'MEMOS FROM McMILLAN'


| March/April 1966



Logging engine

Courtesy of Frog Smith, 219 Hubbard, North Fort Myers, Florida 39303 Engine Number Six, a logging engine, owned by Higston Lumber Company when this picture was taken in 1902. It later pulled the first train over the-Flint River & North-Eastern Railroad b

Frog Smith

Galva, Illinois

Since the Mar.-Apr. 1965 issue of Iron-Men Album, where I had a little story I have had so much mail, I have been unable to answer all of it, but it was very encouraging. I want to thank each and every one of you through these columns for the nice praise. I will attempt from time to time to relate experiences I have had, and ones I know of which I hope will be entertaining as well in some instances, amusing. All of it might not directly be connected with steam, and I am well aware, that in most cases the readers of Iron-Men Album, might have had or heard of similar instances. With these thoughts in mind, during our spare moments, it will temporarily return us to the more carefree, if not, better days of our youth. If in so doing, I am able to make one of you feel a little better, if only while you are reading it; I shall feel that I have been well compensated for my time in writing.

The little town where I still reside, and lived as a youth, was quite a railroad town. Being of somewhat a nosey nature, I was usually around where the action was, and that was the two railroad stations. We are located on the main line of the C.B. & Q. on the Galesburg Division between Chicago and Galesburg. Today the trains go through sixty or seventy miles an hour. There is a grade west of town here, and that is where most of the coal was hauled from. The trains hit the hump right here in Galva, and as they went eastward, soon picked up a lot of speed after they went by the depot. So, it was quite natural to spend Sunday afternoons riding freight trains. Some times one stayed on too long and when they tried to get off, they got pretty well shaken up; or some one who didn't have too much experience would try to get on the train, and instead of getting on the front of the car, would get on the end, and when it would swing you hard, it would swing you between cars, where you had a good chance of getting killed. Otherwise you hit the side of the car, and just got bruised up a little. I jumped on one, and my foot slid right through the stirrup. My foot went right against the wheel, and had I been six inches taller, would have had my foot right under the wheel. There were a lot of people crippled in those days, employees as well as individuals just hoping on. The railroad usually gave an employee a lifetime job who had lost a (wing) arm, or (pin) leg. A job as either a switch tender or a crossing flagman. Now a-days, very few employees are hurt, and, of course, the former jobs are gone. The switch tender was employed in the large yards where the hums were located. Usually a single track went to a scale. An engine pushing a number of cars would push them one at a time to this scale and there they were weighed, and then cut off, given a little extra push and started down a grade on their own momentum. A rider then would get on this car in motion, get up on top, and give a signal to a switch tender what track he wanted this car to go to so as to make up a train for a certain place. This switch tender would then throw the switch and send this car into the siding, in order to enable the rider to tell at night, where the last car was. There was supposed to be a red lantern on it. He would gauge the speed of the car and try to set the hand brake at the right time. Well, sometimes these brakes worked and sometimes not so good. When they didn't work so good all he could do was get off as soon as possible if he had the time. He also carried a club to assist in putting leverage on the brake wheel. I was a young chap and decided I would try this. The pay was good and the work not too hard. This appealed to me. I worked it a while and everything went good. I was almost beginning to wonder why they paid you for having all this fun, but I soon found out. I was riding on two cars, and gave the signal. The switch changed colors all right and away I went. I started to slow them down a little but I could see I wasn't going to be able to get them slowed down enough. I was on the last car and didn't have time to get off, and less time to make my mind up what to do. I decided I should jump into the air as soon as they hit and I would still be up there when the crash came. Well I jumped when I thought I should but evidently I had not timed things well, as I came down too soon and the first thing I remember, was my neck gave a crack. The stick I was carrying went one direction and the lantern in the other. I never did find the stick. The lantern went out and I did locate that about forty feet away. I came to the conclusion that this being summer and in this part of the country, winter always had come, and when it was icy, I would probably lose my lantern for good. I quit the job as soon as I had drawn a pay. Incidentally, in those days it was one month before your first pay as they held two weeks back and paid every two weeks, so it was quite a job living on fig bars and milk for that long a time.

A little later I went to work for the C.R.I. & P. as a station helper, and had an annual pass on the G. & G.E. Interburan that ran from Kewanee to Galva, a distance of ten miles. This line bordered the C.B. & Q. almost all of the way, and on the last trip at night there was always a passenger train going in the same direction. Business was always slow this time of the night and I, not having anything else to do, used to ride, if it so happened there wasn't any passengers on it. There was one motorman, whose name was Jones, and of course, he was called Casey. He would time it so the Interburan left the outskirts of Kewanee about the same time as we did. He would draw the curtain around himself, set his cap on backwards, and race the train to Galva, bearing down hard on the whistle most of the way. It is about like the moongoose and the corbra. The train always crept up and went past but it was a lot of fun trying. The Interburan would get to rocking so much and jumping up and down it would miss contact with the overhead electric line and the lights would go on and off. They were out more than they were on. The road bed wasn't anything to brag about. It was just like riding a boat on choppy water. It seemed to dance as it went along. I believe he was discharged sometime later for not assisting an old lady on the car.

The freight train that was a local carried passengers in the way car or caboose, and this was always an odd assortment, from farmers to school children to shoppers and drummers or salesman. Maybe this is where all of the stories about the salesman and the farmer's daughter started out. All of the freight in those days was handled by the local and I do mean all of it. This included bread, groceries, stoves, corn planters, frozen rabbits in the winter time as well as crates of live pigeons that were later sold in the large cities for quail under glass. The train usually carried several of these cars, a few to unload as well as a few to pick up shipments that were being shipped out. The crew that worked these jobs usually worked them for years and everyone knew them as well as them knowing everyone else. They would drop you off at a certain crossing, or almost any other place you might want. In the summer a few minutes stop could be made between towns where everyone would get a small paid of black berries. In the winter time the two brakeman, fireman and the conductor would shoot rabbits along the right of way. There wasn't any schedule and it took a good many hours to make a trip like this. The cooking was done in the caboose by one of the brakeman. It was a family life and if they stayed away over night the brakeman and the conductor would sleep in the caboose, but the fireman and engineer would have to find their own sleeping quarters. They always told me it was because they were so dirty. I don't know if this was true or not, but I know they didn't sleep with the rest of the crew.

There was a town not too far from here where they had a slow order, as they were working on a bridge, so one day the roadmaster stopped to ask one of the section bosses if they were adhering to the slow order. The foreman replied, 'I don't know', so the Road-master said, 'what do you mean.' He replied, 'well, the front end goes by awful slow and the rear end goes like hell.' Evidently the engineer had decided as soon as he was across it was all right and it didn't make any difference about the other part of the train.