My grandfather, Bernie ''Bunny'' Beall, left and Benny Hobbs, on a sawmill job near Burtonsville, Maryland, middle 1920s. Mill is a friction feed, rack and pinion carriage used 1914 to 1956.
213 Supont Avenue, Seaside Heights, New Jersey 08751
Recently I wrote of some of the experiences of my grandfather, a true Iron Man. I said I would write again and tell some more if I didn't get too many complaints, so here goes.
On one threshing job, he was being assisted by another thresher man, who was known as a character. One Saturday night it was necessary to stay over the weekend on a farm where the only accommodations were the loft of the barn. After the evening meal, my grandfather and his friend, Jim, were discussing what to do. Jim suggested that they clean up and go calling on a neighboring farmer who had two young daughters. After my grandfather's objection that they did not have clean clothes was overruled by Jim, it was agreed to go. Jim suggested that they purchase two new overall jackets at the nearby general store, and this would be sufficient. Jim who was quite large about the waist to say the least, bought the largest jacket in the store, and after a couple of grunts it was fastened. The visit was made and they were escorted into the company of the young ladies. Since everyone went to bed early, even on Saturday nights, the farmer entered the room where they were sitting about 9:30. With raised eyebrows he said, 'Young men, it is about bed time.' To this Jim replied, 'Yes, sir, we know, we were just waiting for someone to show us where to go.' The farmer, with equal calm replied, 'Very well, young men, follow me.' After a good night's sleep between white sheets and in a feather bed followed by a good breakfast, they returned to the crew, and many looks of jealousy.
Jim was always known as quite a comedian, as was his brother, John. One day in later years someone asked him if his youngest son was learning anything in school, Jim promptly replied, 'Yes, sir, badness.' One time the boy came into the local general store chewing away on something. The boy was about eight at the time, and was asked by the storekeeper, 'What are you chewing, Little Jim?' Little Jim spit in the spittoon and said, 'What in the (bleep) do you think I'm chewing?'
On another occasion, my grandfather was threshing for a man who was notorious for being difficult to collect bills from. When the job was done, and while the men were getting the thresher ready to move to the next farm, my grandfather and the farmer argued over the payment of the bill. Terms were finally agreed on for payment in the future, and my grandfather hooked up to the thresher and moved on to the next farm. During the time the two men had been arguing, and despite the presence of a couple of the farmer's hired hands, my grandfather's crew had been busy. When they arrived at the next farm and began to uncover the thresher, the men began to hand down an assortment of picks and shovels, axes, lanterns, etc. They made the remark that this was one year the farmer had payed his bill. despite my grandfather's worst fears, nothing was heard from the farmer, but in future years he always paid his bill on the spot.
During slack seasons, my grandfather worked for numerous contractors, state and county road departments, etc., mostly as a road roller operator. Some of his experiences along these lines were also good ones. On one job he was rolling newly laid blacktop, when he suddenly stopped the roller. The foreman, who was quick tempered and not too experienced, immediately wanted to know why. My grandfather tried to explain to him that a dark spot in the road ahead might indicate a leaking water main close to the surface. He advised the foreman to wait until a lighter roller caught up and have the lighter roller roll it. The foreman flew into a rage and ordered my grandfather to roll it. On the first pass the roller broke through and broke a water main. He then banked the fire in disgust and told the foreman there it was and he could do as he pleased with it. He then got in his car and went back to the contractor's office and told the company owner what had happened. He then said, 'I guess I might as well draw my pay as I guess I'm fired.' The contractor replied, 'I do the firing and hiring, not the foreman.' He then turned to his secretary and said, 'Give Mr. Beall a pair of shears and let him trim the hedge around the office while we see what happens.' Soon the foreman arrived and entered the office spitting fire without seeing my grandfather. He soon departed quite a bit quieter. My grandfather was then called inside and told to return to the job and get the roller out and go on back to work. This he did, but the foreman was never seen again.
On another trip down the Popes Creek, my grandfather was sent to look at a new mill the company had sold a farmer who refused to pay for it, claiming something was wrong with it. After my grandfather set the mill and lined it up properly, it sawed beautifully. As grandfather had orders to either collect for the mill or bring it back, the farmer agreed to pay for it. He agreed to go to Baltimore the next day and pay for it in cash. The man had never been to a city larger than the county seat in his life, so you can imagine the trouble my grandfather had as the man had to wait overnight in Baltimore for the next morning's train back. As the man had never been away from the farm overnight before in his life, he was scared to death. It was a real relief to see him back on the train the next morning.
