Saturday, May 15, 2010

Railroading: A Way of Life

Indiana is often called the "Crossroads of America". Given that, it seems only appropriate that so many men in my family served for the railroad on both sides of my line.

L & N Railroad Company (courtesy of Willard Library)
One of my father's favorite stories to tell is the day he left from the train depot in Evansville to go to the front during World War II. As the train left the station it needed to slow a little further down the street, where his father, a crossing watchman was working. My father came to the window and addressed his father who was not known for open emotion. My grandfather saluted him in response before the train gained speed and headed west. What a moment that must have been.

Dad at spot of his father's stand
Last year, our family learned that the spot where my grandfather's stand stood for years was being demolished due to new interchanges on a Highway through the city. I contacted our mayor's office who in turn contacted the railroad and the demolition company and we gained permission to take one of the metal poles that the stand had been built upon as a momento both of that special day but also because of the tie it held for my father to his father, who had died many years ago. Mr. Tucker had the opportunity for a promotion that meant the family would move to Mascoutah, Illinois, but due to the pleas of his children who did not want to move, he turned down the promotion.

My father grew up at what he calls the L & NY in Evansville, a series of section houses actually placed between the tracks at the railroad company. According to the 1930 United States Federal Census for Pigeon Township, Vanderburgh County, Indiana conducted on April 15 there were 18 households living between those railroad tracks with a total of 68 men, women, and children. I can only imagine how those section houses must have rocked every time a train came through.

Israel McDaniel as Watchman

My father's grandfather, John Rankin Tucker, once worked as a section worker near his home in Maunie, Illinois My father's maternal great-grandfather, Israel McDaniel, worked for the railroad in both Maunie, White County, Illinois and later in Evansville, Indiana. A cousin speaks of coming over on the train to visit Israel. His favorite activity was to put a record on his player for their listening pleasure. Israel and his wife Clyde Bell McDonald still had two sons living at home while he worked in Evansville- Roy and Harry. He would leave a list of tasks for them to do in Maunie and as he left the depot in Maunie Israel would immediately be calling down the street for his sons about these same tasks if they were not completed.

(Note: This photo is well damaged and needs some TLC to be upgraded, but I had to inlcude it in this entry)

All of those who have read the entries of the journal by my maternal great-grandfather, John James Raley, may not know that most of that was written while he was away from his family working at one his positions for the railroad. John becamed trained in telegraphy as a young man at a drugstore in Ohio County, Kentucky after attempting farming. At one point John also ran a "hotal and bar room" in Ohio County, but he always returned to the railroad.   The train companies he worked for included The Southern Express Compnay, the CO & SW Railroad Company, the Ohio Valley Railroad Company, and the Newport News & Mississippi Railroad Company. In the course of his job he and/or his family moved more than 20 times throughout Kentucky, Tennessee, and Southern Indiana. At one time John moved his wife, Caroline, and their 3 young sons they had at the time into a rented room in Warrick County, Indiana while he went to work in Rilpey, Tennessee. How she was able to do that I do not know! Later, one of their sons followed his father into the same career.                   

The railroad has played an important role in the lives of my ancestors, both professionally but also in the ways that their families lived. Many memories are still shared around the dinner table at special events about these days. I am grateful for the ties that bind us all, just as the trains themselves bind us throughout the country, especially in its hey dey.

This entry was written in conjunction with The Blogger's Almanac available through

1 comment:

Family Curator said...

Thank you, Kim, for sharing a beautiful story. My ancestors have railroad "ties" too; it must have been quite a scene to watch those huge engines roll past.

I am so glad that you find the Blogger's Almanc helpful, and appreciate the link back to your article and blog. thanks!