Coming Home

Or How I got A railroad job, By Walter Parks

This story begins in late September of 1969, with me sitting on a Trailways Bus. If you have ever traveled across a sizable portion, of this Country on a Bus, you know about how I was feeling at the time. Believe me, if I had a car with me, I sure wouldn't have been on that bus. You travel from town to town along the route you are taking, and stop at every bus station along the way. That makes the trip so much longer, and only increases you desire to get there faster, even stronger, but it does no good, because it wont speed up the trip. You see people come and go, and if your lucky a few of them may actually speak to you. But usually they just sit and stare at each other. I was getting cramps from having sat so long. I was sitting there wishing, I had taken an Airplane, instead of a bus, just to save a few bucks. "Here I sit with over a Five Hundred dollars in my wallet, and I could have took a plane" I thought. Then I reflected on why, I had made that decision. I had to try to save some of the money to get by with, until I again had some money coming in. I had no idea, what the future had in store for me, so being frugal was the order of the day.


At the next stop, a woman got on the bus with several children in tow. "Do you mind if Tommy sits with you", she asked. " No Mam, I don't mind " I said, while I thought to myself, surely he will speak to me some, and I won't have to listen to some old wino sit and snore, like I had earlier in the day. Speak, really wasn't the word for it, because Tommy had a thousand questions and he asked them all for the next couple of hours. I sat patiently answering his questions. Questions like, "Why are you wearing that funny round hat", "Well, its called a Whitehat and it's part of my uniform", "Why is your suit all blue and got them funny white stripes on the collar and around your wrists", "These are my Dress Blues, all of us sailors have to wear uniforms like this", "Why is a bird on your arm", "That's an Eagle but we call it a crow, It just means I am a Petty Officer". "Do you wear that suit all the time". As I sat answering his questions, my mind slowly drifted back over the last four years, since I had left my home in Eau Gallie, Florida, to go off, and serve my country, and of how yes indeed, I had worn a uniform all that time. Little did Tommy know, this was probably the last full day, I would wear a uniform, because early next morning, I would be at my destination, and would once again be classed as a civilian. A civilian with no job, and an uncertain future. All I really knew was, that I was going to give it a try, and if it failed, I could always go back and reenlist in the Navy.


We were nearing the town, where Tommy would be getting off, and I had learned that Tommy had no Father figure to look up to, and I kind of liked the kid. "I want to be a Sailor" he said. "OK Tommy we will enlist you right now" I told him. "Really, honest and truly", he said. I stood up and reached up, and retrieved a small hand bag. I had on the bus with me, and pulled out a Whitehat. "Raise your right hand", I said "And repeat after me". He raised his hand while smiling from ear to ear, and repeated the shortened version, that I gave him. "I Tommy do solemnly swear" "to uphold the Constitution" "and protect my Country", "Against all enemies" "Foreign and Domestic", "I will bear true faith and allegiance", "and obey all orders of the President of the United States" "and all orders of my mother", "So help me God". It felt right to me as, I placed the whitehat on his head. and told him, "I hereby proclaim you, a Seaman Recruit". I saluted him, and said, "Welcome to the United States Navy." He returned my salute, very proudly. I straightened his hat for him and said, "Now always, keep that hat squared away". "A good Sailor always keeps his hat squared away." As he got up to leave the bus he stopped and gave me a big hug, and I said "Bye Tommy", and he walked proudly off the bus. I felt kind of proud myself, and hoped, I had made a small difference in his life.


After having had a short layover in Chattanooga, I was on yet another bus, and headed into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Home for a good many years had been on Jasmine Street, in Eau Gallie, Florida, but I was headed to my parents new home, in a town, I'd never heard of before. Having recently retired they had bought a farm in Morganton, Georgia., which was a far cry from sunny Florida, that I grew up in. I was remembering the time, I had got on another bus, four years earlier, to leave for the service. I was flat broke when I left, and as I got on that bus, my father had handed me a five dollar bill, and said "here son, don't spend it all in one place". (It, by the way, was rapidly depleted ten minutes, after I got to the air port in Jacksonville.) I could write a book about my life in the preceding four years, but that will be another story, if I ever decide to tell it.


As daylight broke, I found myself looking out the window at lots of woods and mountains, and curved highways, that looped back and forth, and seemed to get no where. I sat thinking, Oh yea, I've got one terrific future ahead of me here. There are no houses, no towns, but I'll just bet there's jobs around here to be had. Must be a job behind every one of these trees. Well, I guess, there must be jobs, chopping down some of these trees. What in the world have, I got myself into. Why did I tell the Navy, where they could put their measly seven thousand dollar, reup bonus. At least, im coming home alive, a lot of the guys didn't make it back, especially those who were drafted and sent straight to Viet Nam, It's a good thing, I joined instead of accepting that dang draft notice they sent me from the Army. My train of self pity thoughts were interrupted by the voice of the bus driver speaking to me, "time to get off this bus Sailor". Looking around, I realized we had arrived in a small town. "Is this Blue Ridge Ga.?" I asked him. "Nope, this is Murphy North Carolina," "you will switch to another bus to take you there from here", he replied. I got off the bus, and after having found out when I would arrive in Blue Ridge, I got on a pay phone and called the phone number, I had scribbled on a small piece of paper, in my Jumper pocket. My mother Helen answered the phone. I don't care to get into the spefics of why, but I always referred to her as Helen. I told her where, I was, and that I would be in Blue Ridge around eleven o'clock, and I would get a Taxi from there. She laughed and said, she doubted any Taxi even existed around there, but I would be met at the bus station.


Nearly a year earlier, I had received a letter from home, saying my father had bought a new car, but couldn't afford to keep it, although, I now suspect he just didn't like it, because he had went right out and bought a bigger car. The car was mine if I wanted it, and all I had to do was make the payments. Included in the letter was the payment book to make the payments. Yep, that's the Old Man alright, I thought to myself, he's still manipulating people as always. He got him self out of a lot of situations that way. If ever a natural born salesman ever existed, it was him. I knew I was going to need a car when, I got out anyway, so I just got a head start on it. A buddy asked me "What's that", pointing at the payment book. " I reckon, I just bought a car", I said. "What kind of car"? Looking at the book, I said, "it's a 1969 Mercury Montego". " What color is it?" "Don't know, and the book don't say either". I went below decks to write home, and tell them it better be parked and not driven, other than to run it occasionally to keep the battery charged.


I got off the bus at Blue Ridge, and saw Helen standing across the street. I was glad to see her, and she gave me the biggest hug, and a kiss, and said welcome home son. Being reunited as a family, is definitely like coming home, but this small town in the mountains of North Georgia, would take a lot of getting use to, before I could consider it home. "It's great to be home", I said. 'Where's Dad", I asked. "Oh he's not here he's gone to Florida on business", "But he will be here in a few days", she quickly added. "How did you get here then", I asked. She handed me the car keys and said, "I drove of course." "Which car is it", I asked. "It's that green one sitting there, now you can drive us home". "You know. I don't have a drivers License, anymore", I said. "Well, that's OK because I don't have one either, in fact you might as well know, I've never had one", and she laughed. I was speechless for a minute. She had been driving for years. I had known since the age of fourteen, when, I learned to drive, and finally took notice of her driving abilities, what a terrible driver she was, but it had never occurred to me, that she could have such flagrant disregard for the law. I joined in on the laughter, and in fact we laughed most of the way home. On the way home, I expressed my disapproval of him having left her stranded up here in this wilderness, and was about to ask what in the world, ever possessed them to move here, but I didn't, because by then she was saying how much she loved living in the mountains. So, I kept my mouth shut, and didn't say it. Stopping for a red light, I saw a State Trooper, and politely waved at him.


(You Can skip this paragraph, if you reading in a hurry.)

If you have read this far in my story, you probably are wondering, or perhaps, you have forgotten by now, how this story, has anything at all to do with, How I got a Railroad Job, but I assure you it does. I must admit, I can be slow, about getting to the point though. It's just my style of writing. My 12th grade English Literature, teacher, used to get quite flustered at the way, I often use long, "run on sentences" as he used to put it, and I doubt he would be at all surprised to see that, I still do it. All this particular paragraph is really about is, me giving my brain a break, before continuing, with the story. LOL Perhaps, just in memory of him mind you, I can thrown in a few more comma splices, heck, I've only got a couple hundred so far. Maybe, I will end a few more sentences in a prepositions, and split some infinitives, or commit the ultimate grievance, and dangle a few more participle. I suppose the point, im making here is, I write just to record, my memories, and not to impress anyone. So, if you have read this far, your not an English Teacher. or you would have quit reading in the first paragraph. LOL (Back to my story)


We arrived at the farm, and I was impressed somewhat. It was a quite adequate white frame house, but I wasn't over impressed. I saw her eyeing me to see my reaction, and I sort of laid it on a bit thick perhaps, of what a nice place it was. I noted, how nice the scenery was though, and how quiet and peaceful it was, and told her the place was lovely. I could see why she probably liked it so much. It was a far cry from looking at the flat land, of palms and Australian Pine Trees of Florida. I guessed, she had her fill of Florida. I decided, not to ever bring up the subject of living in Florida again, to her.


Upon entering the house, I saw my old dog "Boots", and she barked at me, before figuring out who I was, and she let me know how glad she was to see me, and had a look, Like, Oh im sorry, I didn't mean to bark at you, I just thought, I would never see you again. I swear, that dog thought more like a human, than a dog. While Helen was gone to the restroom, I made my habitual walk to open the refrigerator, and see what was there. When, I was a kid, I used to frustrate her no end, by just randomly opening the refrigerator for no obvious reason. It would always be the same stuff in there , that was in there five minutes earlier, when you had looked, but a kid can never convince himself. Perhaps some magical power may have produced some tasty delight, just waiting to be found. Soon a kid learns to have an instant answer ready. "What are you doing in the refrigerator"? "Oh, im just getting a drink of water", and occasionally, I would use a more moronic answer like, "Im just looking to see if the light bulb is working." Now that, im older, I think the reason, I did it, was because it felt good to get cooled off by the cold oozing out of the refrigerator. You always doubled up on refrigerator visits in the summer time. Im 59 years old now, but still occasionally, I will go look in the refrigerator, sometimes frustrating my wife, no end. She will sometimes admonish me when we go to visit someone's home, if she sees me anywhere near their refrigerator. LOL Not that id ever do that. LOL "I just wanted to see if their light bulb is working."


As soon as, I opened the refrigerator, I noticed something, I had never seen, in my past refrigerator visits. There was nothing there. It quickly dawned on me, that the cupboard was bare. They had no food. Oh there may have been a few staples, but there was no food. I closed the door, and returned to the living room, as my mother was coming out of the bathroom. She knew me pretty well, and im sure she had deduced that I had looked in the refrigerator because, she spoke up and said, "Your Dads retirement check hasn't started coming in yet, That's why he's gone to Florida". I said, "make a grocery list, we are going to the store." She protested, but I put my foot down and insisted. Thirty minutes later, we were pulling into the grocery store, and as we entered, who should I pass coming out. It was the State trooper, I had waved at earlier that afternoon, so I waved at him politely, again. Going through the store, she noticed, I was putting a lot more things in the buggy, than she had on the list. Her protests went ignored though and soon the buggy was full. I think the bill came to a little over a hundred dollars, which these days might feed a family two days, but in 1969 it was a fair amount of groceries. She was worried about how much I had spent. She could be quite the skimpy shopper, if left to her own demise, but this time, I prevailed. "Your Dad will pay you back", she said. "No, I wont hear of it. In fact, don't even tell him we went shopping", I said. For supper, that night she made me something, I hadn't had in a long time. We ate high on the hog. I gorged myself on fried salt pork, and gravy, and biscuits. Later that evening as we sat watching TV, I got up and went to look in the Refrigerator. "Do you want a glass of water", I said. I really didn't want any water, it just looked good to see that her refrigerator wasn't empty.


The next day, she wanted to show me around the mountains some, but I concluded it was time to go get a Driver's License, and she rode along with me. She had no intentions of getting a License though. I went into the Troopers Barracks, there in Blue Ridge, took their written test, and passed it by the skin of my teeth. I should have failed, but im a good guesser at multiple question Test, and I got lucky on a few wild guesses. They said, go out side and take your Driving Test, when the Trooper, returns, from whoever he's testing right now. Soon the Trooper returned and got out of that car, telling the young lady, who was somewhat rattled, that she was welcome, to come try the test again tomorrow, if she wanted to. I concluded she had failed the test, and assumed it must be a humdinger of a driving test. When the Officer turned and took the paper work from my hands, he looked up at me. You guessed it already, LOL It was the same Trooper who the day before had received my friendly waves. "Let me see you Learners Permit", he said. "Oh, I don't have one", I replied. Maybe he declined to pursue the questions he had, because of my quick run down about just returned from the Navy, and about how, I once had a Florida License, but we walked to my car, and he got in after Helen got out to wait for me. I thought, Lord, don't let him ask to see her License. He spoke politely to her and off we went. The test was a real doozie, too. I made two left turns, one right turn, and stopped at one red light in town. We went around the block, and was back at the station. Heck, I could have passed that test back when, I was twelve and driving my brother David's car around in the back yard. I recall, I did have a few problems in the back yard, though. I seem to remember running into a telephone pole. That wasn't too much trouble to get out of because, I just blamed it on the rain and the wet grass. What was hard to explain, though was all the doughnuts dug up in the back yard to my father, the next day, and why the telephone pole now had a distinctive 30 degree tilt to it.


That evening, my father returned home. We were sitting and watching TV that evening, after eating a big supper, when my father asked me what I was going to do about getting a job. I told him, It had been a long time since, I had a vacation, and that, I planned to just visit with them a couple of weeks, then I would go get a job. "Just need a little vacation from work for a while", "Besides, I have a few bucks saved to tide me over for a while", I said. I assumed he was cool with that idea, and it seemed like a reasonable thing to me. It was just good to be home for a change, instead of gallivanting all over the world. If you have ever been without any immediate family, for four years, you might understand, the need just to be around family for a change. For the first time in weeks, I had made it thru two whole days without being worried about my future for a change, but he had just spoiled that for me.


The next morning, I awoke to the smell of bacon frying, and Coffee Brewing, and biscuits in the oven. I hit the deck and got dressed, and after shaving and getting cleaned up. I walked into the Kitchen. I said "Sure smells good in here". MY father was sitting at the dining room table and had the newspaper open and reading it. If, I had looked a little closer, I would have noticed he was thumbing through the want ads. I sat down as the food was being placed on the table. We had a nice breakfast, and it was nice to eat some eggs without occasionally biting down on egg shells some Ships Cook hadn't prepared properly, and drink some coffee, that didn't taste like it was made with water dipped out of the ships engine room bilges. After we finished, I complimented my mother on making such a good breakfast. By the time, I headed thru the Living room, my father was already out there and was sitting in a rocking chair, with the Atlanta Constitution paper, flipped open to the want ads. This time, I got the drift of what was on his mind. Whether it was the fact he was truly concerned about my future, or the fact he was afraid, I was home to be a loafer for the rest of my life, I don't know. I was however feeling, I had about worn out my welcome. As I was passing where he sat, he said "When you gonna get a job son". I kind of lost it briefly and said, "This was sure a short vacation", but it fell on deaf ears. "Here's a job" he was saying, while looking at some menial job ad that, I would have never considered. Looking over his shoulder at the want ads, I saw one large ad, that covered at least a third of the page. I wasn't even close enough to see what the words were, but I reached over his shoulder and pointed my finger at the big ad, and said, "Hell, Ill go to work for those people right there."


"What", he asked as he took another look at the paper, and at the ad he had overlooked all morning. He began to read it aloud. It said something to the effect of: SOUTHERN RAILWAY, now accepting applications for Switchmen, Trainmen, Brakemen, and Rail Car Repairman. Note: Rail Car Repairman, requires knowledge and experience in welding, blueprints, metal fabrication, and requires a high mechanical aptitude. "I will apply for the Rail Car Repairman Job", I interrupted. At that point in the ad he stopped and said, "You can't get a railroad job". it says welding, and all these other requirements. I had already received a lot of info before, I left the Navy about the possibility of working at a Fire Department, because in the last four years, I had specialized in fire fighting, and had taken every test and school the navy had to offer, on the subject and had in fact excelled in it, and had achieved the rank of E5 studying it. I just wasn't sure firemen were paid enough. Now, I was, on a whim, actually ignoring all my training, and going to actually consider, applying for some job, I never heard of before. I thought to myself, all that training, and in a fit of anger, im picking a job by wildly pointing my finger, at an ad in a newspaper. The ad did however have it's appeal to me. "Why can't I work for them", I said. "What do you think I was learning when, I took three years of machine shop in High School." If there is one thing Mr. Frank Lewis had taught me, in those three years of teaching me, it was welding, blueprints, and metal fabrication. "I don't know how to get to Atlanta from here, but if you will point me in the right direction, I will find it", I said. I thought to myself, he's still manipulating me, and I just fell for it hook line and sinker. He has just ended my vacation and in five minutes has me off looking for a job, just like he wanted to. "Point you the right direction", he said, "Hell, I will take you there".


