Granddaddy and the Train
My father, Frank Harrell, Jr., gave me a very special gift for Christmas when I was about four years old. It has been something very special to me ever since. He gave me something that all little boys loved when he presented me with a Lionel Train. I'm sure my eyes bugged out as I looked at it for the first time. I remember how he set up the train in the bedroom. It came with a basic circular track and he set it up so that it ran under the bed and that made it more fun. Ever since those days I have loved a train as, I'm sure, many people who lived to see the day of the old steam engines. They were massive things. Powerful. Noisy with steam spewing out on both sides. Loud horns that commanded attention and warned of danger. "Get off the tracks, I'm coming in."
During the Second World War, my mother and I lived with her parents while my father was serving in the Navy in the South Pacific. I recall that my Granddaddy, Ben Golden Sr. was in love with train as much as I was. We lived about three blocks from the Tifton, GA train depot and he would say, "come on, son, lets go watch the trains come to town." So, off we would go on our adventure of the afternoon as we made our way walking down to the depot, sat on the benches and waited for the train to arrive. Two main train lines crossed right there in Tifton. The Southern Railway and the Atlantic Coast Line crossed about fifty feet right in front of the bench we were sitting on. He sat patiently smoking his cigar and I was right there with him, waiting. Soon, one could hear the sound of that steam engine horn coming down the line. First, way off in the distance it would begin to be heard. Closer and closer. Louder and louder until finally the horn and the rumble of the engine gave way to a visual sighting as the engine approached Tifton with that black smoke puffing out of the smoke stack and trailing behind the train in acrid billows. Amazing and awesome sight for anyone especially a four year old with an imagination as big as the steam engine.
Loud is not the word for it as the train would slow to a stop so people could get on and off. As it slowly went past us on the bench, it was struggling to stop. The brakes were scraping loudly and the steam came almost over to where we were seated. It was awesome. It seemed alive. It seemed threatening. It was a steam engine pulling a long train of cars. The first cars were those filled with people who were going to a town somewhere down the line. Then the baggage cars followed prior to some cars carrying freight. The pullman cars (those with people) also had some sleeping space for those on longer trips, were usually painted a green or brown with the name of the company of the side. It was impressive. I remember that the train conductor would exit a car just as the train stopped and he would put some little steps in place so people could exit the train. Some would go inside the depot to refresh themselves or maybe eat lunch. Others would sit on the train if they were going further while those who had reached their destination would get their luggage and meet their friends who came to greet them. Soon, the conductor would take his station at the entrance to a car and he would say, "All Aboard!" Then, he would wave a lantern in a certain fashion to let the engineer know that everyone was aboard and they were ready to move on. That's when the action began! With a great puff of smoke and massive amounts of steam, the wheels would start straining to begin turning. Some times they would suddenly slip and spin around and around for sever turns as the train struggled to move the massive weight it was pulling. Then, the wheels would grip and slowly but surely the train would start to move. It was a real show for a small boy to watch that massive contraption begin to come back to life. Loud huffing and puffing made it even more exciting. In a few minutes we would be standing and watching the little red caboose make its way down the tracks as the train made its way out of town and toward its destination.
I remember the first time I ever saw a diesel train engine. I was about 12 years old as I recall and it was sitting on the sidetracks with the engine running. I surveyed it for a few minutes and said to myself: "That's not a train." Looking down the tracks I saw a steam engine at the depot and I uttered: "Now, THAT'S a train!" It took me a long time to accept the fact that steam engines were being fazed out and diesel engines were the wave of the future. I still have the original engine of the scale model steam engine my father gave me in 1943. It had suffered some abuse over the many years since it was given to me but my brother found it in the attic and had it restored to its original condition in 1987 and gave it to me as a gift at Christmas. I never had a gift which meant more to me than that one. I had not seen the engine for many years and thought it was lost but its now sitting in my study with some cars which are just like the ones that came with it way back there in the early forties. It is one of my most prized possessions and always will be. But, I will always be grateful to my Granddaddy Golden for taking me to experience The Train.
William F. Harrell
6-28-2021 (my father's birthday)