Monday, May 2

I've Been Working On The Railroad

During WW II one of the most desirable jobs a man could have in Kentucky and Tennessee was working on the L & N Railroad.

Practically all the men in our family were "Railroad Men". My Dad, my Grandpa, Grandpa's brother-in-law, Grandpa's son, and two of my my aunt's husbands.

The L & N passenger trains and freight trains ranged from Hazard, Leatherwood, Jenkins, Whitesburg, Jackson, Irvine, Lexington and Louisville. Their famous passenger train, "The Hummingbird" ran daily from Chicago to Louisville, to Nashville and on to New Orleans and back. I rode the Hummingbird during the War when it carried a record number of coaches filled with Service Men and Women plus regular travelers. The seats were all filled and the aisles and the vestibules were also full of passengers either standing or sitting on their suitcases or duffel bags. WWII was an exciting time for railroad travel and entirely necessary for the War Effort.

The main L & N service for us were the freight trains with hundreds and hundreds of coal gondolas each carrying 16 tons of coal out of the Hazard Holler to all points of the United States. The rail tracks from Hazard to Lexington had to be one of the most difficult routes in the world for a heavy coal train to navigate. All those sharp curves and up and down the mountains. All those skinny trestles across the Kentucky River. The Engineer could only see down the tracks for about a quarter of a mile, night and day, rain or shine. Back then freight trains carried an engineer, a fireman, a conductor, brakeman, and flagman. The conductor, brakeman, and flagman traveled it the famous old caboose car at the rear of the train. It was equipped with a sink, toilet, bunk beds and a coal burning pot bellied stove for heat and cooking. Some times a crew might spend two or three days on a run.

Grandpa's job was to marshall these coal trains in the Hazard yards and then send them North, every day. I can still remember, like it was yesterday, hearing the giant coal burning steam engines churning its heavy wheels with giant puffs of smoke straining to get a 120 car coal train moving up to speed. No Diesels in Hazard, yet. If you lived anywhere in town that noise was just routine. The smoke was always hovering over downtown and the smell was just as bad. After a while you paid no attention. It was our way of life.

The other exciting L & N service was the Passenger Train to Lexington. That's the part I loved. It came in from Whitesburg every morning and continued on to Jackson and Lexington. Grandpa would get me a pass every so often during the summer and it was good on any L & N train. I used to ride to Oakdale and visit my uncle's farm for a couple of weeks then ride the train back home. When my Dad and I rode to Lexington I remember the girls in Jackson that set up their stands and sold box lunches to the passengers for Fifty Cents. Several times we went all the way to Cincinnati to see the Reds play baseball. What an adventure that was. Equal to sledding down Baker Hill, Hazard Bulldog Basketball and Ma Combs peach cobbler. The evening train came in from Lexington around 4:30 pm carrying passengers, various newspaper bundles, Railway express mail and packages and 20 gallon cans of fresh milk for the City.

Well the song is right: "The L & N don't stop here any more, but I'll never forget it...

1 comment:

  1. When it was “Quittin’ time” at The L&N Railroad yards Granpa headed for the old swinging bridge and walked home about a mile down river. He lived high up on the hill in a three bedroom house that he and his son built themselves. It was directly across the river from the railroad turn table and repair shop. On the way through the yards he picked up small pieces of coal that had fallen off the gondolas and put them in his toe sack. That would keep the fire going in the living room fireplace that night.

    When he got home he would sit in a dinning room chair and Grandma would wash all the coal dust off his face and she would clean the cinders out of his eyes. One of the many problems with working around the old steam engines all day.