before we started.
The Santa Fe carried no diners on the Colorado trains because there were "Harvey Houses" at strategic points along the route. Dodge City was one of them. They were famous for the quality of the food and the impeccable service. The conductor came through the train to find out how many passengers were going to eat in the dining room and would then wire ahead the number. There was also a lunch room and counter at the stations, also run by Harvey. We generally ate there. As the train pulled into the station, you were greeted by a man standing on the platform beating on a huge brass gong. This ritual was performed at all Harvey stations at meal time.
As the train neared our destination, one at a time, we would stand in the aisle and the porter brushed us off for any traces of dust, starting at your shoulders and going all the way, front and back, including your shoes. The men got their hats brushed also. Goodbyes were exchanged and you stepped off the train eagerly looking forward to more exciting adventures in the mountains.
Printed in Journal-World Dec. 16, 1970