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‘Abandoned’ during switching at Jacksonville

By Ken Hough | December 29, 2017

I was safe and content, though — and besides, with pie and milk, why would I go anywhere?

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Splitting and combining trains was a well-practiced ritual at Jacksonville Union Station.

David W. Salter
From 1954 until I was 11 years old in 1965, we traveled, by Pullman, from 30th Street Station in Philadelphia to North Miami, using either the Seaboard Air Line or Atlantic Coast Line south of Richmond, Va. Until the Florida East Coast’s 1963 labor strike, on ACL trips we’d be on the FEC south of Jacksonville, of course. We made at least two trips a year, and, after I was in school, sometimes three, and we always took a compartment or bedroom.

I always enjoyed the trips and got to recognize some of the Pullman porters and dining-car employees. They recognized me, too. Beginning when I was about 7 years old, my mother would let me roam the train. The bedroom could get a bit crowded with her, me, and our Scottie dog Chip, who always got the window seat! At long station stops, the trainmen would let us get off to walk Chip. I well remember wearing heavier clothing in the winter and then get to Georgia and suddenly feel the heat.

No matter which train we were on, it would split at Jacksonville, one section heading to Tampa/St. Petersburg and ours to Miami. On one trip I roamed to the dining car, where I was offered a piece of pie and a glass of milk. Then we pulled into Jacksonville. Before I could get up to go back to our Pullman, the diner was uncoupled and we started going backward. I asked the railroader who was sitting with me, polishing the silverware, if we went to Miami or Tampa. He said, “Don’t fret, son, we’s heading to Miami as soon as we pick up some provisions.”

Then the dining car was spotted alongside other cars. The waiter said, “There’s the Miami section.” All I saw was Mom looking straight across at me! She did a double take, and I swear my dog barked at me. I saw Mom jump off the couch and bolt into the hallway. A minute later, she and the porter came back to our room and looked across at me eating pie. The porter waved at me and signaled to not get up. Where would I go, anyway? I had pie and milk and a nice railroader to talk trains with. This was perfect. Mom’s face was not so perfect looking, however — she was angry. Then we pulled forward. I saw panic in Mom’s eyes. After about 30 minutes, our dining car was coupled up again to the Miami section.

The man I’d been sitting with came back with a tray of pie, milk, and a beef bone for Chip. He said, “Son, it’s time to face the music.” We walked back to our Pullman, and he knocked softly on the door saying, “Steward, ma’am, founder of misplaced little boys.” Mom opened the door, Chip barked, and I went in to “listen to the music.” The pie and milk made it easier to listen.

First published in Summer 2010 Classic Trains magazine.

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5 thoughts on “‘Abandoned’ during switching at Jacksonville

  1. Can’t do that on a stupid airplane! Wish they would bring the railroads back. Sleeper dinning and observation cars make for a leisurely train ride which sound more relaxing than hectic airplanes and airports…

  2. In 1980, my wife and I went round trip from Richmond to St. Petersburg, Fla. on the Silver Star. At that time, the train split around Lakeland. The club car and the rear of the train went to St. Pete and the front half with the diner to Miami. The diner and club car were in the middle of the train to make the split easy. Coming back, it was getting near dinner time so we walked forward into the club car and stood at the door watching them couple on the diner and rest of the train. That was interesting watching a train back into you. As soon as we hooked up, the doors opened and we went on into the diner for dinner. As soon as word went through the Miami section that the club car was on, there was a stream of folks heading there and coming back happy with beer and drinks.

  3. This account reminds me of a train trip I took with my mother and sister when I was little (don’t remember exactly how old, but still young enough to get separation anxiety and cry). We were on the Santa Fe Grand Canyon (as I figured out years later) heading from LA to visit my grandparents in Oklahoma City. We were stopped at a major station in New Mexico, and apparently my mother had discovered that we were in the wrong Pullman car (one of those old mud-green heavyweights) to get to Amarillo, where we were to transfer to the Rock Island. There must have been some conversation on the train with the conductor, and there must have been some conversation with me indicating that Mom had to get off briefly at this stop and do something about the situation, and that I should stay put and take care of my little sister, and the porter would look after us until she got back. All I knew at the time was that she got off and said to someone on the platform, “I’m the lady who doesn’t know where she’s going or what she’s doing!” and promptly disappeared. Even though I knew she planned to get back on the train, after awhile I panicked and set up a howl. All I would do was bawl, “Mommeeee!” The porter (I assume it was) came to see what the problem was and said, “Let’s go outside and find Mommeeee.” We did just that, and we were then transferred to…”OOH! a SILVER car!!!” as I exclaimed in ecstasy, upon seeing the shining silver lightweight Pullman we were being taken to. My panic was forgotten and my happiness was complete. The interior smelled like soap, I remember. Even without pie and milk, I enjoyed every minute of the rest of the journey to Amarillo.

  4. Back in the 1950’s my dad would take the train for business trips from Scranton PA out west final destination usually Detroit. Sleep, meals on board, no hotel needed, get off in the morning ready to go meet with his customer at one of the car companies he hauled cars for.

  5. I was too young to have acquired any memories of railroad travel here in the States, but I did ride the train several times in Europe, as a GI, once to Paris, and four times to Copenhagen, Denmark.
    One thing that always amazed me was on the trip to Copenhagen, the train dead-ended at the water’s edge of the Baltic Sea, at the northern border of Germany.
    The tracks went right up to the water’s edge – three sets of tracks side-by-side. The sea-going ferry would pull up to the shore, and raise the bow of the ship, revealing the deck inside, with three sets of tracks on it. The ship eased up to the shore, and the trains crew (German) would winch the boat to the shore with big chains and winches, and the train would roll on, then uncouple and back up, than return with another section of about three coaches going onto the next tracks, and finally, the last section of cars on the third section. We stayed on the train while this was going on, and they winched the cars down tight, so they would stay in place when we got underway on the ocean.
    Then, the ship backed up and lowered the bow section, turned around and started steaming for Copenhagen, about a three-hour trip.
    After we were under way, we could get out of the car and go up to the pilot house to get our papers stamped. The sea birds were keeping pace with the ship – just up out of our reach – about three feet above our heads.
    We went up to the dining room, to the most gorgeous, well appointed dining room you have ever seen, with ice sculptures, and every description of sea food, as well as any and all other delectable foods, on the iced-down food bar there in front of us.
    As I recall, the price was 5 marks, which at the time, the exchange rate was 4 marks for $1.00 American.
    A beer cost more than the lunch, I remember, which was 4 marks.

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