My grandfather worked on the railroad nearly his whole adult life finishing up with over twenty five years on the Frisco. Occasionally I would be at their house spending time with my Aunt Sue during the summers. Those days were filled with helping grandma with chores with a little time for playing in the afternoon. On occasion we were treated to a very special event. We would drive down to the Frisco with grandma to pick up grandpa after a hard days work.
When grandpa came walking out to the car you could be sure of one thing and that was he would be talkative. He would talk about his day and about people he worked with. If someone had done something during the day to get grandpa goat, as he would say, we would hear about it. If something funny had happened during the day he would tell the story with a twinkle in his eye and drag it out to make sure we got the full impact of how funny it really was.
Grandpa enjoyed his work and he was good at what he did. His fellow workers at the Frisco respected him. They would come to him with problems or for advice and help. Grandpa never let them down as far as I know. You could tell this was the case by the way men would walk pass the car on their way home and toss a casual "Evenin' Miss Hill" to my grandmother as we sat in the car waiting. Every once in awhile grandpa would let us get out of the car to show us something he had been working on or something that had caught his interest in the course of the day. You never knew what would happen on those afternoons in the Frisco yard waiting for him to get off of work.
One afternoon when we went to pick him up at the Frisco, he casually waved for us to get out of the car to come see something. This was not unusual for he almost always had something to share from the railroad. Sue and I got out of the car and walked towards him. He took us into the shop to show us something which I cannot remember this many years later. Chances are it was something strange on a diesel engine or a humorous poster on the bulletin board. Sometimes he would pull us in to introduce his daughter and grandson to a person we had not met before. He did that quite often and I came to recognize faces at the Frisco. At grandpa's funeral I recognized a few of those faces coming in to pay respect to my grandfather and to console my grandmother.
After grandpa showed us whatever it was that he wanted us to see or introduce us to whoever he wanted to meet, we began walking back to the car with him. Just before we got into the car a man in one of the yard engines yelled at grandpa to have a good evening. Suddenly grandpa grabbed both my and Sue's hands and took us over to the little yard engine. I remember the man's name was Ted and grandpa asked Ted if he wanted to take some kids for a ride. Ted was more than happy to do so and I felt the excitement coming over me as I watched my grandfather lift my Aunt up into Ted's waiting arms. Then I felt those strong hands of grandpa's on my own waist as I was whisked up to Ted in the same manner.
Ted had a better idea than just letting us ride down the track and back. Sue and I had ridden the trains a few times and this seemed like just another ride but this time in an engine. But then Ted started lecturing us. He pointed out the whistle, the throttle and the brake. He showed us how far to push each and told us we would be fine engineers if we paid attention to what he was saying. He continued pointing things out and explaining how they worked and when they should be used. I don't know how Sue was feeling but I was starting to feel excited and scared at the same time.
Suddenly Ted pulled Sue over to where everything was, to the center of where everything happened. He had her blow the whistle and then helped her push the throttle lever open slowly. I could feel the train moving and the excitement took a huge jump inside my stomach. Sue drove the train about a quarter mile down the track when Ted had her slowly engage the brake. The train came to a soft easy stop and Sue looked over at me. I could read it in her eyes. This was fun.
Ted then motioned for me to switch places with Sue. I am not sure if I was breathing this whole time or not but I remember Ted confirming with me that I had listened to what he had said. He tested me a little with questions about where was the throttle, the brake, and so forth. Finally he said "okay young man, let's do this" and then he point to the whistle cord. I yanked on it timidly and the horn made a huge sound that rather startled me. Then Ted took my hand to the throttle and helped me move it slowly. I felt the train move. I saw the train move down the tracks. I was looking at where we were headed and saw my grandfather standing where he had left us with his hands in his pockets and a huge grin on his face. I was driving a train. It was like a dream as I watched my grandfather's figure grow larger as we neared him. Ted then simply said pull on the brake and I did. My hand went straight to the brake and with a little help from Ted I was able to bring the train to a stop.
Grand told us to thank Ted which we did without hesitation. Grandpa then thanked Ted as we jumped down from the cab into his strong arms once again. All the way home that night and continuing through supper, grandpa wanted to know if Sue and I enjoyed driving the yard engine at the railroad. We both were so excited about it words were hard to come by to describe it. That night as I fell asleep in the upstairs room, my mind kept replaying the thrill of driving the train over and over again.
That was when I was around seven or eight years old. When you are that small, a yard engine becomes a huge locomotive and instead of no cars being pulled by the little engine you are pulling hundreds of cars. That little quarter mile seemed like a long ride of miles instead of that short little distance. Now I see a yard engine once in awhile and realize how small they are. Their job is to put the trains together in the yard, not to pull a long train for long distances. For me however, I still feel the excitement of driving that engine and in my memory it is a huge engine instead of the reality I see when I come across a yard engine.
I was an engineer for a mere five minutes at most. Those five minutes have lasted me a lifetime.