We know that sound in Sylacauga, and even at Lake Joy I can hear the train coming up Trammell Hill across 511 in the edge of the Talladega National Forest. We had overnight guests from Fairhope who got quite alarmed in the early morning hours when they heard that lonesome whistle, which is louder and more repetitive at each crossing. They couldn’t figure out what in the world that racket could be way out here in the country. No train tracks in Fairhope!!
I have really enjoyed hearing from you and your train stories. I wish I had room to retell every single one of them. One that I cannot leave out involves Mrs. Beryl Pitchford and her daughter, Alice Pitchford Collins. I have an old column, written by Mrs. Pitchford, that Ray McDiarmid had kept all these years. In it she recalls riding to Birmingham with her mother and sister to shop downtown at Loveman’s, Pizitz, and eat at Kress. She mentions riding through two tunnels and stopping in Childersburg to pick up passengers. She recalls how many servicemen rode the trains in those days. Bea says that the “City of Miami” train came through Sylacauga about two or three times a week and was easily recognized by the orange and green paint on the front. The City of Miami was a seven-car coach that went from Chicago to Miami. An old schedule shows it leaving Chicago at 8:40 a.m. and after many stops, would depart Sylacauga at 11:39 a.m. on its merry way. It was not quite as exclusive as the Orange Blossom Special. The Orange Blossom Special originated in New York and went to Miami, but only ran in the winter months. Some information I read indicated that it had a chef on board for the dining car cuisine, and everything, including breads, pastries, and entrees was made from scratch.
Now many years later, Alice Pitchford Collins, her daughter, shared her own train memories of riding the train to Charlotte, North Carolina, with her grandmother to visit her aunt and family. Alice recalls eating in the dining car, but she also had a heartfelt wish to sleep in one of the sleepers. Because their train arrived in Charlotte at 1 a.m., that did not happen. Her uncle in Charlotte would pick them up at the station
Mona Prince Hickey has a story of waiting at the station for her sister due to arrive in Sylacauga from Chicago. Imagine her feeling when the train did not stop. Mona rushed in to the ticket agent as the train disappeared down the track. The agent got in touch with the engineer by radio, but Mona was told she could pick up her sister in Goodwater.
Kay Cheshire Cirlot has a fun story. Kay was riding from Pensacola to Birmingham to see her Mom who was ill. The train stopped in Montgomery and two extremely inebriated guys got on and plopped down in the seat across the aisle from her, immediately going to sleep. After a few minutes , the train jerked, and one of them woke up, slapped the other on the arm, and said, “Get up man, we here.” They proceeded to get off the train. Kay said, “Wonder how long it took them to realize that they had never left the station in Montgomery where they got on?”
Lovie H. Lovelace had a delightful family story about when she, 22 years old, and Ed, 23, along with baby Craig Hunnicutt, then 9 months, drove to Sulligent, AL, from Vernon where they caught a train to Chicago to see family. Lovie recalls, “The train went slow in the South and stopped frequently, but as we got farther on in the cornfields that seemed to be miles long, it flew so fast that you could hardly tell it was corn. That was a long ride for a little baby and his foolish, young parents, but an experience I will never forget. This is where Ed and ate our first pizza. That train ride from Alabama to Illinois took about 19 hours if I remember correctly.”
Recollections of train rides to see family are awfully special.. Earl Lewis and his Mom made a number of trips to Tennessee while Janice Tucker Owens rode with her Mom from Los Angeles to Oakland, California, on a family trip. Janice remembers the outfit she wore that day, a little sailor dress complete with a sailor hat and streamers. Terri Brown relates how the train from Calera to Sylacauga was the connection that allowed her Mom to keep her job at Avondale while she lived with her grandparents in Calera until her Mom was able to move to Sylacauga. Martha Riggins Williams remembers train rides with her Mom to Walnut Grove to see her grandparents, her Mom wearing a big fancy hat atop her blonde hair.
Colleges once used trains to transport their football teams, cheerleaders, and fans to games. Auburn historian David Housel wrote a column for AuburnTigers.com that related how the first team travel was by train, to Atlanta for the Auburn Georgia game in 1892. The team and fans rode together and then rode trolleys to Piedmont Park where the game was played. Housel goes on to say, “For trips to Birmingham, the team would gather in Opelika, board a regularly scheduled train direct to Birmingham the day of the game, arriving at Terminal Station several hours before kickoff.” Earl Lewis and a couple of friends actually rode this Auburn train to Birmingham in the late 50’s or early 70’s. Housel goes on to describe cross country trips the Auburn team made to play Santa Clara in San Francisco, stopping along the way to practice. Raymond Styres rode from Auburn to Atlanta where Auburn played Georgia Tech in 1957.
Thanks to all who shared your stories. As you can see, this train story goes on and on like the tracks that criss-cross America, and I may have gotten off the track here and there; but I hope you have enjoyed the personal stories of people who remember fondly train trips that enriched their lives, and not so long ago at that.
Stuck at Home?
If you feel stuck at home, get out on Friday morning, put on that mask, and go to the Farmers’ Market, still there for a few more weeks at Blue Bell Park. You will see someone you know, even if you do not recognize them. Thanks to all the participants this year I am enjoying fresh beans, peas, squash, okra, peppers, and watermelon, even got a yellow-meat one! Don’t forget to call Chry’s for her tasty baked goods: cinnamon rolls, pound cakes, sunflower cookies, peach pies, etc. If you text or call her, she will have it ready and you won’t be disappointed. That number is 334 581-5020. Shop Sylacauga! These folks work hard to be there for us, so I hope to see you there!!