An Excursion Gone Wrong

Monday, July 25, 2011

Here is another true story gathered by the Federal Writers' Project in 1936-1940. I cleaned up a few typos but did not otherwise change the wording in the original manuscript.

The narrator is Mrs. Annie Hightower, who lived in Fort Worth, Texas at the time of the interview. This event occurred when she was a child in Arkansas.

During 1870, rumor had it that a railroad was going to be built into Benton; and did during the 12 months following. I shall never forget our anticipation of that coming event. We children pestered mother every day for an explanation of a railroad and a train. It was to us the wonder of all wonders. Mother promised to take us to Benton the day the first train came in, and she did.
On the day of the big event, the team of horses were hitched to the wagon and we started before daylight on our 20 mile ride to see a railroad and its train. We females carried along our calico dresses, made from the bolt of calico father had bought, which was the proper dress for the occasion. Those dresses were only worn on special occasions. For instance, if we were called upon to act on a reception committee to welcome some high official. When we were about a mile from town, we changed from our home-spun to the calico and arrived in town properly attired.
We drove up to near the depot where we tied the team to a sapling, then joined a crowd of people on the platform who were waiting for the train's arrival. It was an anxious wait, but finally the smoke from the engine was sighted and there went up a chorus of voices yelling, "there she comes!" The train, which was an engine, several box cars and a caboose, came rolling up to the depot. To us, it was a majestic thing. But when it reached the platform over half the people left the platform on a run, and we Heckman children were in the crowd of runners. No sir, we wouldn't take any chances with that engine staying on the track or not bursting. The way the train was swaying on that newly layed track and the engine popping off steam, indicated to us the darn thing was about to destroy everything around there. So our better judgment and common sense told us to give the contrivance plenty of room.
Our team, which had been raised in the hills and valleys of Saline county like us folks, had never seen a train, and the team used the same kind of common sense that we humans did. There was a difference, however, in that the team didn't consider the wagon, harness, and our lunch which was in the wagon. The team reared back a couple times which put such a strain on the tie ropes that it caused the ties to break, and the horses started for some other place going at their best speed.
The result of that team's run was a broken wagon and harness, beyond repair. That was a disaster for mother to face. However, the calamity for us children was the loss of the lunch. Mother had roasted an excellent fat young turkey hen with dressing. She had, also, baked a raspberry pie, some strawberry preserve tarts, and made some vegetable salad, all of which was to be enjoyed under the shade of a tree after the train's arrival. In addition, mother had promised to buy each of us a bottle of red pop. Being deprived of the pop by the run-away was the crushing misfortune for us children, because red pop, those days, was the greatest treat children could receive.
NOTE: The photograph (which is actually the railroad station at Coal Creek, Colorado) is from the Denver Public Library Collection (Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library) and was taken by Louis Charles McClure sometime around 1915.

The Federal Writers' Project interviews are government-created documents and are available on the Library of Congress' website. WPA Life Histories. The quoted passage is from an interview with Annie Hightower, Item 10 of 445 in the Texas section of the American Life History manuscripts.

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