The next morning around nine a.m., we arrived at the Southern Railway Office Building at 125 Spring Street, and my father pulled up to the curb and parked right in front of the main doors. I looked up at the large gray building, and told him "the sign here says no Parking". "I doubt you will be here long", He said. "I will wait for you right here". It was obvious to me, he had no confidence in my chance of getting a job there. I thought, well there's a positive attitude, if ever, I've seen one. I exited the car and entered the building, and was directed by the nurse, at the nurse's station to go down the hall to the last door on the left, which I promptly did. On entering the large room, I saw around twenty or so men sitting there waiting at two long tables. There were some signs one table for Trainmen, Switchmen, and Brakemen, and the other table had a sign for Rail Car Repairmen. I pulled up a chair, and sat at the end of the appropriate table. Perhaps half of the men there to apply for jobs, were sitting at my table. I thought, well chances of getting a job now are much slimmer. I sure never expected to see this many folks looking for a job. There were two doors at the end of the room, that were passageways from one side to the other, obviously leading to other offices. A man entered thru one of the doors, and said, "May, I have your attention", "Today we are only accepting applications for Trainmen, Brakemen and Switchmen." He then exited thru the other door. He wasn't out of the room good before there was a scurry of chairs sliding back, and men suddenly deciding they wanted to sit at the other table. I was now sitting alone at the end of a ten foot long table, with lots of elbow room, and there were perhaps nineteen men trying to squeeze up to the other ten foot table, which was suitable, for maybe half that many folks. I sniffed my armpit, wondering if, I had a bad case of body odor or something.


A short while later two more men entered the room, from the same door the other man had. One was telling all the men at the other table to get up and follow him, and as they all exited thru the same door everyone else had. The other man approached me as I sat thinking, there goes the ones most likely to get a job. He asked, "What are you here for"? I held up the section of newspaper in my hand, and said, "Im here to apply for a Rail Car Repairman Job." He tried to tell me something about not hiring them now, but I interrupted him, by telling him, "your Ad speficaly states....". he interrupted me and said, "Have you ever been arrested"? I started to say shouldn't the proper term be, have I ever been convicted of a crime, but I just replied "Nope". He said, "You wait right here", and he left the room. Sitting there alone in that huge room, I began to develop a complex, so I once again sniffed my armpit. Surely, I don't smell that bad do I? In a few minutes the man returned, with a stack of papers. He sat them in front of me, handed me a box of pencils, and said, fill out these papers regarding qualification and job history, and then take this Mechanical Aptitude test, and again quickly left the room. I debated with myself as to whether, my armpit needed a resniff, but decided that this was just their short and to the point way, of conducting interviews. Filling out the few pages regarding job history and stuff took a little while to do, but the fairly thick Mechanical Aptitude test was a breeze, and I finished it in under an hour. In a little while the man returned, and collected my papers, and casually thumbed thru them. I presumed it was to determine if the application went from this point , to farther up the chain of command, or to some waste basket somewhere. "Follow me Mr. Parks", He said. I recall thinking, these sure are some talkative folks around here, as I followed him down a hallway. I sat outside an office a while in a wooden chair, waiting to see if some one around there, carried on conversations, that consisted of sentences longer than three syllables, or if I was gonna be shown the front door.


After a short wait, I was escorted into an office, where, I met a man in a white shirt and tie, sitting behind a big desk. I shook his hand and sat in his interview chair. "I have your application here and the results of the tests you took", he said, as I sat on the edge of my seat waiting. He paused a minute or two as if in deep thought, and said, "You have great qualifications, and your just what, we are looking for", "The last Carman school, started over a week ago", but "I think from looking at your results here that, you are a very smart man and will have no trouble catching up." "I am going to push your application straight through, but your gonna have to get all the medical stuff done right away, so your gonna be busy the rest of the day attending to it all." "Get it all done and you will start school Monday morning." "Welcome aboard" he said. "Take these papers down to the nurses station, and you will be directed where to go from there." I shook his hand, and had crossed the room and had my hand on his door knob, when it registered in my brain, like a bell going off, DING DING. (Money...We haven't talked money). I turned and faced him saying, "just one thing". " Yes Mr. Parks", he said. "How much will I be making."? He glanced down at his papers as if, he didn't already know, and said "The job pays $3.49 an hour." "Thanks", I replied and as I turned the door knob to leave the room my brain was going, DING DING $$$ DING $$$$$$. Somehow, I managed to get out of the room without shouting, Hot Dang. I was thinking, wow Im gonna be rolling in dough, now that's considerably more than any Fireman job would pay me. A considerable load of worry had just gotten a lot lighter. A short trip to the Nurse's Station, followed, where, I filled out a ton of Forms. I was directed to go from there, to a Dr. Rice's Office on Peachtree Street, for a physical exam. I probably could end this story here, but no story about this subject would be complete, without mentioning a certain Old Company Doctor.


About two and a half hours after entering the Southern Building, I walked out the front doors. I looked for my fathers car, knowing he had probably had to find himself a parking space some where. I walked down the Street, and finally found his car. He was sitting there circling ads in the newspaper. I got in the car and he was saying, he had more places, that I should consider putting in an application as well. I guess he assumed, I had just put in an application, and had no answer yet. "You should go put an application here", he indicated from his paper. I said, "nope cant do that", "What I got to do is got to this office on Peachtree Street and see this Doctor." "What", he said. "Yep, I start school, Monday Morning". "What does it pay"? When I answered him, his little built in adding machine started running. "Why that's Uh Uh a lot of money",   I interrupted his brain strain and said, "it's about a Hundred and Forty a week, and it's a whole lot more, than what I made in the Navy, it's a pretty good starting salary." "Thanks for bringing me down here", I said. I thought to my self, a vacation would have been nice though, Here I am home from the Navy three days, and it's off on my own again. I guess it's true what they say, you can never go home again.


In the past four years, I had been to many Doctors, and medical facilities, I had been poked and prodded, examined from head to toe many times, received lots on inoculations, and when I cut my hand half off somewhere off the coast of South America, in the raging Atlantic, I had it sewed back together by a Hospital Corpsman, who wasn't even a doctor. In all those times, I felt secure in the knowledge that they knew what they were doing and that they had performed their procedures under sterile conditions. My visit to the Old Railroad Doctor's office was a horse of a different color however. I entered the dark poorly lit, dusty office. There were some old magazines laying there from sometime back in the fifties. There was no staff, just an old doctor who looked like he would fall over if you didn't prop him up in a corner somewhere. It was like going back into time and walking into a scene from an old black and white Frankenstein film. He banged on me with a hammer a while, I think just to see if I would say ouch. He listened to my heart with some old time rusty stethoscope. He wrapped his rubber torture device around my arm and synched it up tight. Guess he wants some blood I figured, but I couldn't see any of those metal thing sterilized needles are suppose to be in anywhere in that office. He turned to an old white enamel wash basin, and I thought, good at least the old geezer is sanitary, he's gonna wash his hands first. Instead of washing, he reached and picked up a large old time hypodermic needle off the back of that wash basin, where normally one might expect to see a bar of soap laying. He ran some rusty looking water from the tap over it, and began to shake it off. This aint happening, I thought, Im imagining things. He grabbed my arm and came at me with that old needle. The needle was bent and looked dull. It wasn't even pointed, it was just a blunt end. "Dock shouldn't that thing be sterilizzzzzzzzzzzzed", but he had stuck it in my arm before, I could get the words out of my mouth. "No, it's fine" he said as he withdrew a large volume of blood out of my arm. Must be part of the routine here at the railroad, I thought. They want to see if I can take a little torture. "Come with me", he said. I walked and he stumbled down the hall. Dang, I hope this old geezer don't croak before we get through here. I thought. "We are gonna x-ray ya now" he said. We entered this room with a large x-ray machine, that was old as the hills. He must have brought it with him from the medical school he attended back in 1925. He began to x-ray ever bone in my body from head to toe at every angle possible. The old machine made a loud buzz every time he took a picture. On we went, BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ BUZZZZZZZZZZZ BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ BUZZZZZZZZZ one x-ray after another. I became a bit concerned as I have had enough training in Nuclear Biological and Chemical Warfare School to know, too much radiation is bad for you. BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ Dam Dock BUZZZZZZZZZZZ How many BUZZZZZ Roentgens of Radiation BUZZZZZZZZ are you exposing me to here? No wonder he wasn't worried about germs on the needle. Hell there aint a germ on, or in me alive anymore. BUZZZZZZ BUZZZZZZ "Oh not more than a couple of hundred Roentgens I reckon" I began to pull my hair to see if it was falling out yet. I should have brought my dosemeter with me, Dang. When I get to dad's car, im gonna drink half of that bottle of Jack Daniels that's under the seat.


In 2003 when fate lowered the boom on me, and I was injured, my 34 year Railroad Career ended. At that time, I was making somewhere around 23 dollars an hour. I am now making up for all the lost vacations, I never got to take. I rest, relax, and occasionally write a story or two. I even mow the lawn occasionally. I never did roll in dough, because the cost of living kept a faster climb than my salary, but I get by and im still alive. What more can a man ask than that. 

Footnote: I am truly proud to have served my country in time of war, and would do it all again. I would be in the line where they signed up for the U.S. Navy.

The smoking jacket

By Walter Parks

This is the story of my old Smoking Jacket. You may assume it refers to a jacket worn by someone while lounging around their den smoking. My jacket however was much more. For many years, it was sort of a trademark of mine. I became attached to that old jacket. It was comfortable, and nice and warm in the winter time. Winters working out in the train yards, and on the open Repair Track, were very cold. Most Railroad Jobs are outdoor jobs. Sure they have some office jobs, but, by in large, most are outdoor jobs. It's kind if hard to get a train indoors. Many was the day we tried to think of a way to get one indoors. Days when it was so cold, your lungs hurt when you breathed. Your feet became like Popsicle's, from standing in snow and ice, or bone chilling mud puddles. Your hands and fingers rebel and refuse to come out of your pockets anymore. Those are the days, when you wonder, why, don't I live in Florida, or somewhere warm. Those were the days, you wished you were an Engineer, sitting up at the throttle, of a Locomotive, with a big heater, blowing on you. More than once, I have had some Engineer tell me how hard they have it, and I had to set him straight. "Come down here on the ground with us for a while, and you will be glad to get back in your nice warm Locomotive." Those were the days, that my jacket and I were like best friends, and were inseparable.


It wasn't much to look at, but of all the jackets, I have had over the years, it was by far the most practical. It was a large oversize parka actually, that, I brought home with me from the Navy. It was designed for use as foul weather gear. It was drab military green in color, and had a large hood. What made it so practical, was not only the fact that it was warm, but was loose fitting, and you could get several layer's of clothing on under it and still not feel like you were trapped in a cocoon. Most jackets on the market these days, limit your ability to move when you have long johns and a sweatshirt, and a thick flannel shirt, and occasionally a sweater on under it. You can't even let your arms down to you sides hardly, and your very uncomfortable. I personally find myself feeling claustrophobic , when im bundled up like that. But what's a guy to do, he has to stay warm, when he's outside most of the day. I don't know for sure what everyone did, but I relied on my old smoking jacket.

     How it became a smoking jacket, is quite simple. It was dubbed a smoking jacket, by some of my fellow Carmen. It wasn't because I smoked but rather the jacket smoked, on many occasions. When you spend many hours with torches and welders, in the performance of your work, it is quite common to get your clothes full of burn holes, from hot slag and molten metal. It is not uncommon to occasionally have your clothing catch on fire. Such was the case one cold day when, I had my welding hood down and was busy welding some front draft stops, in the center sill of a box car, that I had jacked up high, and was standing under it to weld, over my head. Often when you welding, a small spot will start smoldering, and you just knock it out and keep working. That cold morning, Carman Ellington stopped and spoke thru the open end of the center sill, and said "your jacket is smoking", I replied, "knock it out for me, OK", as I continued to weld. He said, "You don't understand, your really smoking, in fact your on fire." By the time, I got it off, the whole back side of it was on fire, and I had to stomp on it to extinguish the flames. Being somewhat attached to it, rather than toss it in the trash, I hung it in my locker, and a few days later, I took it home with me and sat several hours replacing one whole section of it with a large piece of material, I cut from another jacket, thereby rendering it fit for duty again. Of course it wasn't even the same color material, and by then it looked like something a homeless man would reject wearing. In fact it was looking pretty rough, and had seen much better days. The next morning, at Seven A.M. sharp, I appeared on the Repair Track wearing it. Someone said, "Parks is wearing his smoking jacket", and it was forever after called a smoking jacket. The old jacket served me well and kept me warm many years.


I took an outline point job in 1983 and worked out of a truck out on the line of road for the remainder of my career. It was nice to be able to get in the truck on winter days and run the heater on high, and be just a snug as a bug in a rug. There were a few times when I had to work at Derailments out in a train yard somewhere, when it had snowed and on several occasions, I stopped at my locker, and dug out the smoking jacket. If anyone criticized my ratty jacket on those occasions, I would just say, "What's the matter, aint you ever seen a genuine smoking jacket before." In 2003 when I left the railroad, I went and cleaned out my locker, and there in the back was the old smoking jacket still ready for service. It was with some remorse, that, I gave it a final farewell, and thought of all the times it kept me warm over the last 34 years, and tossed it in the Trash.



Hobo Recollections

By Walter Parks

     Hobo's have often been portrayed in the movies as colorful carefree harmless characters. A few have been honestly portrayed as what they actually are or were, which usually is someone who thinks the world owes them a living, and wouldn't think of working for it. Most often, my impressions of those, I encountered were that they were indeed often quite colorful, but couldn't be trusted any farther than you could throw them. So I will mention just a few of my encounters with these mysterious characters, called Hobo's. I really can't see how that kind of life could ever be considered carefree. I should think it was exactly the opposite. I personally like to eat on a regular basis and therefore would never make it as a Hobo. It must be pretty awful, not to know when your next meal may be, or if you will ever sleep in a nice warm bed again.


     The Dictionary defines a Hobo as: (noun: a disreputable vagrant ). The Online Etymology Dictionary gives the word origin as:

1889, Western Amer.Eng., of unknown origin, perhaps related to early 19c. Eng. dial. hawbuck "lout, clumsy fellow, country bumpkin." Or from ho, boy, a workers' call on late 19c. western U.S. railroads. Hence facetious formation hobohemia "community or life of hobos," 1923 (see bohemian).

Bohemian (Per the Etymology Dictionary) is: "a gypsy of society," 1848, from Fr. bohemién (1559), from the country name, from M.Fr. Boheme "Bohemia," from L. Boiohaemum (Tacitus), from Boii, the Celtic people who settled in what is now Bohemia (and were driven from it by the Gmc. Marcomans early 1c.). The modern sense is perhaps from the use of this country name since 15c. in Fr. for "gypsy" (they were believed falsely to have come from there, though their first appearance in W.Europe may have been from there), or from association with Bohemian heretics. It was popularized by Henri Murger's 1845 story collection "Scenes de la Vie de Boheme," the basis of Puccini's "La Bohème." Used in Eng. 1848 in Thackary's "Vanity Fair." "The term 'Bohemian' has come to be very commonly accepted in our day as the description of a certain kind of literary gipsey, no matter in what language he speaks, or what city he inhabits .... A Bohemian is simply an artist or littérateur who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life and in art." ["Westminster Review," 1862]

I never knew they could be traced as descendants of a whole race of people, like the Celtic people, for instance, but the part of the definition that says, litterateur who, consciously or unconsciously, secedes from conventionality in life, sure seems to fit. I certainly never had a problem in my encounters with them when I referred to them as Hobo's. Can you imagine what may have happened to my person had. I referred to them as a litterateur, or a Heretic or even worse, a disreputable Bohemian. Why, I would have had a fight on my hands for sure. They sure sound like fighting words to me. Sort of like cussing at them, LOL "Why you know what you are, you're a Bohemian." LOL In fact something I just remembered does strike me kind of funny. My father used to tell me of the times during the depression when he Hobo'ed around the country. So. I guess im just a "Son of a Bohemian", LOL.


