Reader Shares Railroad Memories
By Charles Cooper
Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.
I received an email from Larry Bell, pointing out some errors in my recent column about the railroad watches. The premise of the column was primarily about the importance of the watches in old time railroading, not necessarily about the priority of southbound over northbound.
I know that manifest freight, such as berry trains, could take priority over passenger trains. I also know southbound trains had odd numbers and northbound were even-numbered. Larry has the advantage over me – he was a railroad man, whereas I was the son of an old-time railroad man who dated back to 1917. Some of my information might be outdated.
Nevertheless, Larry, your email was appreciated as I have always relied on my readers to keep me straight. I knew J. A. Cooper, a Water Valley jeweler. In fact I remember when he came to Water Valley after World War II as we attended the same church.
Mr. Frank DeShon did the inspection in my dad’s day from his jewelry shop, which was located next to the old City Hall Building. He was later Mayor for several terms and also a Spanish-American War veteran. Larry your input was welcome and let me hear from you anytime you want to share railroad stories.
Over the past decades you readers have kept me on my toes and I am grateful. Speaking of Mr. DeShon, he and my great-uncle, Elijah Haddocks, were great friends and Uncle Elijah told me an amusing story about him.
It seems that Mr. DeShon was calling on a young lady in Taylor. He would go up on the local train in those days, but would stay until after the last local had left. He would walk back down the tracks to Water Valley. This happened so often that he said he could tell you the number of cross ties between Taylor and Water Valley. I don’t recall if this young lady became Mrs. DeShon but it’s an interesting supposition. Mr. DeShon gave the appearance of being a pompous individual but they said he was a very friendly person.
In my column about Casey Jones I neglected to mention he lived for a time in Water Valley around 1890 and joined the Fireman’s Local #402 on July 21, 1890. He was promoted to engineer that same year and his name first appeared on the register of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers March 10, 1891, maintaining memberships in both lodges. He seems to have been intuitive about family responsibility as he had an insurance with both and Mrs. Jones collected from both after his death.
Last Sunday we visited Elizabeth and little Edward in Lexington and they showed us some of the devastation from the tornado that came within a mile of their home. It brought back unpleasant memories of the 1942 tornado in O’Tuckolofa, the 1984 tornado in Water Valley, and the 1987 tornado in West Memphis.
Revisiting watch memories, the overalls of those days had a watch pocket on the bib. Men’s trousers also had a watch pocket in the waist band and also buttons for suspenders. Like many older men of his day, Papa Badley wore suspenders but NEVER a belt. Mr. Dee Gore wore a belt and suspenders—a very cautious man.
Ready for another watch story?
Well dressed men in those days wore three piece suits and the watch went in a right side vest pocket and the chain through a button hole to the opposite vest pocket. Those early watches were closed cases and usually had Roman numerals on the face.
I suppose the closed face was for protection of the crystal. It was a common sight for railroad men to meet on the street to talk and in a few minutes out would come those watches.
I’ve heard them say, “Old so and so should be at such and such crossing about now.”
Another watch story. A little boy asked his friend to go to church with him. When the preacher got up to preach, he pulled out his watch and laid it on the pulpit. The little visitor asked his friend, “What’s that mean?” His friend replied, “Don’t pay it any attention, it doesn’t mean a thing.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed all this rambling, and let me hear from you even if you want to correct me—that way I know you are at least reading the column.
My email address is email@example.com or write me at P. O. Box 613189, Memphis, TN 38101, and have a great week.