The trains still run by her old house in Puyallup, WA. In this story, my Aunt Iva Bailey, tells of growing up near near Meeker Junction in the 1920’s and 30’s.
The New and the Old
Every time we take the short trip to Puyallup, the place where I was born and grew up in, there are new sights and sometimes new sounds. The railroad that runs through the middle of town is still there but the old steam locomotives that pulled the trains of cars are gone. In their place are diesels.
As we sat in our car at the crossing waiting for the train to pass before we could cross the tracks and be on our way. I thought of the days gone by and the part the railroad played in my memories.
We lived just a mile from the depot, in what was called Meeker Junction. Our house was less than a block from the tracks. When the train would come into the junction, they would start blowing their whistle for the several crossings between our house and town. They would keep blowing all the way into the depot.
The engines were fired with coal and the black smoke would pour out of their smoke stacks.
Sometimes if the wind conditions were just right, and this was quite often, the smoke would all blow our way. The black soot would settle all over us. Many times my mother hearing the train coming would rush out and try to get her wash off of the clothes line before the train got there. She didn’t always make it and would have to do the wash over again.
The big red wooden water tank, where the engines took on their water was close by at the junction. It was always interesting for us kids to watch the man climb up the ladder and pull down the big spout that let the water run from the tank into the engine.
It was sad the first time we went back home after they tore down the big tank. It had become old and was no longer a need for the new diesels.
During the depression years in the 1930’s, people would walk up and down the railroad tracks with buckets picking up coal that had fallen from the many coal cars that was hauled by the big trains. That coal probably kept some little children warm that would have otherwise been cold.
I remember the long trains of logs that would pass by every day. The train would be so long we couldn’t see the end from where we were. At first they were great big logs, sometimes only one log on a flat car, but as the years went by the logs got smaller and the trains got shorter.
It seems to me there were always men working on the railroad then. Many times the section gang, as the men were called, would be quartered near our house on the rails in bunks similar to those in a logging camp. They would have their dining car and after work at night we would hear the dinner bell calling the men to supper.
We were always sad when they would finish their work and move on to another location but it usually wasn’t long until some more men would come again.
It was fun watching the long train of passenger cars go by. We wondered where they had come from and where they were going. We would wave and the people would wave back. I can remember the first time I rode on the train. It was just a short trip. My Uncle Dick took my cousin Blanche and me from Orting to Puyallup which is about 10 miles. We had been visiting grandma and he was taking us back home. If we had been going to New York it wouldn’t have been the thrill that short trip was. It was fun watching for the places we knew. When we came to our house my mother was watching for us and she waved. My dad met us at the station and took us home just as though we had come from a long distance.
During the 1930’s depression, men would ride the box cars hunting for work, or maybe because there was nothing else to do. Lots of them came to Puyallup. They would get off of the train before it went into town, so Meeker Junction was the place they established a hobo camp, as we called them.
This camp was just across the track from our house. Every day we would have men coming to the house wanting to work for something to eat. We didn’t have work for them to do but my mother would give them food anyway.
Sometimes they would want some particular item such as potatoes, carrots or some other vegetable. I guess they would make a soup or stew and several of them would get together on it. We had them ask for our used coffee grounds but we always gave them fresh coffee. I think they must have had some kind of a mark on our house showing that we some kind of easy mark because they kept coming all through the depression.
The Salvation Army would come to the camp every Sunday. They would have prayer and play their instruments and sing. The men would wash their clothes and hang them to dry on the fence along the tracks. It always seemed funny to us to watch the men hanging up their underwear while the band played Onward Christian Soldiers or some other hymn.
As the years went by and I was old enough to date, the train played another role in my life. My dad would tell me what time I was to come home but sometimes I would be a little late getting there. I soon learned that if I would wait until the train came by before opening the door, the train made so much noise, dad wouldn’t hear me come in.
Yes, I remember the old steam coal powered train like an old friend. Somehow the diesels just aren’t the same.