     I was sitting on a Caboose talking to an old Conductor some twenty five years ago and he related one of his Hobo encounters, to me. The conversation began when, I asked him about the Pistol he carried in his grip. He said, "I never go on a trip without it." He recalled a recent time when his train broke down somewhere up on the Georgia Division on a cold December night. He had gotten off his train when it stopped and went and repaired a broken air hose. When he returned to his Caboose, he fount his nice warm Caboose occupied by a Hobo standing by the coal stove warming himself. He asked the Hobo, "What are you doing on my Caboose", but the Hobo acted like he wasn't going to answer. Instead he acted like he was lost or something. He made a move towards the old Conductor, while saying something like "Where am I". The Conductor didn't like the fact the guy was getting closer to him. He promptly answered the Hobo's question as he pointed his 38 Special right in the guys face, and said, "You are in 38 Georgia, and if you don't get off my Caboose right now, they are going to carry you off". The Conductor told me, "it's a good thing he got off because I would have shot him dead."


Riding a Freight Train, may seem like an easy way to travel, but when you stop and think about it, it sure isn't like staying at the Ritz. The accommodations leaves a lot to be desired. Boxcars and Gondolas are usually extremely dirty and there isn't exactly an facilities. Such was the case one Hobo found out some years back. I was working in the Atlanta Receiving Yard and was at the Marietta street bridge, waiting for an inbound train to come to a stop, so I could inspect it. The trains cast iron brake shoes were squealing as they scrubbed the steels wheels, and the emergency brakes shot with a loud whoosh of air, as the train slowly came to a halt. No sooner had it stopped, when this dust covered Hobo jumped down out of the boxcar he had been riding in. I think it was a load of limestone, which is a white powder substance, much the consistence of powder. We were under the bridge and it had rained most of the day there in Atlanta. He knelt down on the gravel of the train yard and began drinking water from the puddle of rain water he was standing in. That old wooden bridge, was world renowned for the large assortment of pigeons, that roost under it, and you can pretty well imagine what was all over the ground, and floating in that puddle of water. I didn't even like having to step in that water and here he was drinking the stuff. He was slurping up gallons of it, it seemed to me. I said, "Boe, do you have any idea what your drinking". He replied, "Yes, Mister Railroad Man, im drinking the best water I've ever had." I aint had a drink of water in two days, now." "I been stuck in that boxcar all that time, breathing pure powder, and im a might parched." I don't know if the Hobo suffered death from the water, but I am sure he later had an acute case of dysentery. I suspect he learned that day to carry water with him. as he traveled around the country in style.


One sunny summer afternoon, as I worked my way southward, inspecting a train, I heard my fellow Carman, who was checking the other side of the train, and was some distance ahead of me, calling my name, "Parks come here, you gotta see this." When, I caught up to him and looked between the cars to see what it was, I saw a Hobo laying on his back with his legs dangling off the end of the Flatcar. The train hadn't been long stopped, so it's a sure bet that was the way he was laying when the train was moving. I thought, it's a wonder he hasn't fell between the cars or gotten his legs mangled behind the couplers or something. I said. "Is he dead". "Naw he aint dead, this old buzzard bait is snoring." I said "wake him up". "Cant wake him up, I've tried", was the reply. We carried metal rods with a hook on them called, pull hooks about 3 feet long with us to open the journal box lids with, and I poked him with my pull hook. I shouted loudly "Wake up Boe". There was no response other than some moaning. That Hobo was drunk as a skunk. Davis, the man I was working with hauled off and hit the guy very hard on one of his legs with his pull hook. That Hobo didn't even feel it and there was a loud thump like hitting something hard. I began to laugh, when I realized that Hobo had a wooden legs. That's why he didn't even know where they were dangling. "If that don't beat all", Davis said as he laughingly whomped him a few more times on the legs. Thump, Thump, Thump, LOL. I got on a nearby Speaker and called the main tower. "Tell the hump not to move this train in track seven" "we got a non paying passenger laying between two of these cars, and while your at it send the Railroad police down here too." Finally we got the Hobo awake, but he was too drunk to even sit up. "What happened to your legs Boe", I asked?" "I got wooden legs", he replied. I laughed and said, "We know that already, but what happened to them?" "Oh. I got ran over by a train back in 59". "Well you sure as hell didn't learn nothing from it did you", I said. He dug in his right front pocket, and pulled out a dollar bill, and had the audacity, to tell me, "Go get me a Coke Cola". That about floored me with laughter. "The nearest coke machine to here is 2 miles away, and you sure have your nerve, Boe." I was truly sorry for his condition, but it was so obvious that, he still seemed to think the world owed him, and that he would never learn. Maybe he thought we would take his dollar and disappear, but I don't know. I don't know what became of him, or if he ever got his Coke, but I bet he's sat around some Hobo Camp, telling the other Hobo's about them time the Carknocker got him evicted from his sleeper car at Inman Yards Ga.



Bugbear's

By Walter Parks

Definitions of Pet Peeve: From Various Sources.: NOUN: Informal Something about which one frequently complains; a particular personal vexation.  particular personal complaint: somebody's constant topic of complaint.

Function: noun: a frequent subject of complaint, a particular and often continual annoyance; personal bugbear:

Something about which one frequently complains; 

a particular personal vexation.

[n] an opportunity for complaint that is seldom missed  Something that annoys one so much,  that he is moved to gripe about it.

     Today was one of those days, that didn't go quite as well as one might hope. I ran into several pet peeves that haven't showed them selves lately, and I got to thinking about just how many annoyances there are, that could be considered Pet Peeves to different people. Well there is no limit to things, that could be pet peeves. So, I thought, I would try to list a few of mine. Lots of things annoy people in our daily lives, and while those annoyances are bothersome, most don't fit into my definition of a pet peeve. Like anyone else, I may occasionally gripe or complain about high prices, or the hot weather, or many other annoyances, but they aren't Pet Peeves. My Pet Peeves are usually some little thing, that just gripes me so bad, that it becomes a Peeve, and it usually is something most others don't even seem to notice. I would imagine, people who make lists of Pet Peeves may be someone's Pet Peeve. So as, I list some of mine, I will try to understand why it annoys me so much. In correlating my pet peeves, I have connected them to other words and terms, that either relate to them or are the origin of them. Terms like bugbear, and problem, and boogie bear.


     In looking at the definitions, I see one says, a particular and often continual annoyance; personal bugbear:   Well I couldn't let that slide, so I had to look up bugbear, since, I have never heard of the word. Wouldn't you know it, I find out, I don't just have Pet peeves, Heck no, I got bugbear's LOL. So now, before, I discuss my Pet Peeves, I will pause to add yet another list of definitions to this story, to connect them. Heck fire, I may yet, find the cause of my pet peeves and trace them all the way back to childhood when, someone said the booger man is gonna get you LOL. So, here is the list of definitions of bugbear. (My goodness, why with the help pf this One Look Dictionary, I could enter a whole new world. I could be a Psychologist, LOL.


Definitions of Bugbear, per various sources:


1. continuing problem: a continuing source of annoyance or difficulty 2. source of fear: a source of obsessive or groundless fear 3. monster: a monster invented to frighten children, traditionally in the form of a bear that eats those who misbehave

noun a cause of anxiety or irritation. ORIGIN probably from the obsolete bug, evil spirit + BEAR.

">1 : an imaginary goblin or specter used to excite fear 2 a : an object or source of dread b : a continuing source of irritation : PROBLEM

noun [C] a particular thing that annoys or upsets you:

NOUN: 1. A bugaboo. 2. A fearsome imaginary creature, especially one evoked to frighten children. ETYMOLOGY: Obsolete bug, hobgoblin (from Middle English bugge, perhaps from Welsh bwg) + bear2.

n 1: an imaginary monster used to frighten children [syn: bogeyman, bugaboo, boogeyman, booger] 2: an object of dread or apprehension; "Germany was always a bugbear for France"; "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds"--Ralph Waldo Emerson [syn: hobgoblin]

Warning:  Pet Peeves and bug bears might be catching, As I list a few of my bugbears, some may be new to you and you may catch it. Read farther at your own risk. LOL


     Now, if you have read the definitions of bugbear, it would seem, if Ralph Waldo Emerson was right, then I am a person, with a little mind. So far in this story, i am coming out pretty messed up. Heck, I got Pet Peeves, and bugbear's, and now I have a little mind. LOL. My lord, i'm falling apart. LOL. That, being said, let us break it down. We will start at the grocery store. Going to the Grocery Store, exposes me to several of my bugbear's, but remember bugbears happen in lots of places. I'm just using the grocery store as one example. It begins, when I walk in the door. I very rarely get a buggy that's worth a flip. The person in front of me will always get one that rolls freely and appears to have no problems. Not me, however, because I always get one that wants to roll left or right due to poor wheel alignment, or one of the wheels is flat, or wont roll at all, or some dang string is wrapped around the front wheel, or I get one you just about get a hernia trying to make it go. It has became a major bug bear to me. (Guess, that's where the saying originated, when they say someone has a bug up his arse., One of the definitions of the word problem is, b : a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation.) So next time somebody ask you do you have a problem, you will know he is really asking, if you have a bug somewhere in you anatomy. LOL Heck I always assumed it meant real bugs, and not bugerbears.) It has got to the point that, I will stand there five minutes checking buggies, until one seems suitable. What the heck, why should I strain myself trying to roll one that's so obviously been ran over by at least 3 cars, and a pickup truck, and kicked by a mule. There have been times when some store manager looked at me flinging buggies left and right, looking for the right one, when I thought they would say something to me. Little do they know, im just waiting to give him a 20 minute lecture about proper buggy maintenance. Let us make that one first on my bugbear Pet Peeve) list. (Item one, poor buggy maintenance), (Major pet peeve to me LOL).


     There, I am walking down the first row of the store, and the buggy, I chose made it about 30 feet before it starts going bump bump bump squeak. I should just quit expecting to ever get a good buggy. Its almost like im being taunted by the buggies squeaky wheels. Ha Ha, got ya again, squeak squeak, the bugbear is gonna get ya again. Several things bother me about the grocery store, that would come under the next item on my list. (Item 2: being cheated or ripped off and manipulated.) I know its mostly just a run of bad luck but a few things, almost makes me wonder, if im jinxed at the store. I can walk up to a huge stack of 10 pound bags of potatoes and pick the only one in the pile, that has a rotten one in it, on the first try. More than once I have gotten home before discovering it, so now, I have to smell the bag before I put it in my squeaky buggy LOL. I can pick a gallon of milk off the shelf, it will be out of date. It took me a while to learn, I better check and see if lids are tight when I pick up a jar of mayonnaise, but those are just annoyances. One bugbear, involves me being ripped off in the meat department. It's small things that irks me the most. Did you ever notice, when you buy a nice steak that looked so good, only to get it home and find the bottom side of the meat caked with the residue of all the bone chips and fat where he sawed it on his saw? Well that is not by accident. He took the time to clean off the top of the meat, so it would look nice and you would be more likely to purchase it. He wasn't being lazy either when he left all that junk on the bottom of the meat. You can scrape off a tablespoon of bone chips, and you should too, unless you like eating bone meal. He left it there so the meat would weigh just a tad more, thereby increasing his profit. They also add water to ground beef to add weight. Ever try to cook a burger and see the water come out and just steam your burger, rather than fry it. Heck if it needs water, I could add that at home for free. They also advertize ground fresh daily hamburger meat. What they aren't telling you is it was ground fresh alright, but yesterdays left over unsold stuff was added back in to it. Did you ever notice, when you break open the meat to make a burger, the inside of it looks dark in spots? That's old meat that was added to it. I cant stand feeling ripped off. If it's old meat lower the price and sell it, don't try ripping me off instead. There is lots of ways the Grocer can rip people off. Far too many to mention now. Oh, and I almost forgot being manipulated. Is it a coincidence that my favorite brand of coffee, or facial tissues, was out of stock? Most likely, not. They have a whole shelf of another brand that isn't selling too good, and they hope you will buy that brand rather than do without. Soon as his junk is about sold, he will drag out a whole pallet of my coffee and stock his shelf. It doesn't matter if im at a grocery store or anywhere else, if a person is trying to sway me to do what they want, I don't like it. Part of my item 2 peeve is, I hate being manipulated.


     There, I am with my buggy about full. I've got my rotten bag of potatoes, and my gallon of sour milk, and a bunch of rotten bone caked, water soaked meat, several boxes of an off brand of tissues that's will probably disintegrate in my fingers when, I blow my nose, ( Now wouldn't that make somebody a fine Pet Peeve : Crummy Tissues that leave you needing to go wash your hands.), and I have some weird brand of coffee, that was probably grown some place in China, and harvested by very short Chinamen who couldn't reach high enough to get the ripe coffee beans. I have loaded my stuff in my squeaky buggy, in such a way that nothing will get damaged by something heavy, and I have a couple of half thawed out, probably stale out of date, pizza pies, sitting up flat on top, so all the goodies wont run to one side of the poorly wrapped pizza's. Some where in there is other things, I wont discover until I get home, like some of my eggs are cracked, the mayonnaise will have a loose lid and smell rank when opened, and lord knows what other abnormalities, I will find. So far I've encountered two serious bugbear's, a squeaky buggy and several dollars worth of bone chips and water. Im headed for the check out lines. Squeak squeak bump bump squeak bump, ha ha told ya so, the wheels seem to say. Some how, I fail to notice that every time, the wheels bump, im leaving a trail of sugar through the store, due to a hole in the bag. I almost dread going to the checkout, because there, Im certain to encounter one of my biggest ever bugbear's. I think to myself, how I've done pretty good keeping my cool so far. I see the shortest line and am almost to it when some fat lady, with a thousand dollars worth of the stores defective products, races ahead and jumps in the line ahead of me. For a moment there, I consider bumping her with my buggy, but she has so much padding back there, that she probably wont even notice, or even worse, she may enjoy it. I shudder as, I think to myself, "heavens to mergatroyd", and I quickly find another line.


     Now I have been in the store for over an hour. Twenty minutes of which, has been waiting in this line, behind a lady with a small toddler in the seat. He wouldn't be a bad looking kid if MAMA would at least once, take the time to wipe the trail of snot that's dripping from his nose, but she either can't see it, or thinks it's ok to just let his nose run. In the last few minutes the toddler has reached out, and grabbed at least five different pieces of candy from the display case, and held them in his mouth and dirty little hands that mama probably hasn't washed in a week. Occasionally as she reads the latest issue of some smut magazine, she will take the candy from the kid and place it back on the display, for the next unsuspecting shopper to buy, but the kid just gets another one. I think, I will never buy a piece of candy from one of those places again. Finally mama is paying for her groceries. She is digging in her pocketbook for loose change, while she holds a folded twenty dollar bill in her lips, so her hands will be free to dig for change. She hands the cashier the forty seven cents she was looking for, then takes the folded twenty dollar bill from her lips, and hands it still folded to the cashier. To my amazement she takes the money and unfolds it and shoves it in her cash drawer without even considering, she may have just been exposed to typhoid, or aids, or something. I personally would not have touched the money, but apparently the cashier is cool with it.


