Greetings all and a "Good Day" to you. The cold weather is keeping me inside and thus, I have gotten back on this old keyboard. When one prefers a computer keyboard to cold, wet, hot, dry, windy, or you name it weather, it is easy to use the weather condition to stay inside.
Well, the old brain is trying to form a complete picture of Rockport Railroad events so that the old fingers can peck out a story that I enjoy writing, just hope there is some enjoyed readers. Again, this following, simple story is what is etched in the old brain and parts of the story may be on the fringe edge of the complete truth. Hope this story is used for a person to reminisce more so that to pass it off as a history lesson of Rockport.
What a place; this small town of Rockport in the late forties and early fifties. Mayberry, to an extent. Some Currier and Ives painting depictions for another. Even some of the pictures by Norman Rockwell could have easily be painted of Rockport. It was just a simple and small river and railroad town and not all times were good. Most of us were poor and did not know it. I am sure that some were worse off and felt the pains of hunger, maybe even the "Chills of Winter".
The summers, in this period of time, were probably the best as the warmth meant that no one went cold and the abundance of crops meant that hunger was cut back to a minimum. A Norman Rockwell painting of checker players sitting on the concrete steps of the old hotel entrance could have easily been made. There you would see older men, younger men, and even young boys competing with each other in "Checker Play-Offs". Once beaten, the loser had to get up and someone else would challenge the winner. These events could last all day or only a game or two. If it was raining, the steps of Kevil's storage room was used as a base for the checkerboard. The checker board was just a drawing where someone painted squares on the concrete structure. Black liquid shoe polish was easy to work with and it lasted for many a checker game. The checkers consisted of nothing more that bottle caps. One side played with the caps up and the other side was with the caps down. "Kinging" was no problem, as a cap placed on top of another cap served the purpose well. Most everyone played checkers at one time or the other and anyone reminiscing about these events can pick out certain people that they thought were the better checker players To me "Mawh" Porter comes to mind. Mr. Durbin was another good player. I have beaten both, but their victories over me was surely in their favor. Nick Rains, Tip Cardwell, and "Slick" Chapman are other good players that come to mind.
I do need to mention that most of the young boys had many things in common. Playing checkers was one. Another was listening for the sound of an approaching tug with a barge or two in tow. At certain mile-markers, the tug captain was required to give a long blast on his horn and that blast could be heard for miles. Whether upriver or downriver, the horn was a signal for all to head to the river as the approaching tug would make enough waves to give all a half minute or so ride. Why, to us, it was just like surfing without a board. Within minutes of hearing the horn, we had our bathing suits on and was swimming toward the middle pier. On the Rockport side of the pier, there was a ledge just a few feet under the surface. Using this ledge, we could rest up until the tug was almost to the pier. Then, it was a fast swim around the pier, wait for the tug to pass, and then try to get as close to the rear of the tug as possible. What fun and it gave us the "Ride of the day". While the waves may have only been a few feet high, to us they were enormous. Dangerous, yes, but we all survived.
One such late summer morning, as the regulars were out, playing checkers, and looking for something to do, a different type train noise came from the river and from the old Railroad Bridge. This time, we heard the grinding of steel wheels sliding on rails, an eerie train whistle, and more commotion from the river than in time past. Of course all headed toward the river and the bridge. Here we found the train stopped, train crew scurrying about and a few other onlookers. As we approached the bridge from the tracks, we were cautioned that there had been an accident and were encouraged to leave. Our curiosity led us to find out the action and we found it after we left the bridge and entered the trestle on the Muhlenberg County side. From the trestle, we could see what all of the commotion was about. An old, bearded man, dressed in overhauls was laying face-up in a few inches of water. He was on the downriver side of the trestle and maybe twenty-five of so feet from the trestle. There was no blood and no other indications of trauma, but we knew that this old person was dead. Seems that a hobo, with his pack, was attempting to cross the trestle, to get to the Ohio County side, and he met up with a train. He lost.
For those of you that have been on the trestle, you know that there is not much room for a person and a train to be there at the same time. For those of you that have not been there, allow me to enlighten you. This trestle was build with creosote poles and timbers. Imagine the wooden poles holding up a trestle that a train could cross and you should get an idea that a lot of poles and timbers are needed. Looking from the side, you just see a mass of creosote lumber. The poles were set and the timbers and cross-beams tied them together and then the railroad tracks were laid on top. This trestle, with the wooden frame, had been there at least twenty-five years before the "Hobo" incident and is there some fifty years after the event. The trestle itself connects from the bridge, crosses a low place, and runs for a quarter a mile or so to a built-up area to where the tracks enter back on land. The width of the trestle is not much wider than the rail and walking across is discouraged. There are two or three "Fire Barrels" that are placed on the side and to what I have been told were used in case the trestle ever caught fire. I always figured that if a train and I had to occupy the trestle at the same time, I would head for the "Fire Barrels". The barrels were supposed to be filled with water, but I would rather have been wet that to be knocked off the trestle. I think that the hobo may have tried to outrun the train, all to no avail.
Well, now Rockport parents have another event to talk about. The death of the young girl and the death of the hobo could and was used to warn their children that the old Railroad Bridge and trestle were unsafe places to be and danger lurked at all points. It was just not safe in and around the bridge and river. I know that I was leery of the trestle crossing, even before the death of the hobo, but that did not stop me from crossing. I was more cautious after the event and tried to use the signal lights, sound, even placing an ear to the track to try to determine if a train was in the area.
The old Willie Nelson song of "Mama, don't let you kids grow up to be cowboys" was probably good advice in the west. In Rockport, "Mama don't let your kids play near the Railroad Bridge" was considered good advice, from all parents, in Rockport.
Guess that we went back to a checker game after the accident. It did not change much in our normal summer routine, but would imagine that every kid or adult that saw or heard about the death of the hobo would think about his death any time a crossing was to be made.
If you are still here, thanks. Appreciate your looking and reading of this bit of remembrance from the past by me. It is only what I remember and that and twenty thousand dollars or so will get you a new, but small, car.