Riding the Punkin' Vine Trains in the mid-1950s

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Tue Jun 26 14:21:10 EDT 2012

I have asked for, and received, permission to post this little vignette which was written by Bill Dixon, my former co-worker.  Bill was born in  Winston-Salem, then spent a good part of his youth in France, returning to Winston-Salem for visits with  his grandparents.  He went on to run engines between Washington and New York.  He and I first rubbed shoudlers when he was the Road Foreman of Engines at Washington, and he was later Trainmaster there.  Bill and I have pulled some long nights together on "detour duty " over the years,  and one terribly hot July night I had him inside a gondola full of scrap helping me remove  a Union Switch & Signal Co. style TR color light signal.  I think you will enjoy his story about riding Nos. 11 and 12 (or perhaps Nos. 37 and 38) between Roanoke and Winston-Salem...

-- abram burnett


I was born in Winston-Salem, NC and my early memories of trains was my grandfather taking me up North of town in his '37 Chrysler with "3 on the floor" after getting me an ice cream cone and we'd wait on the old N&W line for a coal train or the passenger train, alongside the highway, US Rt. 311.  When it would show up we'd pace the train.  I can still see the rocking cab of the Y-6 steamer on a coal train and the fireman moving around in the cab and waving.  I could see the engineer on the other side pulling the whistle cord at the many road crossings.  In the excitement, the ice cream cone would melt and run down my arm and into the seat.  I would always say that it wouldn't happen the next time, but it would.  I couldn't have been much more than two, such are memories.   

Later, while visiting in the mid '50's, I'd get opportunites to ride all the way from Roanoke to Winston-Salem on the local passenger train and would sit with the crew in the Jim Crow combine about '56 when I was about 12.  I can still recall the lies, er... stories, the crew would recall that would scare the Devil out of me!  This was the first time I'd seen integration in the South to this extent.  The crew was white, except for the baggageman and me.  We'd always sit together telling tall tales with steam trains passing the open windows even before we left Roanoke.  The first time, they asked me how old I was.  I replied 12.  They looked at each other and said "He's old enough," and out would come the paper bag with a bottle of some sort of  liquor in it.  One would take a swig, the next would wipe off the spout and take a swig and pass it on, including the black baggageman.  It finally got to me.  I didn't like drinking behind anyone, no matter what, but I felt that this was part of my passage to adulthood and so wiped off the spout and took a big swig and almost chocked.  Everyone laughed and I was embarrassed but managed to stay sober and have a great time.  I repeated this 2 or 3 more times and the memories endure today.             
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