     At this point, in my story, I will go ahead and tell you. My absolute worse bugbear at the grocery store is squashed bread. Im constantly on the guard against it. Nothing irks me quite as bad as to get home and try making a sandwich with a loaf of bread that has been squashed? Have you ever tried to straighten a slice of bread that has been reduced to practically a dough ball? It can't be done, all you wind up with is a ring of bread crust with a large hole in it. While MAMA is paying for her groceries, I get most of mine piled on the counter so they can be rung up. Actually now days they don't ring up, they just beep it (scan it). Now it's my turn, and I tell the young lady as she grabs my two loaves of bread, "I want my bread put in a paper sack please". She sets it to one side, and begins to start scanning my stuff. I make a point to tell the bag boy about the need for a paper sack for the bread. Now here's two used to be, frozen pizza's. Think about them a moment. When they were made at the pizza factory they were made while laying flat. They were stored in a box that said this end up. They were trucked all the way to the store still laying flat. They were displayed in the grocers freezer laying flat. They have made it all the way to this cash register, still laying flat. What does the girl do. She tips them up on the side to scan them. They don't scan right away, sot she flings them back and forth in front of the scanner still up on their side. Well we all know what is happening. All them pepperoni's and little sausage balls and what ever other toppings were on it, are now shook to one side of the box, in fact most of the graded cheese is on one side too. Still they wont scan so what does she do. She deduces it must be all the moisture on the box so she uses her hand to wipe the moisture from the box. That's right, it's the same darn hand, that a few minutes earlier held a disease infested, slobbered up, germ ridden twenty dollar bill. She begins a race scanning my stuff and flinging it down the slide to the bag boy who is stuffing things in any order, in a race to keep up with her, and he is piling the bags in a buggy, on top of each other. Some where down in that pile of defective products is a four and a half pound bag of sugar squashing my tomatoes. My pizza's are in there on their side as well. About that time, I see him toss my loaf bread in a plastic sack and throw them in too. I momentarily loose it at that point. Customers four rows away can hear me shout at the nineteen year old kid, "Boy how would you like those loaves of bread shoved up your nose." I quickly regain my composure, and the manager shows up asking if I have a problem. Heck yes, I got a problem, you just sold me two bags of bread dough that used to be loaf bread, for one dollar and eighty nine cents each. After making the manager get me more bread, I roll yet another defective buggy towards my truck, while I think, darn, I almost made it. I almost got by that bugbear, but I finally lost my cool. The crap we retired railroaders have to put up with....... LOL


Derrick Food

By Walter Parks

     I will write a little about what it was like working on the Derrick Crew, especially regarding Derrick Food, and relate it to you from a Carman's point of view. So it makes seance to entitle this story Derrick Food, although it will discuss other matters as well. Since there is no written record of what it was like working on our Derrick, which was the Atlanta Derrick, for the Southern Railroad, and deals primarily with the time period of the 1970"s and 1980"s. The way things were handled then, stayed that way, until the Railroad, in their total lack of wisdom, decided to get rid of the Derricks, and Wrecker Cranes. I left Atlanta, in 1983, for an outlying one man point, so I wasn't there when the 150 year old tradition of Railroad men handling train wrecks, ceased to be. Perhaps that's a good thing, due to the fact I didn't have to be there at the end, and see our 250 Ton Brownhoist Wrecking Crane roll out of town for the last time, destined to be either scrapped, or live out the remainder of its existence lifting steel, at some Scrap Yard somewhere. I have a few pictures posted on my   Derrick   and my   Derrick Photo Album   page, and if you haven't looked at them, maybe you will stop and look at a Historical Piece of Railroad Equipment, that, in many ways, out performed the Sidewinders now being used by Private Contractors, to clear wrecks. But, I digress. That debate will perhaps be discussed in a future story. (I had hoped more Photo's, would have been contributed by now, but for now those are all I have to show you.)


I should explain a few things, so that you can better understand why, we had Derrick Food Supplied to us at Train Wrecks. Those few of us who were permanent Crew Members of the Derrick, were expected to drop what ever we were doing, when a Train Wreck occurred. We kept a locker on one of the Coach Cars, with a Suitcase of clothes in it, ready to go at all times. When a Wreck occurred, it was often an Emergency situation. There was no time for packing clothes, and food, to take, because often fellow Railroad Worker's very Lives may be on the line. There were times when Trainmen were trapped, and injured or killed at wrecks, so we never knew when our quick response to a wreck, might make all the difference to someone. Many were the days, when some family function, or Holiday was quickly halted to race to Atlanta, and man the Derrick train headed for, often many days of hard back breaking work, dragging heavy steel cables back and forth to wrecked Locomotives and rail cars, and reassembling the Trucks (Wheel Assemblies). Wrecks were most often in very remote places. Once the railroad starts at a Wreck Site, they don't stop until the Main Line is cleared, so that the Railroad could once again resume operation. Once the Main Line was cleared, we could ease off some and just work at the site between the times of passing trains. One thing about a train wreck is when it happens, the whole railroad stops functioning for a while, and time to them is money. The Railroads and Unions agreed, and it was put in our contract, that we would be well fed. I mean it aint exactly like you could stop, and go out to lunch very often. But after you have been on the clock for hours, you did tend to get hungry. I recall one wreck we went to, that we worked for, around twenty six hours non stop until the main line was cleared, Of course it was around 13 days all total before the wreck site was cleaned up. Once we got a wreck cleared we would work 14 to 16 hour days, and go to a Motel to sleep at night. The Mechanical Department didn't come under the 12 work law that effects the Transportation Department. They could work us until we dropped.


     Years back, the railroad kept a cook car on the train, and all they had to do was stop and eat when it was done, but in later years the railroad opted for bringing take out food to us. That led to more expense to them im sure, but they made that decision. It often led to problems. One passable reason, they discontinued the cook car was probably, due to the time in the early 60's before my time when the entire Derrick was killed on the cook car, when a run away car plowed into it. It often meant some little country mom and pop restaurant came into a windfall of money suddenly cooking, and sending out lots of go orders. Now when a Train Wreck occurred, you might think feeding our little 5 or 6 man crew, would be no big deal, but it was a big deal. Legally we were the only one's who had to be fed, but it never happened that way. A train Wreck is often like a Circus of sorts. There would be us 6 little Indians running around wrecking, and from no where twenty Chiefs would show up. There was always too many Chiefs, and not enough Indians. When there was work to be done, we were the ones doing it all. When it came time to eat suddenly they would all show up. I certainly didn't begrudge them getting to eat as well, but it often seemed, the Railroad Special Services Department, (The railroad Police who inherited the duty of supplying food), often forgot how to count. We were suppose to be fed within the fifth hour of a shift, but when you been on duty several shifts non stop, that's a lot of five hour periods. It would very often be way more hours before food arrived. The Track Repair crews had to be fed as well, but it was common practice to feed everyone if at all passable. Train Crews who were there to move the Derrick around, who by the way were relieved at the ends of their shifts, and Contractors and all those Chiefs who showed up in their Company Cars from lord knows where, were fed as well. That was fine with us, but it really bothered most of us, was when we often had to keep working, while others ate. More often than, I care to count we didn't get enough to eat. I recall once, when my nerves were on edge at a Derailment up near Greenville South Carolina, when I had enough of it. We finally were told we could stop and go eat. I approached the man handing out the food, and he handed me a small plate of food, and I sat down on the axle of a near by pair of wheels and began to eat. It was a small portion of what was suppose to be beef stew, but it was mostly fat. I wolfed it down, and went and asked for another plate of food. I was told, I couldn't have another, because others still had to be fed. I asked the man, "Don't you suppose if, I was at home, as I am suppose to be by now, and my wife didn't put enough food on the table, that, I would most likely have a fit." Well, I was fit to be tied, and I pretty well cussed the guy out on the spot. I went to the Head General Foreman who was nearby and said, "give me your truck keys." He handed them to me, and as I walked away, he said, "where are you going". "Im going to get me something to eat, and when I've done that I will return", and I drove off in the mans truck. I finally found a Hamburger joint and spent my last 20 dollars buying a huge bag of burgers. I returned to the wreck, and took two out for myself, and handed out the others to my fellow Carmen, who were hungry as well, and I sat back on that same axle, and slowly ate my burgers. The food guy, (Can't recall his name now), must have had a good talking to, while I was gone. For years after that, when ever we were at a wreck, he would go out of his way to come ask me if, I wanted more to eat. In later years, they seemed to rely mostly on Waffle House Food, which is ok but, it can get old in a hurry, eating the same stuff over and over. We always's gave any extra food we had to the Train Crews and other workers when we had stuff left over. I think for a long time, I cured them from forgetting how to count, when it came to buying us food. When we finally did get to a Hotel, and got cleaned up, we would hit their restaurant and eat our fill. We were usually starved when we got there, and they perhaps thought we were starving to death, the way we gobbled up everything they had to eat.


     I remember one time, we were coming back from a wreck on the Derrick Train, and we were hungry, and hadn't been fed in some time. They would have had trouble finding us anyway, as we were rolling south, and waiting in sidings for other priority trains to run.(Going to wrecks our train was top priority, but returning we went to the bottom of the list.) We were rolling south, when we spotted a Kentucky Fried Chicken Joint across this four lane highway. We called the Engineer and made him stop the Train, and 6 dirty greasy looking Carmen, piled out of that Train, and swarmed the chicken joint. The place was packed with customers waiting to order. As we entered, you would have thought, they never seen working men before. The crowd sort of parted to the sides, like Moses parting the Red Sea, and we walked up to the counter, and had our orders filled with due haste, as im sure they were glad to see we ordered it to go. LOL Later on, after we acquired newer Coach Cars, we got a Microwave Oven and started keeping a few canned good on standby for emergencies.


     Mentioning the Microwave reminds me of an accident I had on the Coach Car. We were sitting in a siding, while the Engines were running around us to couple to the other end of us, and head us back to Atlanta. We had some Coffee there from earlier in the morning, which was quite cold now, but my industrious mind thought of the Microwave. Voila, I can have hot coffee, I thought. I filled a Styrofoam cup with coffee, and zapped it pretty good with all them micro rays. I went and sat down in a seat. That coffee was super heated, and I didn't realize just how hot it was, and couldn't feel the heat, due to the fact it was in a Styrofoam cup. I got that hot coffee to my lips to sip a bit, and see if it was hot, and just as I started to sip, they coupled up with the locomotives. Now most good Engineers can couple up so softly, and make what is referred to as an eggshell coupling. As luck would have it for me that night, the Engineer, decided to see if he could knock us out of our seats. Just as, I sipped, he coupled up. I suddenly had half of a cup of super heated scalding coffee in my mouth, and running down the sides of my face. As the coffee ran down, it burned my face like a Fu Manchu mustache, and ran on my chest, and generally burnt hell out of me. I ran to the sink, grabbed cubes of ice to try cooling off quick. Some of the guys thought it was comical the way I ran to the sink for ice, (perhaps not realizing I was burned), but, I failed to see any humor in it. Needless to say, the Engineer received a few choice words from me over the radio. Except for getting me burned, that Microwave was a blessing for us. We could heat up the cold food they brought us. Of course, we were kind of use to eating stuff like, gritcicles, and dried out eggs LOL A gritcicle is when the grits are so cold you can stick them with a fork, and pick up the whole helping of grits, like a pop sickle.


     To finish off this story, I will tell you how horse playing with food almost got me seriously hurt, and quite possibly killed. We still had to old turn of the century Coaches then. One was the Tool Car and the other one we rode in. It didn't have much seating room. I recall there were two sets of seats. Usually two of us didn't have a place to sit, except for some old straight back chairs by the old stove in the corner. The horse play the way, I remember went something like this. Carman Greg Reed was in a somewhat feisty mood and for some reason, that I can't remember, he was throwing cold hard dinner rolls at car man David Ellington. I was standing near David, and had to dodge a few dinner rolls. One whopped David in the back of the head and he got up from his seat, to retrieve it and return it in the same manner he had received it. As David got up from his seat, and started throwing the roll back at Greg, I seized the opportunity, to acquire the seat David had just vacated. I was almost in the seat, when David realized, he was going to loose his seat, and he promptly rushed to quickly sit back down. We both got there at the same time, and a shoving match for the seat began. I was trying to push him off me and he was determined to shove me off the seat. I underestimated just how strong that fellow was. He pushed me like a football player blocking for a quarterback. That old Coach had old style windows in it, sort of like house windows. As David shoved me back, I was pushed through the closed window which exploded and broke out as I went through it. Glass flew everywhere around me and, I suddenly found myself on the out side of the coach hanging on to the sides of the window sill. I can assure you that, it's a scary feeling to suddenly be on the outside of a train, especially when it's going down the Main Line at forty miles per hour. Having the seat suddenly had less importance than getting myself back inside. I had a pretty good grip by then, and they managed to pull me back inside. We went to the tool car afterwards and got another window that happened to be in storage there, and replaced that window before we got back to Atlanta, and the Foreman, who was asleep at the time, was never the wiser, that it happed at all. Im pretty sure if we hadn't fixed the window some discipline would have resulted for sure. We were pretty good at working together, especially when trying to cover something up.


     There are a good many tales about the Derrick and train wrecks, that can and may be told. Hopefully we will add some more. In conclusion, we were a hard working crew, who got along well together, most of the time. I truly wish, I would of had the foresight to take photo's at Train Wrecks, but we were always too busy working to think of such things. Those of us who are still alive, were left with memories, some not very pleasant about Wrecks, that will remain with us all our lives, and I consider it a privilege to have been an Atlanta Derrick Crew member. As far as food goes, you won't find many of us eating at a Waffle House, as we had our fill of that greasy spoon chow.

The Big Send Off

A Caboose

By Walter Parks

     I thought I would tell about the Old Conductor, that we constantly played practical jokes on. It has been around twenty years ago, but I still remember him, although I cant recall his name.


     I remember that he was a colorful old man with an easy going nature and I think he kind of liked the attention and really did not mind the practical jokes. He had been with Southern Railway for over forty years. Everyone liked him, and the only one he really disliked was the Train master, who seemed to constantly cause him problems. More than once we had to get between them to keep them from coming to blows. He was the Conductor on an East bound Pig Train, called 222East. When 222 East ran, all other trains got out of its way as, it was running Passenger Train Status and speeds.


     I can't remember all the jokes we played on him, but I remember a few. Once we chained his Grip Bag to the hand railing of the caboose and hid the chain where he couldn't see it then, we laughed at him when he tried to pick it up and couldn't. Once someone put a heavy cast iron brake shoe (which weighed maybe 15 pounds) In the bottom of his grip and it was several days later before he discovered why his bag was suddenly so heavy. Someone put a live lizard in his lunch box one day and there were lots of other things we did to him.


     The old Conductors duties were to get his weigh bills in order and double up his train from the various tracks it was built in, while it was our job to inspect the train and put brakes shoes on and make running repairs to assure that the train was safe to go on its way. Each day I would see him looking, to try and find out what practical joke we may have played on him this time, and when there was no practical joke I think he was a little disappointed. We always found time to get on the caboose and share a cup of his coffee that he made on top of the old coal stove, and we would sit and have a laugh or two about what had been done to him or just talk to him a while.


     I was there when he made his last run before closing his 43 years career with the railroad. He knew we must have done something to him, from the silly grins we had on our faces, but he couldn't figure it out. I know y'all done something, he said, but no one let on what it may be.


     He doubled up his train and shoved the last cut to a coupling on the caboose. I ran the brake test and told him he was good to go. I watched as he tossed his grip up on the rear platform and grabbed hold of the hand rail and swung up onto the step, and I think it was with a heavy heart,and a tear in his eye, because he knew his career was over and this was the last time he would be riding out on his caboose.


     I remember him clearly standing on the rear platform, waving good bye to us, as the train started to pull away. His mouth fell open as there was 5 or 6 very loud explosions, Boom---Boom---Boom---Boom----Boom and he finally knew what we had done. We had placed live Torpedoes on the rail that explode when ran over by a train. (For those who don't know, Torpedoes are used to signal a train to stop in an emergency). I can still see the twinkle in his eyes as he waved his fist at us and shouted at us---You dirty birds I will get you.


     We waved and called to him--Bye Joe, have a nice retirement.     

The Sandwich

By Walter Parks

     Car men in the Train yards on our railroad stay at a Shack that is at various places along the Train yard, so that they will be close to the part of the trains they are suppose to work. They park their cars there and keep there stuff in the shack.


     A fellow Carknocker was working Air, on outbound trains, at the Forwarding Yard. (Outbound Train yard) When he returned from working a train, and entered his shack, he was shocked to find a hobo sitting at the table, calmly eating the Car mans lunch from his lunch box. He was shocked to see this and asked the hobo, What are you doing? The hobo said not a word, but calmly finished the last sandwich and took a napkin from the lunch box and wiped his mouth. He got up and slid the chair back and looked at the carman and said. Boy.........the next time.......I come through town..........you better...........have some mayonnaise on them sandwiches. He turned and walked out the door, leaving a dumbfounded car man scratching his head in disbelief.


John Clark

By Walter Parks

In the image John Clark is kneeling bottom left corner, I am kneeling on his left


     In my 34 year career with the rairoad, I encountered many a colorful old railroader, many of whom merit mention. If you looked at the picture of the Carknockers, Carman Class on my home page, you probably saw the old man kneeling next to me on the front row. He was the very first I ran into, so this story is what, I remember about him.


