I got the job driving that train in 1917.
There wasn’t many men around then with the war going on and all. I was sixteen and lied about my age and the man at the station was desperate for an engineer and hired me on the spot. I got two training runs, one up the route and one down, before the other driver left for the service. There wasn’t too much to learn. My route was seventy-seven miles long and had fourteen whistle stops for milk and mail and passengers all up and down the Greenbrier River. There were days in the 1940s, when the next war came, that I’d be pulling thirty cars, most of them flatcars of lumber, all the way from the great mill at Cass to the junction with the main line in Lewisburg.
There were days then when the train had more than one passenger car and we’d have forty or fifty passengers on the route; ten or twenty of those in uniform. With all of the stopping to load and unload every mile or two it took us nearly four hours to complete the whole run from Durbin to Lewisburg. The passengers didn’t care. Our way was the only way out of the mountains, then – besides horseback or walking, and the train was comfortable then, with coal fires in the winter, and opened windows in the summer, when the whole line was practically intunnelled by the spreading forest that surrounded us.
The river was never out of sight for long and on bright winter days it sparkled in the angled sunlight and in the summer it ran green and blue in the deeper stretches. I lived in Durbin at a boarding house there above the depot and store for the first fifteen years. The place was full of lumberjacks and sawyers and the breakfast table always full with eggs and sausage from the farms around and the butter and cream all fresh from Thompson’s dairy over in Belle’s Valley.
The man told me that just about the only way I could get in trouble was to be late. That job was about being there on time. I’d be at the station at five-thirty every morning and see the iron horse there waiting for me, taking on water and coal and already steaming and anxious to begin our run. The best days were those early mornings in heavy snow when the train actually uncovered the tracks as it went and you could see the smoke of the breath of the cattle in the white pastures and the whole world around us was white and perfect.