Reflections

Berry Trains Hauled Watermelons North

By Charles Cooper


Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.  Two of my long time friends, Charlotte Parker and Charlie Harris, have died recently and I offer my condolences to both families. Miss Charlotte taught me for a time at Camp Ground and every time we would meet she would tell anyone around, “ I taught him and and he was one of my brightest students.”
I’m not sure about being one of her brightest students, nevertheless I know she believed every word and it meant a lot to me. I’ve  known Paul almost as long and consider him a good friend as well and I’m proud to have known them both.   
Although Charlie was younger, through his work at the funeral home we were in contact over the years  with the funeral of my uncle, Roy Ford; my step-father, Jesse Lawson; and Mother. He was ideally suited for his chosen profession with his calm demeanor that helped everyone through the most difficult times in their lives. I’m proud to have been his friend and I offer my condolences to his family.  
A couple of weeks ago in writing  about the Yalobusha Watermelon Association,  I promised to continue the story but soon realized there wasn’t a lot more to tell. So to recap it let me tell you something about the transport of the melons to the northern markets. The Illinois Central ran fast freights called “berry trains,” which were the only freights that were given the right-of-way over passenger trains.
They even brought in the 2400 engines with the high drivers capable of speeds up to 100 miles an hour. Dad had enough seniority as a fireman to make some of what were considered prime runs because, unlike other freights, they were not required to  take  the sidings for passenger trains. They ran at top speed only making water stops. Now in case some of you might wonder why a train load of watermelons would be called a “berry train,” remember watermelons belong to the berry family.  
Old friend, Jim Allen, sent me an email that gives a nice ending to this story. He was living briefly with relatives in Michigan and they decided to cross the Detroit river into Windsor, Ontario to shop and have lunch. They went into a restaurant and were seated when they noticed a weathered sign over the counter saying “try our delicious Water Valley watermelons.”       
They called the waitress over and asked her about it and she told them they hadn’t had any of those since before World War II but she said she remembered how good they were. At one time Water Valley was known as the Watermelon capital of the country—maybe not officially, but it sounded good anyway.  
Mr. Jim Gore who sold most of his watermelons in the Delta, would laugh and say that people would tell him a man came through with a load of Water Valley watermelons and he said most of them had never been near Water Valley.  
I hope you have enjoyed this trip back in time but there will be more in the future, but write me at my email: address cncooper1@hotmail.com or at P.O.  Box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 if you have anymore suggestions and have a great week.

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