     His name was John Clark. He swore quite a bit, and was quick to express his opinion, when we said or did something he didnt like. I wont repeat the explatives he used, when he spoke, but you can imagine what they may have been, as I quote some things he had to say. He had a very intimidating way about him, and most of the guys disliked him. I was 23 years old, and fresh out of the Navy and was quite use to the type of language he used, but like everyone else, I also was a little scared of him. When I looked at him I just saw a grumpy old man. Now that I am getting older, I tend to look at him in a differant light. I didnt see the man who had spent his whole life working on the railroad, and life on the railroad, during his time was much harder than it is these days. I didnt see the man, whose knowledge was vast compared to mine at the time. I didnt really see, that he was just trying to teach us the best way he knew how. One thing is for sure and that is, that anyone he taught never forgot him. He is burned into each and ever one of our memories.


     I was one of five men from that class who was destined to work in Atlanta and of the five, he made it quite plain that I was his least favorite. I seemed to agitate him tremendously. I think he thought, I would not make it, but if he thought that he was wrong. Only two of us stayed with the railroad, and I am the only one left alive. He made sure that I started on the bottom of the senority list at the railroad, so when I reflect on it now I think I must have agitated him a lot.


     I recall once we were working on the old boxcar and I was trying to hold up the tie strap, that runs under the draft gear. I was straining to hold it up so the other guys could bolt it in place. The old man saw me straining, and looking quite flustered, and he snapped at me with a flurry of explatives, and said in a loud voice so that everyone else could hear him, Boy---get a bar and hold that thing up, instead of standing there with you tongue hanging out like a red necktie. I recall thinking, how does he expect me to do that when its obvious I have my hands full. Once I was burning plate steel with a cutting torch, and I let the hot slag burn a hole in the Acetylene hose, which promptly caught fire. The whole time, that I was running to the tanks to turn off the gas, he was right on my heels snapping at me like the Sargent snapping at Gommer Pyle. Boy whats the matter with you, cant you see the blankity blank things on fire. I think teaching us by example was his way, so now Im sure now he was yelling at me to benfit the rest of the class, as to the dangers involved. I was just unfortunate enough, to be the one under the gun. But at the time all I could see was a crazy old man. Once when we were working on the boxcar relineing the inside with tongue and groove pine boards, I was handing boards up to the guys inside nailing them up, the old man said, when yall get all this stuff picked up you can quit for the day. I promptly started picking the boards up in great number, thinking my day was about through. The old man saw me and called the whole class in to a group and singled me out and gave us an hour lecture. He called me up front and put his hand on my shoulder and said, I want yall to look at this blankity blank. All day he has been handing up boards one at a time and when I say he can go home he picks up the whole blankity blank pile and carries it off. I didnt get the object of that lesson, unless he thought I was being lazy handing them up one at a time, but heck, they can only nail one at a time I thought.


     My point is, that we did learn stuff from him, that stayed with us for the rest of our careers, so for that I thank him. So, John Clark, where ever you are, heaven or hell, I understand you much better today than I did then. Thanks old man.






My Disney World Train Ride

By Walter Parks

     I was just remembering my last ride on the Train that runs at Disney World. It was some years back and I had taken my then younger children, to see the place. I still remember some of the frantic folks on the Train, yelling and having a fit because I was getting off the train. Their conserns of my sudden departure from the train, may have been, due to the fact, that we were still going about 15 miles an hour and it wasn't a scheduled place of departure. I guess I understand their consern, as a few of them may have thought, that I was commiting suicide at the time, but nothing could have been further from the truth.


     I should elaborate the events leading up to my removing my person from the train, as you may be assuming, that there couldn't be any logical reason why any sane man would do what I did. Even my wife thought I must have lost my mind, because she looked as shocked as the rest of the folks did, but I didnt have the time, to wait around and offer them an explanation. All they knew was that, they were surely watching an idiot.


     I had seen something, that no one else on the train or even in the park had seen and it alarmed me greatly. The train was going into a slight curve to the left. The whistle was blowing and the bell was ringing, and there was considerable noise at the time. Every one on the train was looking to the right to see things going on in the park and there was nothing on the left side of the train to see except an embankment, down into an unused part of the place. Nothing for anyone to see except for me that is.


     I was on the out side of the wide bench type seats, in the next to the last car, and being more intrested in the train than the park, I was looking up the left side of the train to see the Steam Engine and was watching the drivers at work. That's what us Car Inspectors do, we watch trains. So even on vacation, I was Car Inspecting.


     You cant imagine the fear I felt when much to my utter shock, I had seen a little girl fall from the vicinity of the first car behind the locomotive. I saw her little body flip and tumble down the embankment, like a sack of potatoes being thrown. I just knew she needed help and I was going to provide it. It all happened very fast.


     You see in my job over the years I had gotten on and off moving trains many times. It was something the old heads had taught us to do. Even though it wasn't legal for us to do that we did it every day, in order to save ourselves a couple of miles of walking. So my getting off the train was just like any other day to me. By the time the car I was riding on got to the spot where she had fell I was already off, and in the process of a running dismount. I remember thinking. I sure hope she isn't badly hurt.


     I got to the child in short order and scooped her up in my arms, and by then she was crying pretty loud, and much to my relief she didn't apear too badly hurt, except for some scrapes and abrasions. In short order the train had gotten stopped, and the childs frantic father was running back to us. I assured him she was OK and in no time at all, we were back on the train and proceding to their next Station, where we were met by a team of Disney representative, who promptly took her to be checked by their doctor. One of them asked me if I was OK and did I need medical attention. I said no just point us to where Mickey Mouse is, we been looking for that joker all day. I never found out how the child made out, but I suspect Disney changed their policy that day of letting children ride on the outside of the parents. If I had not seen her fall, no one would have known to stop the train and it may have been some time before she was found. I hope she wasn't too badly hurt.









The Tornado

By Walter Parks

     I was just remembering the Tornado of March 2, 1975. and thought I would tell what I remember about it. Some of the things seem funny to me now, but at the time it was no laughing matter, especially those of us who lived through it. The Tornado swooped through neighborhoods, and industrial areas alike, even doing heavy damage to the Governor's Mansion. Damages totaled over 56 million dollars.


     It was about 7:30 A.M. on a dreary rainy morning. I was working at the Repair Track then and had just come on duty at 7 A.M. I worked Track one at the time making running repairs. Usually heavier repairs, were assigned to other tracks, and that suited me just fine, because I prefered to do running repairs. On my arival I was somewhat preturbed, because the Third Shift had, shoved the cars in my track too far and the first car there for me to work on, was outside the protection of the roof of the shed, we worked under, and that ment I was going to have to work out in the rain.


     The day shift men had not yet started their work and were all standing around some electric heaters we had set up at the back of the shed. They were having thier morning coffee and having a bull session. I thought to myself, that they could talk all they want and watch me work, but I was going to fly into that empty Piggyback Flat and break the worlds record of completing the Third shifts repairs on the spring type carry Iron they had been repairing, before the rains hit again, and then I could stand by the heaters and watch them work a while.


     I got right to work and had the welding hood down over my head and was welding up a storm, and was completely oblivious to the storm that was brewing behind me. I had a good steady bead of weld going and was making good time towards completing the welding portion of the job. Someone called my name and shouted come here. I ignored them but they kept calling me, but I just shouted out from under the welding hood "Can't yall see I'm busy.


     At that time the aproaching Tornado was within a quarted of a mile of me and was coming on fast straight at us. To my bewilderment, the electricity went off, due to the power lines being destroyed that supplied the shed with power. I remember thinking, as I layed the helmet down on the car that oh well I tried, guess I will go see what they want with me. I was meandering their direction when someone shouted in an authoratative voice that sent chills up my spine. "you better run" they called. One quick look over my shoulder told me they were right, and that I needed to proceed from where I was, post haste. What I saw when I looked back was an awful sight. The sky was filled with debris and Tri Levels (Automobile Carrier Cars) were flipping over in the trainyard adjacent to the rip track shed, like toys.


     Now you can imagine that their isn't much protection under a flat roofed shed that is about 30 feet high and has no sides. Earl over on Track three disapeared up under the center sill of a boxcar. Our electrician was attaching himself to a big corner I_Beam that held up the whole shed. Some of the men huddled in a small wooden structure where the Car Foremen did his paper work, and I was running across the shed in a dead run to the only place I could see to go, and that was a small tin structure that was the rest-room. I know I told you at the beginning,that this was funny to me, so I will explain so you wont think I'm total nut.


     Now it so happened that one little old man named Charlie, who was our Derrick Engineer, always had his morning constiutional about 7:30 every morning and normally, nobody would get within 30 feet of that bathroom, due to the smell that always drifted from there when Charlie was doing his business, and that morning was no exception. All of a sudden Charlie, had several men in there with him suddenly desiring his company. Here I came running in there as well. Charlie was sitting there with his pants down and completely bewildered as to what was happening, and I flew into the stall with him and was standing with my back to him trying desprately to hold the wall of the stall up with both hands, which was by now shaking like crazy. I remember thinking, I'm gonna die in the toilet with old Charlie. I looked over at Mr. Avery who seemed completely satisfied to stand there in front of the urinal puffing his cigar. I thought now there is a man with a habit. We are gonna die and all he can think of is getting one last puff on that cigar. Behind me Charlie spoke up and said "I can't find the toilet paper". In the height of my fear it struck me very funny. I spoke up and said "just stick your butt out the door Charlie and I believe you can remidy that situation".





Snakes

Image of Walter Parks

By Walter Parks

     Being from the South and having grown up in Georgia and Florida, and taking into consideration my age, and that I have always worked and played outdoors, you can pretty well assume, it's a sure bet, that I've had my encounters with snakes. In that light, I thought I would share some snake experiances with you. I suppose I could write a book about the subject, but considering that, this is a short story, I will, but briefly touch on some of the highlights of my experiances. If you have ever been tramatized by a snake, you will be more able to relate to what I have to say about them. As a boy of the age of Five or Six, I was so severely, frightened by a snake that it affected me forever, so that is where I begin this story.


     My brothers and I, lived at that time in McRae Ga. with our mother. We were usually clad only in a pair of shorts and nothing else, and played and roamed the small Saw Mill Community, that was across from and attached to, what was then the Sheppard Lumber Company, where my Grandfather was employed as a cruiser. I tell you all this, so you will have the true image of a tough barefoot little boy running up and down the dirt roads and woods and who was afraid of virtually nothing. Little did I know at the time, that that would all change, but lifes experiances is what makes a child grow up, and hopefully they will leave you somewhat wiser.


     One summers day, my mother wanted some Blackberries to make a pie. We went down the road to a large Blackberry Patch that was, maybe half as big as a Football field. It was one huge briar patch. I had my bowl pretty full of berries and had meandered through the maze of briars all the way to the back of the patch next to the woods. I think I had eaten more than I picked and was tired of this berry picking stuff, when I spotted some pretty blue flowers, and thought, what a good idea, I will pick those flowers as well and suprize her when I emerge back on their side by the road.


     I aproached the flowers, and began picking them, when something at my feet caught my attention. I had always been told to by my Grandfather to watch out for snakes, but snakes wasn't even on my mind, and the only snakes I had ever seen were small things that were perhaps 2 or 3 feet long, so I suppose it stands to reason that I didn't recognize the thing stretched out lengthwise right at my feet was a huge Diamondback Rattlesnake. That thing had to be 7 or 8 feet long and was bigger in diameter than a mans arm. I was in awe of how pretty his designs were and I thought, oh my, this big hose laying here sure is neat. I leaned forward to touch it and my hand was within a few inches of its head when the snake who had been laying there sunning him self began to slowly draw up and I detected the movement. It didn't take my young mind long to begin the reasoning process that this was something to be careful with, and when I focused my eyes on his head it was looking back at me. I had finally figgered out what it was and desided, that perhaps it was time to depart the briar patch. In an instant, I desided he needed the bowl of berries and the handfull of blue flowers a lot worse than I did, so I promptly let him hold them. I also desided, that rather than fight the maze of turns through all the briars, that there was a definate need for a new path straight through the briar patch, directly to the dirt road, which was about 100 feet away, and I promptly began the construction of said path.


     I was screaming at the top of my lungs, Snake--Snake--Snake, and it must have been quite a sight to my younger brother and mother, when they saw my little bare skinned ass, doing olimpic style jumps over and directly through the briars. By the time I reached where they were, my younger brother was tugging at her skirt asking if he could go see the snake, but I couldn't hear her answer to him, because by then I was several hundred yards down the road, in a dead run for home.


     Now it should be noted at this point, that I have had many encounters with snakes, both poison and non poison, and can deal with them just fine, except for those rare occasions when I am caught unaware and find myself in the immediate vacinity of one of these slimy things. When that happens, my mind reverts back, even if for only a moment or two, to being 6 years old again, and to the fear that was so vividly burned into my memory that day. I will relate a few of these instances in finishing this story.


     Once after having moved to live with my Father and Step Mother in Florida, I was walking down to the bank of the Eau Gallie River, and pushed my way under some palm fronds, and a Green Snake fell from above me and wrapped it self around my neck. Let me tell you this, when that happens your mind doesn't say. oh it's just a Green Snake, it says Snake---Snake---Snake


     Once in Raymond Georgia while driving my Railroad Truck through some heavy growth of trees and bushes, to get in to the Trainyard there, a Green Snake was flipped from one of the limbs through my open window, and it landed directly in my lap. Again my mind said to me Snake---Snake---Snake. I promptly let him have control of the vehicle, while I removed myself from his immediate vacinity.


     In finishing this story I will relate one more instance, worthy of mention. I had to go out on the old abandoned M-Line and inspect 200 Insulated Boxcars that had been stored there for a couple of years, and were now being moved and had to be inspected. The bushes were head high in most places as I walked down the long cut of cars, I was walking cautiously checking not only the train, but the bushes as well. From time to time as you check a long cut of cars that has been parked there at various times, you occasionally look across the other side and see an Angle cock Valve closed, where the train crews had made their last coupling when they shoved the cars in there. That valve has to be opened, in order for the Air Brakes to work when the locomotives come to pull the cars.


       About a mile down the track I looked over and saw an Angle cock closed and stepped through the bushes into the guage of the rail between the boxcars, and while watching the bushes behind me I leaned my body over the couplers and reached down untill I felt the valve handle on the other side of the couplers and twisted it open. Well, no sooner had I done that and was still in the leaned over position over the couplers, I detected movement under my right armpit. I glanced down toward my arm pit and sure enough I had reached across a dark colored snake that was on top of the couplers, without realizing it and as I looked down his face was right in mine and his head was reared up, and it was if he was asking me, what do you want fool. Immediately, I was 6 years old again and the words came to my mind once more Snake---Snake---Snake. I broke the worlds record for a backwards jump removing my self from between the boxcars. As I fell backwards through the bushes, I thought to my self "I aint getting paid enough for this job." I looked back and caught a glimpse of the snake disapearing over the horn of the coupler up inside the Center Sill where the draft gear is.


     Later that day when I returned to the Depot, the train crew was in for the day and preparing to go home. The Conductor was there and I told him the 200 cars were ready to be pulled, when ever they got around to it, and I related the story of the snake to him. He asked me "What kind of snake was it". I thought about it briefly and replied, "George, he didn't offer to show me his credentials and I didn't ask to see his I.D. Card."



My friend, The Bank Robber

By Walter Parks

     In my years as a Carman, I encountered a lot of, shall we say, unsavory characters. This is my recollections of one such person. He really seemed like a nice enough guy, when you talked to him, and you would not know he was a Bank Robber, unless of course you asked him, and then he would laughingly tell you about it in detail. This is the story of the time I made friends with a Bank Robber.


     I was working the Day Shift at the Rip Track, at the time, and I was given a Road trip. (That's what we called jumping in a big truck and going somewhere, to repair a railcar) It was a road trip to the Atlanta Federal penitentiary. I believe it was Carman David that I went with that day. I remember looking at the trip sheet and thinking to myself, what in the world, would a Boxcar be doing at the Federal Pen. at all, least of all, one reported to be off center, and requiring our services.


     On our arrival at the front entrance to the pen, we entered a big Chain Link gate, covered with razor wire, that was right under a Guard Tower. We were told to follow the road, that circled inside the high stone walls of the prison, until we got to the big warehouse in the back, and there we would find the Boxcar. We did and soon found the car sitting beside their big loading dock. There were prisoners standing around watching us as we got out to check the car. Sure enough the car was off center, and would have to be jacked up, and the Trucks rolled out some, and the center pin replaced so it could be pulled from the facility.


