The image above is of an original Nickledeon Machine
I have a vague recollection of the times back in the early 1950's, when my brother and I would get to ride a train around 700 miles from our home in Pennsylvania to Chicago, without a parent or guardian to watch over us.
I was a very young boy at the time. I don't exactly remember how old I was when our train rides stopped, but I would guess they stopped when I was around 8 years old. The only reason I gave that age as a stopping point is because by the time I turned 10, we moved away from Pennsylvania.
Anyway during the summer, my mother would put my older brother, who was two years older then me, and I on a train and send us out to Indiana so we could work on our grandparents farm over the summer months.
It was so long ago and my memory has deteriorated so much over the last few years, but I will try as best I can to share what little I do remember.
I have seen old movies where they portray individuals sleeping in “Births” or bed compartments on a train. But my brother and I did not get that type of option. I would guess that was a result of us being raised by a single parent that worked at a low paying job. So paying for expensive frills was not an option.
So basically, we just sat in our seats and slept for a good part of the ride. Yes, we had window seats, and I love to look at nature, but you can only watch the trees and forests go by only so long before they get monotonous. If you add the rhythm of the clickety-clack sound the train wheels made as they were going over the track, combined with the boredom of two young boys stuck in a train seat for many many hours with no form of entertainment, you can understand why I slept most of the time.
I also do not have any recollection of a dining car. Knowing my mother, I presume she packed us some sandwiches in a brown paper sack. She was excellent at making submarine sandwiches using a foot long loaf of unsliced bread filled with all types of meats, cheeses and other goodies.
What I remember the most, was my grandmother waiting for us to get off the train at our destination. Then driving us to her home in South Bend, Indiana.
She was a fantastic cook and made EVERYTHING from scratch. Of course, this was before the days of Microwaves and all of the prepared store bought foods you have today. Plus, since they had their own 10 acre farm out in the rural area of Mishawaka, where they raised their own beef, chickens, vegetables, and fruit, there wasn’t much point in spending money buying pre-cooked meals.
My grandfather Warren Hostetter, worked for Studebaker but would take time off work at the plant when the Blueberries came in. He had 300 blueberry bushes and one of our jobs was to sit on a stool and pick blueberries from 5 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. Of course we would take a break for lunch, but that was the only time we stopped.
On Saturdays, my grandmother would drive us down the side streets of the River Park, area of South Bend where my brother and I would walk door to door, trying to sell our BIG ripe blueberries for 50 cents a quart.
Of course, on Sundays, our Grandmother Marion Hostetter took us to church.
Then once the blueberries were done for the season, we would hoe the weeds around the potatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, beans, carrots, tomatoes, and other crops. In addition to that, we would help our grandmother paint their two story home and take care of other chores.
But it was not all work.
We also got to ride my grandfather’s Golden Palomino called Trigger after Roy Roger’s horse. They would also take us to the local county fair, auction barns, fish fries, or even go up to Michigan to some amusement parks or tourist attractions, like Deer Park, a type of “petting zoo” place where kids could see, feed and pet deer and other animals.
They also took us to the “House of David” up in Benton Harbor Michigan, a place where the men were forbidden to cut their hair or shave, due to religious beliefs.
That place had player piano’s where you could hear the piano automatically play a song by it’s self, for a Nickle. They also had “Nickleodeons” that we could put a Nickle in and watch a short movie and Skeeball machines as well as a petting zoo.
Image of a "Skeeball Machine"
Yes, we worked hard but we also had fun and got to spend time with our grandparents. So as I look back at my childhood and my life growing up without a father around and having a mother that worked long hours trying to support us, I am very great-full that we had such loving grandparents that taught us that life requires a balance of hard work, fun, great food and God.
At the end of the summer, we were again placed on a train for the 700 mile ride back to our home in Pennsylvania and to this day, while it may seem scary to others for young boys to ride a train alone, it was a different time and “most” people had more respect then we seem to have currently. So, all in all, I am thankful I had a chance to ride those trains and have some fond memories of my youth.
For the person I am today, is a result of all the the good and bad events that have taken place in my life. These train rides, were some of the positive events that helped create me.
In future writings, I will discuss my Great Grandfather that spent his life riding trains in Pennsylvania for a living, as well as my grandfather that worked for NYC RR in Indiana and my grandmother that never cut her hair in her life, due to religious beliefs.
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