On another trip my grandfather saw some strange vines growing in the tops of some of the very tall pines. He asked the conductor what they were and the conductor told him it was Mistletoe. I am sure it was not, but that is what the conductor said it was. The conductor said if my grandfather wanted some he would stop the train while my grandfather climbed the tree. After a look at the height and a moment's thought he declined the offer. He could see the train pulling away as he got about half way up, with a laughing engineer and conductor, and a long lonesome night in the pines, miles from any where. As the old saying goes, 'What a way to run a railroad.'
On another trip to southern Maryland, he purchased a Huber engine from Baltimore Engine Company, which the company had repossessed for back payments. It was a 20 hp., and he was afraid of the weight of the engine, since some of the bridges in our area were not too good. He was assured that it did not exceed 20,000 lbs. When he loaded the engine in southern Maryland he marked the waybill Pennsylvania R. R. please show net fare. When it arrived the weight with coal, water and tools was almost 2 tons over. After considerable argument the Baltimore Engine Company took it back, but my grandfather did not do much troubleshooting for them after that. He told me in later years that he wished he had kept it as it was almost new and he had only given a small price for it. It was not long after that running over the road became a thing of the past, too.
On another job for another contractor, they were resurfacing a roadway and had five loads of hot pack setting on the trucks ready to spread by hand. It began to snow, and of course this meant they would have to stop, as a state inspector was there and they could not 'shoot' the hot pack on top of the snow. The foreman came back to my grandfather and told him to take over, spread those loads and keep on rolling. The foreman and the inspector got into the forman's car and left, only to soon return. Each of them was equipped with a brown paper-bag and as they consumed the contents in the warmth of the car the job was completed as fast as my grandfather could hurry the men. The last load was shot over about 3' of snow. Needless to say, in about 6 months that section had to be resurfaced. When I drive over some of today's roads I think that same inspector is still working.
On another occasion while working for the state he was working about a mile from home. A very good friend had just built a new house along side of the road which my grandfather was rolling. He was worried about smoothing up the new yard, and my grandfather suggested that he not worry about it until the next day. That night after leaving a banked fire in the roller and going home to eat supper, he returned, broke up the fire and proceeded to roll the lawn. That was about 50 years ago and it still is among the smoothest yards in town. At least it is the only one I know of rolled with a 12-ton road roller.
He also worked occasionally for the Baltimore Engine Company, who were dealers for several brands of steam engines and related equipment. His job was to check on and take care of troubles customers might have with equipment they bought from Baltimore Engine Co., both new and used. The territory into which he was usually sent was the southern part of Maryland. This area was mostly populated by a group of farmers who stayed to themselves and never left their tobacco farms but once a year to deposit their year's receipts in the bank at the county seat and pay on their mortgage. The only town of any size for a hundred miles was Upper Marlboro, the county seat with a population of only 400 or 500. The only way in or out was by a daily round trip by a mixed train carrying the mail, express, freight, passengers, etc. There was no service on Sunday. A small local stream was known as Popes Creek, and the train was called 'The Popes Creek Peddler.' There was no schedule, the crew left Baltimore in the morning, and just so they got back that night, nobody cared. Since they were the only train on the branch, they could and did stop and start where and when the engineer and conductor felt like it. It was a very nice and relaxing trip as long as you were in no hurry. It almost sounds like some trains today. On one trip my grandfather said the train stopped and sat still out in the woods for quite some time. My grandfather finally became curious and asked the brakeman what the trouble was. The brakeman said for him to look out the window and he could see. When my grandfather stuck his head out the window it became obvious. The engineer was a Republican and the conductor was a Democrat and they had stopped to argue politics. It's true!
His only experience on a railroad engine occurred one day at Laurel, on the B&O. They were laying new ties just outside of town and a work train was waiting on the siding for a passenger to clear. It was loaded with railroad ties to be dropped beside the tracks for the section gang to lay. Since my grandfather had nothing to do for a couple of hours he went over and started talking to the engine crew. After the passenger had gone through they got ready to pull out and the fireman asked him if he would like to ride along. He immediately replied yes, and offered to help fire. This was a small, old and well used switch engine and rode like it had the St. Vitus Dance. Once they got up a little speed the engine began to vibrate up and down and sideways so bad my grandfather, much to the amusement of the engineer and fireman, could hardly stand up, much less hit the firebox door. After about six or eight shovels full of coal wound up on the engine deck, the fireman took over with a good hardy laugh, at my grandfather's expense.
As far as railroading went, I will leave that up to my other grandfather, and father. Grandfather Hall died in the service of the P.R.R., and my father retired recently after 431/2 years service on the Pennsy.