     We got right to work, and off loaded the big jacks from the back of the truck with the boom and set them as close as we could to the car. When one of the guards standing around saw we had to physically lift them around the side of the car, he assigned several prisoners to pitch in and help us. One industrious little man pitched right in and helped us place the blocks as well, and soon we were jacking the car up. The little man was very friendly, and asked us a million questions, and seamed quite interested in the whole job.


     I asked the little man what was in the boxcar, I learned it was a load of bales of cotton. I was smoking a cigarette and saw the little man watching as though he really wanted one, so I offered him one, which he declined, saying that the guard wouldn't like it. I told him that I was going to lay my pack of cigarettes down and if he was so inclined that he was welcome to take the whole pack if he got the chance to pick it up unnoticed, and that seemed to tickle him greatly. I asked the little man what he was in prison for and he said laughingly "I cleaned out the drive up window over at the C. and S. Bank." It dawned on me that the little man didn't know right from wrong, and that he was several bricks short of a full load, and that he surely didn't have both oars in the water.


     I noticed that all the prisoners were wearing tan khaki coveralls. I asked the little man about the coveralls, and learned that they were made right there in the warehouse by the prisoners, and that the coveralls were sent to various prisons all over the country. The little man said "they are nice material don't ya think, that's what we use the cotton for." I commented that they were indeed nice coveralls. I was thinking to myself, I wonder why they don't have to wear clothing with black and white stripes on it. The little man disappeared and we were finishing up the job and I checked, and sure enough the pack of cigarettes, I had left laying were gone. I thought well he's somewhere smoking a cigarette.


     Shortly there after a fork lift came zooming down the road past our truck and I saw it was the little man going past us, looking quite inocent and non chalant. As he passed our truck he tossed something up inside the open drivers window of our truck. I asked Carman David what it was and he said, "I believe your buddy just tossed a set of new coveralls in the truck for you". As we finished up our work and got ready to climb up in the truck, I saw the little man standing on the loading dock, waiting for some acknowledgement from me regarding the transaction that had taken place. He was looking at me as if to say, "I can still pull the wool over their eyes occasionally". We climbed up in the truck and I looked back at him and said "Thanks for everything. If you ever get out of here stay away from the banks". We laughed about the little man on the way back to the rail yard.


     Several weeks later Carman David came to pick me up and we were headed back to the Federal Pen. to fix another boxcar. I climbed in the truck and David looked at me and laughed. I asked what was so funny and he asked me "are you gonna wear them coverals over there?" I had gotten so use to wearing them at work I forgot where I got them. I said "Nope you keep the motor running, i"m going to the locker room and change clothes, I sure don't want them thinking, i'm one of the inmates. They might want to keep me."




Nostalgia

Image of Walter Parks by A boxcar

By Walter Parks

NOSTALGIA

     Nostalgia, might seem, an odd topic for a story, especially on this railroad related web site, but this web site is about more than that. It is about our lives in general, and nostalgia effects virtually everyone's life, no matter what field of endeavor, they may pursue. My opinion, which matters to myself most of all, is that, if a person isn't affected by feelings of nostalgia, at one time or other, then they aren't normal, or have not yet matured. I think it is something that affects older people much more than our young people.


     At this point in my story lets stop and compile, how several dictionary's define it, although in my opinion, the scholars that came up with these definitions fell short of the mark, but hopefully it will give you a better understanding of what I am referring to.  Nostalgia-Definitions:

ORIGIN originally in the sense acute homesickness: from Latin, from Greek nostossentimental recollection: a mixed feeling of happiness, sadness, and longing when recalling a person, place, or event from the past, or the past in general

noun sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past. DERIVATIVES nostalgic adjective nostalgically adverb.

sentimental remembrance of or longing for people, places, possessions, or experiences of the past.

     A bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past. 2. The condition of being homesick; homesicknesthings that arouse nostalgia: something, or things, intended to arouse a feeling of nostalgia or to evoke the past in a way that arouses nostalgia

homesickness: a longing for home or family when away from either

noun: longing for something past Transferred sense (the main modern one) of "wistful yearning for the past" nostalgia


     I was asked the other day by one of my fellow carmen, if now that I am no longer with the railroad if I missed it, it got me to remembering certain things in life and I began this self analysis of sorts and this story is the results of it. Now I am sure that, nobody would miss the drudgery of physical work, but I personally enjoyed working for the railroad, but many can't wait to leave and never look back. But in time they will, when some event or memory of things triggers their nostalgic feelings they have for things they had a fondness for, Often things they didn't appreciate before. We all have these triggers I refer to, and I will but list just a few of mine.


     When, I was in the Navy I developed a lot of triggers that provoke feeling of nostalgia, I often had to stand long hours of Guard Duty, standing alone on the Quarter Deck, while the rest of the crew either slept or was away on liberty, and to overcome the weariness of walking back and forth carrying a gun and the constant need to remain alert, I developed certain pleasures, I derived from having to do it. What in the world is this fool talking about you may wonder. Well I will tell you. I learned, that I enjoyed the sounds of the Tug Boats busy tooting their horns to signal each other as they moved ships around. (Just hearing a Tug boat now will provoke nostalgia.) I developed a fondness for working alone. (Something that follows me to this day.) There are lots of triggers, like hearing the sound of waves lapping the side of the hull, or hearing a ships bell ring, or the sounds of a passing ships screws churning the water. I suppose that when I developed those feelings, it was just to break the monotony, but I was developing fond memories at the same time. There was a lot of things I liked and disliked, especially regarding working at the railroad, and not many became my triggers, but quite a few did. It's my opinion, if you can't develop these triggers, then you should be doing something else instead. You can't always do what you like to do, so learning what you do like about what you must do makes it all easier to do. That's one way your mind helps you deal with life's more difficult or tedious tasks.


     My fond memories with the railroad, will always remain with me, and occasionally a trigger will bring them to mind. Memories, like riding down the mainline, while sitting out on the boom car of the derrick, instead of cooped up in one of the coach cars, and just feeling the wind blow in you face and watching the world go by, and deriving a good feeling from it rather than, dwell on the hard day you spent dragging heavy cables up and down the banks to various derailed and turned over railcars. I really enjoyed standing in the open top doorway of one of the coach cars and listening to the click clack of the rails, and the approaching, and then fading of, the ding ding ding of crossing gate bells we passed, as we moved through the country sides of Georgia, and occasionally returning the waves of people along the way. I always felt a greater seance of accomplishment after completing a difficult job. Many triggers may come to mind as time goes by. Perhaps it will be the sound of a distant train, blowing for a crossing, or some sound or some event, that will bring on a case of nostalgia, and I don't mean homesickness as one definition put it, but rather a pleasant feeling brought on by a fond memory, or being touched by a bit of sadness due to the realization that it won't come again.


     If you ponder at all what I am saying, stop and think what life deals us, and what your triggers both past and future may be and learn to appreciate them. Perhaps it may be the smell of bacon cooking, and you will remember a lost loved one who used to cook bacon for you. It can be just about anything. Perhaps the sounds of a baby crying, or a dog barking, or the smell pipe tobacco, or the sight of a familiar object, or someone who reminds you, of someone else.


     If I could offer one bit of advice regarding nostalgia, it would be simply this. Learn to appreciate what you have, and take time to stop and smell the roses. To end this story I will answer a friend. Yes my friend, I guess I do miss working for the railroad.




A Car Man has to watch his back

By Walter Parks

     When a man is working as a Railroader, he faces many situations, that can be life threatening. Truly the places he has to work can be, and often are, hazardous to his well being, and situations sometimes arise where the way he deals with it can mean the difference between life and death. The major railroads know that, and constantly stress personal Safety, in order to minimize the risks. A Carman's Job in particular, poses many risks. Hopefully, if he follows the rules of safety, and plain common seance, he stands a good chance of making it through a long career. But sometimes unexpected and unanticipated situations occur. How a man handles himself during those situations can make all the difference. This story is about, one of many bizarre situations, that occurred to me during my career, and I truly believe somebody upstairs was watching out for me, during those times.

 

     Once, when I was working a second shift air job, out of eight speaker, which is the middle part of the outbound train yard at Inman Yards Ga., something unexpected happened to me totally out of the blue, but after that night, I was always on the alert for it. I had to go work my part of a train up to five speaker and back, so I strapped on my tool belt, and started out. It wasn't dark yet, and I anticipated I would be back before dark so I very unwisely opted not to wear my headlight. When you're working an air job, you are alone out there in the train yard, and a considerable distance from anyone else. But after working many trains you have a tendency to let your guard down and become complacent, and a I learned that night, that a Train Yard is no place to let you're guard down.


     I worked my way northward and sure enough as my bad luck would have it, when I got near six speaker, I found a railcar with a broken air hose and I replaced it. Within a couple of car lengths, I found another car with a broken air hose and in due time had it repaired as well. Considerable time had passed and dark was right on top of me. The Car Foreman's voice was booming out of the next speaker I passed, wanting to know what my status was, and I barked back at him, if he thought he could fix them any faster he was welcome to come help me. I worked on up to five speaker, where I found a few rock's on top of the couplers between two cars, and I knew the man working from the north end had already been there and was gone back north. I promptly hopped over the couplers and lined the air in from the north end. I stood there a few minutes smoking a cigarette and wishing I had brought my head light. I began the long walk back down the other side of the train at a fast a pace as I could, due to the now, almost total darkness.


     When I got back to eight speaker my eyes were well adjusted to the dark and I could see fairly well, due to a not too distant overhead yard light. I took down the yard air and began hopping across several cuts of cars to get back over to the road next to the main line, thinking that I was glad to finally be done. When your crossing trains like that it doesn't take long to step from between the cars and cross the short distance to the next set of couplers you have to get across. I had one more cut of cars to get across and as I stepped out from between two boxcars something moving in my peripheral vision to my right side startled me, and I instinctively dodged the movement by falling to my left side. As I moved away I felt the gush of wind on my face from something whooshing past my head. A man had been laying in wait for me as he heard me coming, and he had tried to kill me with a piece of two by four lumber, by swinging it at me like a baseball player trying to hit a home run. The board came so close to me that, I think he himself thought he had hit me. How that board missed me I will never know, but it never touched me. As I fell into the rocks I was pulling out my twelve inch aluminum pipe wrench. It all happened so fast that, I didn't even have time to focus my eyes on what was there. He was raising his board to swing down on me again, but by then I was blindly swinging my pipe wrench at him, even though I wasn't completely back on my feet yet. There I was face to face with him and now that he no longer had the drop on me and I was now armed, he backed down like the coward he really was, and he wisely lowered his piece of lumber. He knew I was about to brain him. I was telling him in not too polite of terms just what I thought of him, and im sure I made reference to his mother, in the process. I most definitely would have killed him at that point, had he not lowered his weapon. He mumbled some lame excuse, and turned and fled across track one and went up in the trees and bushes immediately behind my shack, at eight speaker.


     As I stood there, trying to calm my nerves a bit, I pondered the situation as it now was. I couldn't just go in the shack and park my behind in a chair, for fear, that I may doze off and I certainly couldn't do that with the potential assassin lurking about. I stood there a moment or two, watching the area where I thought he now lurked. I saw a light coming north between track one and track two, so I just waited until whoever had that light got to my location. It was a Railroad Policeman that I knew only slightly. I told him what had happened. Something on the order of "there's a #%***@## **%%$$^ up there in the bushes, that tried to hit me with a ***#$## board." On the way to the area where I thought he was, I retrieved my head light and accompanied him to the spot. I stood back a bit shining my light in the bushes. The Railroad Policeman held his trusty six shooter up, and aimed it there, and shined his flashlight down the top of his barrel. I was not sure if he could see anyone, and I couldn't see anyone at all. The Policeman said "Come out of there right now". I was standing there thinking, that if they guy was gone now, that nobody would ever believe me. To my amazement, within a few seconds three men emerged from the bushes, one of whom was the coward who, minutes earlier had tried to end my life.


     Soon another Policeman had joined us. The three were interviewed, and had their identification checked. They were escorted to the eight speaker gate, and were told not to ever come back. I asked why they weren't arrested, and the policeman said, we can't make a case against them. Why they weren't at least detained for questioning I will never know, but I'll bet dollar's to donut's, they all had criminal records.


     I worked many more years for the railroad before having to take a retirement, due to having become disabled in an injury that occurred at of all places, my home. I came into contact with many strangers over the years, but never again did I turn my back on anyone who approached me. This world is so full of evil people now that, if anything, it's worse than ever before. My advice to anyone, particularly when he is alone is to trust absolutely no one, any farther than you can throw them, and to be careful out there, because the Train Yard is a dangerous place.




The Foreman Knows Best

By Walter Parks

     Now we all know, that when it comes to doing your job, that the Foreman knows what's best, don't we. Don't we??? To answer that question myself, I would say, emphatically, No. Just because, someone's placed in charge of anything, doesn't mean, by any means, that they know more than you, regarding handling your job. He's just the person, who was either fortunate enough, or unfortunate enough, (depending on how you look at it) to be put in charge. Very often the Foreman, is intelligent enough to realize, that since you are the one actually doing the job, that most likely, you know just as much, if not more than he does, or you wouldn't be the one doing the job to start with. so he wisely listens when a person makes a suggestion to do something a particular way, rather than just being bullheaded, and insisting they know what's the right thing to do at all times. In fact, it's always been my feeling, when it comes to being employed by the railroad, that if a person really excels at doing his job, his chances of ever being considered for a supervisors job are none. If your doing a really good job, the company will be inclined to keep you right where you are.


     Occasionally, during my career, there were times that the Foreman's actions, were down right hazardous to my health, and continued employment. I will refrain from mentioning any names in this story, but I will mention just a few instances that taught me, that the Foreman, very often had his head up,-- well lets just say, they were wrong. My suggestions, to anyone who want's my advice, is to always do what the foreman says, except when you intelligence and common seance tells you different, and if you are a Foreman, be opened minded enough to listen when someone tells you something. At times like that, consentrate on covering your behind, because very often the actions you take can literally mean your entire future.


     I worked on the Derrick Crew (The Derrick was a large crane) for a long time, and we went to many Train Wrecks. Our job was to clean up the wrecks. Pick up all the cars, and reassemble them as best we could, to get them moved to a place of repair. I remember one particular derailment we went to, the Foreman would finish the trip having learned several things, about being in charge, the hard way. I'm sure there were many times afterward, that he had to admit to himself, he was wrong, although, I doubt he ever admitted it to anyone else.


     I remember we went up to Braswell Mountain, to a large derailment. There was 40 or 50 railcars, scattered all over the mountain side. We worked that derailment for many days. There was this one covered hopper car, turned over on it's side and the top of it was on the downhill side, of this steep slope of the mountain. It was loaded full of fertilizer. It had long hatches on top of it, that had came open when it wrecked, and only a small amount of fertilizer had escaped. There was some on the hatch, but could be removed , so the hatch could be closed back, in order to prevent any farther loss of the fertilizer. Myself and another carman were trying to close the hatch, as the Derrick was now setup and blocked under the outriggers, in preparation to lift the hopper back up the hillside. It was a very steep slope we were on, and as I looked behind me down the mountain side, I could clearly see Racoon Creek about a hundred yards down the slope. We almost had it closed, when the Foreman standing above us on the edge of the railroad track, hollered down to us. "Yall get out of there, I'm ready to start pulling on that blankety blank thing." We protested "But the Fertilizer will come out and pour down the mountain side, into the creek." "I said get the hell out of there" he bellowed. I mumbled to the other carman, what a stupid move this was gonna be. "He's really messing up and ain't got seance enough to see it" I said. "He's gonna wash fertilizer all the way to the Atlantic Ocean." I thought to myself, oh well, it takes all kinds, to run a railroad. It didn't make seance to me to dump thousands of dollars worth of something out, to save the company a few hundred dollars in time lost. Little did any of us know that, the desision he made then would wind up costing the railroad well over a million dollars.


     Granted, that Covered Hopper Car was a heavy 250 thousand pounds of weight to lift up the mountain, but we had a hold of it with two, 250 Ton Derricks. That meant, we had the power to lift a half a million pounds of weight. We had the cables hooked up and the derrick engineers reved up their engines and we swung that hopper upside down, and shook it from side to side, and watched as all that fertilizer poured down the mountain like a giant land slide. You couldn't see a foot in front of your face, for all the dust it raised. They were in a hurry, to get the main line cleared we got a lot of cars up that day, and cleared the cars, that were blocking the track. We retired late that evening and went to the hotel and put up for the night, after having been on duty for some twenty hours non stop.


     I'd like to say the next morning when we returned to the derailment site that we were bright eyed and bushytailed, but to be honest our tails was dragging. We worked through the morning and conditions was much better as all the dust was cut way down. You see, it had rained during the night and lots of rain and runoff from the mountain had washed a lot of the fertilizer, way on down the hill. Some time that afternnon we stopped to eat, and I was sitting on the boom car eating a plate of the grub they had supplied us for lunch. We were sitting there as this whole caravan of people arrived at the scene. There was a bunch of Game wardens in uniforms and I can only assume the folks in suits and ties, must have been lawyers. I asked one of the guys, "What do you suppose that's all about?" Our powers to be were in a heated debate with the crowd who had arrived, and a lot of papers were being presented to them, and although I couldn't hear what was being said, I could see that the Foreman had this look on his face, like he was choking on his cud. Like someone who had bit off a whole lot more than he could chew.


     Well it turned out that, the creek we had polluted, was a Federally Protected Trout Stream and we had killed every fish in it for thirty miles so far and it was unknown how far down the streams and rivers was damaged. Apparently the Government frowns on that greatly and they like to give huge fines and make you spend a lot more dredging and cleaning up a mess like that. Now days, it would probably be the EPA that would come knocking on your door.


     There were times, when working train wrecks, that the Foreman would expect us to get into tight and dangerous places to make hooks on wrecks. Often it was unavoidable, but often the risks were simply greater, due to the foreman having not considered a better and safer way to do it. We had several older carman who would get right in the Foreman's face and tell him in no uncertain terms where to get off. I recall once having first told the Foreman, that I thought the car was gonna turn the rest of the way over while I was under there, but he insisted I go anyway. I kept my hand on the side of the car while we were under there and as soon as I felt it move slightly we ran right out from under it as the heavy boxcar turned over, and we barely escaped with our lives.


     We cleaned up a large derailment, and i'm not sure if it was the same derailment, or a differant one. To complete my analogy of Foremen, it's part of this story. We had all the wrecked cars coupled together and assembled into a Hospital Train. I was driving the Chase truck and had to follow the train and watch it at every crossing and town as we brought the train back to Atlanta. The other guys were happy to finally get some rest and were riding on the Coach car, which was an old passenger car that we had converted for our use. One of the wrecked railcars, was a Tri Level. (Three tier Automobile Carrier Car) The metal top was bent and sticking up much higher than the rest of the train. I asked the Foreman, "Don't you think it would be best to measure that cars height. It looks too high" "Don't tell me how to do my job" he roared. I thought to myself, OK dummy, it's your funeral.


     We proceeded down the mountain and I watched the train at different crossings, for a few miles. I heard one roller bearing wheel making a lot of noise, so I called the Engineer and had him stop the train, so I could check it. I knelt down and placed my hand on the bottom of the race of the roller bearing and although it was pretty hot, I still had skin on my hand so I judged it to be OK. I was getting back in my truck after having released the train to proceed, as the coach car passed me and the Foreman was standing in the doorway, looking at me, like perhaps I was being overly cautious. I lost contact with the train for several mile as it came down the mountain, so I proceeded to McPherson Ga. and waited for them. There was a Red Board at the signal board at McPherson, so the Hospital Train had to stop and wait for an approaching Northbound to pass. As the train sat there, I was walking and checking it. The Foreman approached me and asked if all was ok, and I said "yes so far, but I think you ought to reconsider that high car, with the roof sticking up there. It don't look like it will clear the signal board." We got a clear signal, and started the train moving again. The high car barely missed the signal board as we departed. I drove ahead and was waiting when the train rolled through Hiram Ga. I was watching as the high car approached the bridge, that crosses the track there, and wondered aloud if it was going to clear. Sure enough when the car got to the bridge it hit the bridge with a loud crashing sound, which was a good 50 yards north of where I was standing. Metal peeled back on the top of the car and began flopping up and down, as it passed me. From what I could see the bridge seemed undaunted. I got on the radio, "Calling the Foreman on the Derrick" I said. "What do you want was the reply" "I just thought, you should know, we hit that bridge back there." There was no reply, but within seconds as I looked southward, I could see his head poking out the top half of the door on the coach car, looking to see the situation. He had that same look, like he was again choking on his cud. I thought to my self, he sure is a hard head. I guess he was at that point, trying to figure out what to do. Within a few minutes, we heard the Dispatchers voice boom out of the radio. "Dispatcher, calling the Atlanta Derrick" I heard the conductor reply, "This is the Atlanta Derrick, Dispatcher" The Dispatcher said "The Dallas Police is on the phone and want to know what yall intend to do about all the Cable T.V. wires y'all tore down when you came through town". Evidently the loss of television, to the entire town had upset a lot of folks. We spent the next several hours, cutting the top off of that car. It took a lot longer to cut that top off than it would have to measure it in the first place. We had a good laugh about it. Somebody said, "What a way to run a railroad."

"Hey" You got A bug in your ear

Microsoft paint drawing of A box car

By Walter Parks

     Over the years, I acquired many bumps, burns, bruises, broken bones, and various contusions, in the performance of my duty. Many went unreported that probably should have been, and a good many went on my personal Injury record. That was just, to be expected on my job, due to the nature of the work. I'll list a couple of examples, before I get to the Bug Story.-------- (Five minute pause while I think of one LOL)---


     One day working on Track one with Gene Wood, I was Cutting metal and welding parts, we made by hand to reconstruct the end of a flat car, that had been in a wreck, I lost my train of thought and reached down and picked up a piece of metal with my ungloved left hand, without realizing how hot it was. As I picked it up my skin blistered instantly and the smell of my burning flesh, was just as instant, not to mention the sudden throbbing pain that slowly registered in my brain. I dropped that hot metal on the end of the car in short order, and the loud clang of the metal bouncing, was followed just as quick by laughter. I looked toward Track Two and discovered that Mr Bill Cleland had witnessed the whole thing. Feeling some what foolish, as I vigorously shook my hand, as if that would help, I asked him, "hey what's so funny"? He replied, "Brother Parks, it don't take you long to look at a piece of metal, does it?" He always had a way of making any body laugh so I joined in on the laughter, and as the pain was subsiding some, I returned to what I was doing, while trying to forget the pain. Gene walked up behind me and said "Here hold my tape measure for me" and he walked off toward the office. I really didn't pay him much mind as he walked away, or I would have seen the trail of blood, he was leaving behind him. I worked a little while trying to forget how bad my hand was hurting, and realized I needed some help on something I was doing. I hollered over at Mr. Cleland and asked "Where in the world did Gene go?" Mr. Cleland replied "Oh didn't you know, he just grinded off the end of one of his fingers." So there were many accidents, that were right to report and just as many that should have been reported, but we had to judge whether to keep our mouth shut or not. Then there were accidents, that did get on our personal records as an injury, that should not have been. The story of the Bug is one, that I'm not real sure, they permitted to be on my record, as they may have neglected to list it. I guess this should really be two stories, but i'm not your average story teller, so, on with my Bug Story.


     I was working the Second Shift in the Receiving Yard, at the time, of this occurrence. We were inspecting a train, walking southward and were about a mile from the North end of the Receiving Yard. I was walking one side of the train and my coworker, whose name was Dodson, was working the other side of the train, and was several car lengths behind me. I saw something odd about one of the flat cars I was passing. The coupler was all the way up against the Buffer Casting, and I thought, here is a broken Yoke, or the rear Draft stops are gone. I stepped between the cars, and as I was kneeling down to look under the end of the car, a bug, which was later determined to be a moth type critter, came zooming like a dive bomber going in for the attack, and hit directly in my right ear. It went directly up my ear canal. I shook my head vigorously, trying to shake it out. I swatted my ear forward trying to knock it loose. I thought, I better get my partner to look in my ear and see what this is. He was no where in sight, so I stepped on the uncoupling lever and stepped up on the flat car and crossed over to look down the other side of the train, to see where he was. He was still a car length away. I stood in the middle of that flat car waiting, and by now was getting quite concerned. It was buzzing loudly and struggling to free it self. If you think a bug don't buzz loud, just try putting one in your ear, LOL. In desperation to get it loose, I was hopping up and down with my head tilted to the right, and hitting my self in the head with the palm of my hand, attempting to shake it out. I thought that sure sounds like a wasp or bee in there.


     Just as I was hopping, and hitting myself, Dodson came by the end of the Box Car, that was coupled to the Flat Car. I can't begin to imagine what he must have thought to look up on a Flat Car and see some fool hopping up and down, and pounding himself in the head. I imagine he must have thought, I had surely gone insane. I jumped down to the ground and had him look in my ear, but he couldn't see anything in there. I said "call the Foreman and tell him I need some help". He got on a nearby ground speaker, and called and told him the situation. Robert lowe was the Foreman that day, and he said, " when yall get back to the North End, I will stop what I'm doing and come up and see him". I knew it was a good 30 or 40 minutes before we could walk back. I kicked in the button of the speaker with my foot, and bellowed into it, "get you butt down here and pick me up with a truck. I need some medical attention." He said "OK cross over between the Receiving Yard and Forwarding Yard, and I'll pick you up." There was actually no road over there, but Robert was notorious for driving trucks, where no man had before. As I walked away, I told Dodson, "be sure and check the Draft Gear on the flat car, but what ever you do, look out for bugs, there might be a whole colony of them under there."


     As I stumbled down the embankment, coming down to the level of the Forwarding Yard, I could see Robert coming toward me with rocks flying as he drove between two sets of tracks that didn't look wide enough to fit a riding lawnmower. He screeched to a halt about 40 yards away. As I walked to the truck, I was staggering like a drunk man, due to being very dizzy. Whether it was from the bug, or the sevear thrashing, I had given myself, hitting myself in the head, I don't know. The truth of the matter is, that I probably had given my self a concussion. When I got in the truck, he had a genuine look of concern on his face, and as we plowed our way in reverse, back up the tracks, he said, "we might have to take you to the doctor".


     The General Foreman on duty was Jimmy Durham, and I'm sure over the years of his career, he had seen just about everything imaginable, that can happen to a man working in the train yard, so it didn't surprise me that he showed little concern to my predicament. He looked in my ear and said, "there's nothing in your ear". The bug was still quite vocal about letting me know of his continued presence, so I protested, "Oh heck you say" "he's still in there alright. I can hear him, and I want it out of there". They took me to the medicine locker, and promptly began pouring various remedies in my ear, one of which was rubbing alcohol. The bug struggled violently in my ear, but he finally succumbed, and was either drowned, or given a severe dose of alcohol poisoning, because he finally died in there. The General Foreman, had convinced him self that it was no longer in my ear, and was attempting to convince me, that it was gone. I stood dumbfounded, as he drawled in the slow way he had of speaking, and he said to me, "Why I had a bug in my ear once and I went home and poured mineral oil in my ear, and you know that thing came out in a couple of days or so", "so here's what I recommend, for you to do". "When you get home tonight, pour you some mineral oil in there, and you'll see" "sure as god made little green apples, it'll come out of there in a few days". He looked at Robert, who had been standing there taking all this medical knowledge in, and said, "Robert. you take him back to the Receiving Yard, and just let him take it easy the rest of the day".


     When we arrived at the Carman's Shack at the Receiving Yard, Dodson was back and was sitting at the table playing a game of Spades, with one of the Air Bleeders. Robert left saying to me, "take it easy Parks", and laughingly said, "don't forget to stop on the way home, and buy you some mineral oil." There was still a couple of hours left of my shift and I sat a minute at the table telling them what had happened. I got up to leave and Dodson said "where are you going". "Why i'm going to the hospital of course", I replied. He asked me, "What do I tell them". I said "Don't tell them nothing, right now, just wait a bit. They will call up here in a while to check on me, and then you just politely tell them I went to the Hospital". I later found out that they seemed mystified when they were told of my sudden departure.


     By the time, I got to Marietta where I lived, my head was hurting, and I had an awful ear ache. I stopped at the house, and had my wife drive me to Kennestone Hospital. We sat a while in the Emergency Room and were finally sent in to see the doctor. He couldn't believe it when I told him of the drowning bug story, and that no one believed it was still in there. He said, "well we will soon know one way or the other" as he poked his little pointed looking device in my ear. "Well, I know already", I replied. He looked quite a while studying the situation, and sort of mumbling aloud, ummmmm this is interesting. My wife who had already looked in there several times couldn't contain herself and asked, "Well doctor, what do you see." He looked at me and said, "Hey---You Got a bug in your ear." I said "yea. I already knew that, and it's bugging me, so get it out of there, OK." He said, "I can't take it out. When they drowned the thing, it attached itself, and dug into your Ear Drum" I said to him, "I don't want to hear the words you can't do it, pull the dang thing out." He said, "You don't seem to understand, it would be too dangerous to do that. It's gonna take an Ear Specialist, to preform surgery to get it out."


     Removal of the Bug was a painful ordeal. They attached a Microscope thing to my head and had me completely, immobilized, so I couldn't jump and cause myself more injury. It hurt every time the Specialist dug another piece of bug out. Getting an Ear Specialist to come do a procedure like that costs big bucks. I know because, I'm the one who wound up paying the bill. Weeks later I received the bill, saying the insurance company had refused to pay it. I drove to the billing department at the hospital to investigate it. I spoke to a very polite young lady, who thumbed thru her files and she said to me, the insurance company refused to pay it because you listed on the medical reports, when you came in, that it happened on the job, and we called out to the railroad and spoke to a Mr. Durham, and he dug through all his accident reports and said, he didn't have any reports of such an injury. There fore, the insurance looks at it as though you filed a false report of injury, and they will not pay it. I made several trips to the Master Mechanic's Office over the next few months, before I finally realized. I wasn't gonna win. Collection agencies were bugging me about it by then, and by then I had enough of bugging of any kind, so I just thanked my lucky stars, to still be able to hear, and I paid the bill. I still haven't bought any mineral oil. If I ever need to oil a squeaky hinge or something, I'll go buy me some.

Catching Up

By Walter Parks


     I have mentioned in earlier stories, how we Carmen often caught up and rode on moving trains, in the performance of doing our daily jobs, of working and inspecting Trains.   The term caught up and rode, sounds like improper use of the English language, and perhaps it is, but in Railroad Jargon, it isn't.   Catch Up, means exactly that.   You literally run to catch up with the moving trains ladder and Sill Step, grab a hand hold and pull your self up on the moving car.   I guess that's why the slang term on the Railroad for a Hand Hold, is a Grab Iron. After years of using various terms associated with Railroad Talk, it soon became a part of my everyday vocabulary, and I often use words and terms, that lead people to wonder why I say something a particular way, but it's in my vocabulary for life.  We had to learn the old heads way of speaking in order to understand them.  There are terms of speech, that have passed from one generation of Railroader's to another, and I suppose it dates back many years.  I may write a story strictly about that way of talking, but this story is about catching up so I will put that off until another day.


     I was reluctant, to tell this story as it's about some of my less finer moments, and depicts some of the many stupid things I did, and I don't think anyone likes to show their stupidity, but to keep my stories truthful and factual I will tell it. I often try to add some humor to my stories, but this one most likely, wont be very funny. It does however, show how dangerous working on the railroad was back then, and tells of risks railroader's took for many years. That includes Switchmen and Trainmen as well, who did the same things. I should note at this point that it is now illegal for anyone to mount or dismount a moving train at Norfolk Southern. That isn't the way it was then, because if you were lucky, and the Engineer was thoughtful he would slow down some to accommodate you, but they never stopped unless they had to. They had a schedule to keep. Now days, trains are forced to come to a complete stop to let someone mount or dismount the train.


     When I first began Railroading, I had to learn a lot of things on the spur of the moment that wasn't in any rule book. Getting on and off a train was one of them. I remember, I hadn't been working more than a week and they put me on a Box Packing Job on the night shift. Box packing is the term for carrying a large oil can and a packing paddle. We had to oil the Journal Boxes that lubricated the Bearings of the axles, and the packing paddle was a three foot long tool used to straighten the lube pads that holds the oil under the bearings. I was working with Robert lowe who already had a few years experiance, but I was a green horn railroader, and didn't know much yet. We worked a long train, southward through the Train Yard and I had carried that heavy oil can a long ways, and it felt like my arm was going to fall off. You see I wasn't wise to how they did it. I was carrying a full can at all times and keeping it full every time I got to a place to refill it, but Robert's can was practically empty compared to mine. He had learned how much less an empty can weighed than a full one, and he wasn't being as dillagent at oiling the Journal Boxes properly, as I was. I was having a time trying to keep up with him as, I worked down one side of the Train, and he the other. About a mile down the track, we finally got to the end of the train. I thought, I'm glad this is over, now I can take a breather, and I had realized I didn't like this tedious Box Packing Job.


     There was no Train to work our way back north on, so we were caught up for the time being. I asked Robert, "Well what do we do now". He said, "We are going back to the North End", and he proceeded to cross over to the side of the yard. I followed along with him, with my heavy oil can, packing paddle, sore arms, and was wearing a pair of oil soaked work gloves. We got to the last track over and that train started to move northword. Robert said "catch up", and promptly got on the side of a box car, and was holding on with one hand and had his oil can in the other. I don't recall that he even bothered to carry a packing paddle. I thought, well no one ever told me we rode moving trains. I clammered up on the next car, and my oily gloves were quite slippery. I was having a time just holding on. I had one arm hooked around behind the grab Iron, and the oil can handle hooked in the crook of my elbow, and had the packing paddle and the Grab Iron with my other hand.


     Now normally, the cuts of cars being moved north were just cuts being pulled back at yard speeds ( Less than ten miles per hour ), and would be shoved back into another track to get the trains put together into one long train. This seemd wrong to me and I yelled to him, "Why is this cut of cars, going so fast"? By then we had gotten up to around twenty miles per hour and were slowly getting faster. The clickety clack of the wheels running over the rail joints was becomming a blur of very fast click clacks. He yelled back to me, "this aint no cut of cars, we are on the Main Line." "This is a Northbound headed to Chattanooga." Here I was barely able to hang on, riding in the dark, on the Main Line, and now we were going around 25 or 30 Miles an Hour. I was by then quite alarmed and had a sudden fear of either breaking my neck or riding for the next hundred miles on the side of a train. I was by then babbling a lot of four letter words aloud to myself, thinking what have I got myself into this time.


     At around 30 miles per hour we got to the North End of the Forwarding Yard, and I saw Robert give his oil can a toss off into the darkness and he jumped off landing at a stumbling fall, in what was left of the road beside the Main Line. Now it was my turn to get off, but there was no longer any road. The Main Line had moved away from the Yard, and all I had was this steep embankment and lots of bushes. It was another quarter of a mile before, I could see a place where, getting off seemed even remotely possable, and I couldn't hold on any more anyway, so I tossed the oil can and jumped off into oblivion, tumbling head over heels several times before coming to a jarring halt in the bottom of a ditch.


     I limped back down the Main Line, after the train had cleared, and arrived at the North End Carman's Shack, and walked in, looking tattered and bruised, and found Robert sitting at the table, playing cards. They all looked up when I entered, except for Robert, who muttered, "I thought you was half way to Chattanooga by now", and he laughed. I thought to myself, it's not funny and realized then, I had better trust my instincts from now on, instead of depending on someone else's judgement. I should have gotten off as soon as I found out what was going on.


     I soon became quite adept at hitching rides on trains, and could mount and dismount, looking quite agile, and could alight from a moving train, very much like a little bird gently landing on a limb. There was however, the occasional time of getting off, looking more like a big clumbsy Albatross landing somewhere. A good example would be a time that occured, about a couple of months later. I was working with Carman David Ellington, and we were riding a cut out of the yard. I learned that day, that you better know the terrain where you get off. David got off before I did and as I hopped down at a high speed run, there was a switch stand a couple of feet high, directly in my path that I saw only at the last second, and I proceeded to do my impression of an Albatros again.


     You would think anyone with a fair amount of intelligence, would learn the dangers involved in some of our activities, but I guess I was a little slow in that department. The next lesson, I learned, was one that nearly took my life. This is the part, that I was most reluctant to tell. It was a few years later, and I was working in the Receiving Yard. I was working with an old passenger train Carman, who had reciently began working in the Freight Yards for the first time in his career. He had came from the Old Terminal Station, that had just closed down, due to the discontinuance of Passenger Trains in Atlanta. His name was G. O. Dover. I didn't particularly like working with him. I suppose it was mainly because we had so little in common. I remember he sold insurance as a sideline occupation, and anytime he got a chance he was trying to sell me or some one else an insurance policy. Perhaps, I will some day tell the story of Dover, and the Idaho Potatoes. I mainly disliked his attitude and how he, a Carman who had never in his life inspected Freight Trains, acted so much like he already knew it all, and how he was so quick to offer his advice. My attitude by then was one of being quite certain, that, I already knew it all. I remember thinking, just because his initials is GOD, didn't mean he should act like one. But there came a day, when he offered me some advice, that I ignored, and I learned that the old man did know some things, that I should have already known.


     We had worked a train southward, and were stranded at the Old Marietta Street Bridge, with nothing to work our way back on, and it was getting time to go to the Pig Yard, and work Train 222 East. I told him we needed to get back to the North End pretty soon, but he seemed more interested in looking for a potatoe car. I heard the horns blowing of a train coming from the South End, entering the yard. I said to him, "when this train gets here we need to catch up." He replied, " well. if he aint going too fast". I said, " well, I'm gonna catch up, and you can walk back to the north end, if you want to." I looked at the Engineer's face as the train passed, and I recognized him instantly as "Buttermilk Wade" who was an old Main Line Engineer, who now operated the Chamblee Turn, which was a local from nearby Chamblee Georgia. Buttermilk was notorious for ignoring yard speeds, when he came through, and I knew it. No slack ran in, so he was making no effort to slow down any. I truly knew better, but desided that I was gonna catch up, come hell or high water.


     As I began my top speed run to match the trains speed for mounting I was some what distracted by Dover's advice being yelled in my direction, "Don't do it, he's a goin too fast". I looked to my left, and focused on the next ladder coming by me, and I had nearly matched its speed. It was a green colored Penn Central Tri Level. I focused on the Grab Iron, and reached with my left hand and caught a grip on it. My running speed was instantly changed from approximately 8 miles per hour to a speedy 12 to 15 Miles per hour. I pulled myself upward and was immediately air bourne as I drifted up to the side of the train, and by then, I was sure I had it made. (Yea I know, remember, I told you at the beginning of this story it was about some of my more stupid moves.) When, I got up to the level, I needed to be, it was at that point, just a matter of placing my foot on the Sill Step. Luck wasn't running with me that day, evidentally it stayed back there with Mr. Dover. The sill step was one of those narrow ones, that are now obsolete on Trilevels. Just when, I thought, I had it made in the shade, my foot hit the sillstep, and slipped off, and I began an instant descent. My left hand slipped off as, I came back down. I grabbed the next wrung down on the ladder. I was grabbing anything, I could get a hold on as I was now, partially dragging the ground. I realized I was being dragged up under the moving train. I was being pulled down. I caught hold of even lower hand holds, untill finally, I only had a hold of the sill step. I was being dragged with my back sliding on the rail of the track. As I was dragging along, I looked toward my feet to see where I was. I was astonished to see one leg inside the rails and one out of the guage of the rail, and I was looking directly at the shiny surface of a wheel rolling directly in my direction, only a few feet away. I was rapidly loosing my grip on the sill step. I managed to get both legs outside the rails, and with the last of my strength, I pushed off to propel myself in the clear. I slid through the rocks on my back, plowing up a furrow, where I landed. This all happened with in a minute or so, but it seemed like an eternity to me.


     I was just managing to get my self up off the ground when Mr. Dover arrived. I thought to myself, why didn't I listen to him. Now I'm gonna have to eat crow and admit I was wrong. I got up, and while trying to dust myself off, I looked at him and said, "Go on and say it, get it out of you system" "Say, you told me so" "You were right and I was wrong".   I was trying to figure a way to keep him from telling on me, so I began to eat a large helping of crow. I told him that I realized what I did was stupid, and that I had learned my lesson, and asked him not to tell anyone. But, I could see from the look on his face, I was wasting my breath. It wasn't long after we got to the north end of the Recieving Yard, that the boss paid me a visit. He had spilled the beans so fast, it would make your head spin. It was General Forman Johnny Manning, who showed up to talk to me. He was suprisingly understanding about it all, and basically just told me to be more careful from now on. I had worked the second shift Recieving Yard at that time for about three years, and it was a pretty good job, but to get away from the old man, I promptly placed my bid on a Day Shift Rip Track job. I couldn't continue to work with someone who I didn't like and didn't trust any farther than I could throw him, and I often felt like he was talking about me behind my back. I also had my fill of walking train yards and most certainly had made my last Albatross landing. I thought I was through dealing with Mr. Dover, but was to have one final encounter with him, and although it really isn't relevant to the telling of this saga of hitching rides, I will add it to the story. It was after the old man had retired, that I had my last encounter with him.


     My Step Mother, who had raised me and whom I loved very dearly was in the Intensive Care Unit at a hospital in Gainsville Ga. I was in their small waiting room that was quite crowded, and half of all the people there were members of my family. I looked up when someone entered the room, and who should I see enter, It was Mr. G.O. Dover, who also had some family member in the I.C.U. We spoke briefly and exchanged fairly cordial, how do you do's. It wasn't long before I left the room to go smoke a cigarette. I later learned that no sooner had, I left the room, he began to talk about me in a somewhat derogatory manner to some one there, and he began telling them, "why one time I saw that boy about get killed". I really don't know what was said, but little did he know at the time, the quiet woman sitting near him was my sister. I later learned that she flew into him and told him off pretty good, after telling him. "I'll have you know mister that, that's my brother your talking about." Believe me. my sister can tell someone off pretty good when she gets riled, and I kind of wished, I could have seen his face, when she

The Paratrooper

Story by Walter Parks

PARATROOPER 




By Walter Parks


This story may not be really railroad related, but since it helps document, one of my many early mechanical inclinations, I think it qualifies, and perhaps helps explain, why I probably turned to the mechanical occupation, of a Railway Carman. Besides, I write stories about my memories, and since I own and host this web site, I can write anything I want. This story is true, and begins, when I was around seven or eight years old. Somehow I can remember things from long ago much better than, I can remember events of recent time. It seems a little odd that, I can remember things from fifty years ago, but can't for the life of me, remember what I ate for lunch today.




We were at that time an extremely poor family, and lived in absolute poverty in a small town in South Georgia. Nobody really had much back in those days, but we had much less than most. We got by, and being children, and having never known a better way of living, we never dwelled on it much. We made do with what we had, and I often used my imagination to the fullest, to make up for it. We lived in a small row house in a sawmill community, in McRae Georgia. We had electricity, if you can call it that. The electricity in the house consisted of a few light bulbs hanging from wires, drooped down out of the ceiling, and a couple of plug in outlets. I remember the outlets because that's where we had an old tube type radio, plugged in that sat on top of an old icebox, and I would always stop and listen when they were playing my favorite song, which was Davy Crockett. { I always idolized Davy, because he must have been one tough hombre to kill a bear, especially when he was only three.) Occasionally we were even fortunate to be able to buy some ice to put in the icebox. The iceman's truck came down the road a couple of days a week, and on those days I always made it part of my routine, to go con the man out of a nice chunk of ice to eat. There was always pieces of ice, because he had to cut the stuff with an ice pick. What I remember most about that old house was, the fact that it was always, either too hot or too cold. The wood burning cooking stove in the kitchen, always made it too hot in the summer, and the small wood stove in the front room was inadequate to heat the place very well in the winter. The house had a plumbing system, which consisted of a small kitchen sink and a hand pump to pump water up from the well. and the bathroom facilities was a wooden outhouse, out at the back of the property. But, I digress, so on with the Paratrooper story.




Being a person with a vivid imagination, I was always inventing some new way to entertain myself. The only store bought toy I had at the time was a bag of little plastic Army men. I played with them constantly, and imagined myself in big battles when, I lined them up in the dirt. Soon even that wasn't enough to keep me entertained, and one day I decided, I was going to be a Paratrooper, and parachute out of airplanes. I had a couple of the little Army men decorated up as paratroopers, with little parachutes, I had invented, and tied to them. Often, I would toss them in the air, and watch them drift slowly back to the ground. There came a time when, I decided that if a small parachute worked so well with my toys, that surely a big parachute would work just as well with a person. Like I said, I did have quite an imagination. So I set out to design my own parachute. I spent days designing it, and went into great detail, making it. I had never seen a real parachute, but I was sure, I could make one that would work great. I scrounged around the neighborhood to find all the stuff I needed.

     

     Finally the day came, I judged it to be just perfect. I had a big sheet, and some small rope, and had tied the ropes to all four corners of the sheet. I was wearing hand me down pants that were too big for me, and I had no belt to wear, but I learned that, I could pull the front belt loop on one side, and stick it through the front belt loop on my other side, and then put a small stick through that loop to keep them entwined, and the result was, they fit tight, although, they were somewhat baggy. I had four equal lengths of rope tied to each of the four corners of the sheet, and the other ends of the ropes tied to my unused belt loops. I recall getting up, and gathering that sheet all bunched up in my arms, and thinking, now I'm a Paratrooper. All my planning to design it, and not once had, I considered where to parachute from. There I stood in the back yard, a full fledged paratrooper, with no airplane to jump out of. My brain kicked into overdrive, as I hatched a plan to remedy my dilemma. Looking around, I decided it wouldn't be possible to climb up the posts that held the porch up, thereby getting up on the roof, due to the fact, I had to hold my parachute. Finally it was decided, that jumping off the roof of the outhouse was possible, and would make a good beginning of my days as a Paratrooper. I can't remember how, I got up there, (Must have used the ladder), but soon I was on the roof of the outhouse. Looking down, I thought, it sure is a good thing, I have my trusty Parachute, because this is really high. The ground looked a long ways off, but I had all the confidence in the world in that trusty home made Parachute. I remember thinking, it's a good thing, us paratrooper has guts. Without any further hesitation, I tossed the parachute upwards in front of myself and made my first ever Parachute Jump. At this point, as you may have reasoned by now, I should point out a few things that happened next. The trip down from the roof of that outhouse was exceedingly faster than my trip up there was. Parachute jumping doesn't hurt a bit. Jumping is painless, but Parachute landing is a different story entirely. Landing is very painful. Particularily, when your Parachute doesn't open, and just trails down behind you like a flag blowing in the breeze. Needless to say this, but I hit the ground with a resounding thud, that jarred every bone in my body, and most likely stunted my growth, considerably. I'm almost positive, that if I hadn't made that jump, I'd be a couple of inches taller now. I staggered to the house and sat on the porch trying to gather my seances and get my eyes uncrossed again. Sitting there on the front porch, and using all my powers of reasoning, I then decided, I knew what the problem must have been. I was still sure, my Parachute would work. I reasoned that, the problem was, that I didn't jump from a high enough location for the air to get in the Parachute, and slow me down

     

     A couple of days later, I was on the roof of a big high barn that was at the end of our road. I had managed to find a way up through the hay loft and gain easy access to the roof. I had my Parachute tied on, and was finally ready to make my debut as a Paratrooper. Standing on the edge of the roof and looking down, it was definitely a whole lot higher than the outhouse, but somehow my confidence had waned considerably but I had come this far, now all I had to do was work up the guts to do it again. When, it was time to jump, who should show up, but my younger brother. I thought about it, when he yelled up to me and asked "What ya doing up there"? Then the solution came to me. I yelled down to him, "im a Paratrooper again and it's time to jump again, but since you're here, don't you want to be a Paratrooper." I had decided he could make the first official, real high jump with the parachute. It was probably thirty feet to the ground, from that roof. "Yea, I want to be a Paratrooper", he replied. "Well come on up here", I told him. A few minutes, later, I had him all suited up and attached to the Parachute. I said, "now just walk to the edge, throw the Parachute up and jump off". He got just close enough to see how high it was, and for no apparent reason, suddenly lost all interest in being a Paratrooper. I had him almost convinced to do it. "I did it yesterday, and im fine". "What's the matter, you aint chicken are you?" Fortunately for my brother, about that time, someone saw us up there and said, "You boys get off that roof, before you fall and break your fool necks". That was the end of my Paratrooper days. Maybe, one of these days, I will tell about my home made boat in the cow pond. But that's another day.

    

      The first time, I told this story, was in the lunch room at the Rip Track in Atlanta, and I made the mistake of telling it to Mr. Bill Clealand, who thought it was funny. He never let me forget it after that. Many times over the years we worked together, we would be in the lunch room, and someone would be telling a story, and Mr. Cleland would always tell them. "Get Brother Parks to tell you, about the time he jumped off the shithouse", and he would laugh. I suppose he made me tell this story a dozen times, and since it made him laugh, I really didn't mind telling it again. Now that, I have put it to paper. I wont have to tell it again. Everyone can just read it.