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Reflections

Sleeper Coaches Provided Luxury Travel

By Charles Cooper


Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.  
Again my thanks to Jack for that picture of the old Mississippi Central Depot he put in last week’s column. I had never actually seen a picture. The depot I remember was a two story building with the division offices upstairs.
Even when I was a kid, Illinios Central (IC) painted their depots and section houses that yellow color and, as I remember, it wasn’t until the 1940s that they started the gray which was much better.  
The passenger coaches were a dull charcoal and it wasn’t until the diesel age that the bright silver coaches made their appearance. The coaches had no air conditioning so the windows were opened in warm weather and along with the fresh air you got coal smoke and cinders. When you arrived at your destination you looked like you had come out of a coal mine.    
The railroad had porters who handled the loading and unloading of luggage and the Pullman company had their own porters who were assigned to the sleepers. They changed the seats into beds and were on call to shine shoes or bring whatever the passenger requested.  
The dining car had its chef and waiters and the tables were set with white linen tablecloths and napkins and real silverware. As a carry over, early cross country planes had seats that could be converted into beds. That spelled the beginning of the end of the sleeper coaches.  
Today everything is geared to speed. People can board a plane in New York and be in Los Angeles in less than 10 hours instead of two or three days cross country by train. The nearest thing to a sleeper is a small airline pillow and a reclining seat. I am one of those who prefers speed with only basic comfort, but I understand people who want to get a sense of the past and more power to them.  
However, one thing to remember, until the steam locomotive came into being, the whole world moved at the speed of a horse.  
Last week I mentioned local men killed on the job with the railroad and I failed to name Jim Parks, who caught his foot between a rail and was run over by an engine. Richard (Dick) Carlisle was thrown between two cars while trying to loosen a frozen brake, and Lloyd Howard, who was walking in the dark between the rails instead of by the side, was backed over by the engine. Being a brakeman was the most dangerous job on the road.
Now this is where I change directions, as usual.  I can’t take any credit for it, but lately there has been a renewed interest in the Delmore brothers. I did some research and learned that their mother was a song writer and their first musical training was in the gospel singing schools.
They were so good that they joined the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930s. From 1933 to 1939 they were the most popular performers on that show.  They are regarded today as the best duets of all time and inspired the Everly brothers, and Bob Dylan, who  said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, “The Delmore brothers,  I really loved them, I think they’ve influenced every harmony I’ve ever tried to sing.”
Over the course of their careers they wrote over a thousand songs. Many regard their 1946 recording of “The Freight Train Boogie” as the first rock and roll record.
The Brown’s Ferry Four came about almost by accident when a group left station WLW in Cincinnati with a 30 minute spot to fill. Alton Delmore put together a group and they went on the air the next day. They only lasted ten years and made almost no personal appearances but were one of the most popular gospel groups on radio at that time.  
I made a mistake in my column when I said Rabon Delmore died in 1953, as he died in 1952 of lung cancer. The name of the group came from their recording “The Brown’s Ferry Blues.”  and was suggested by Merle Travis.  We can all take pride in the fact that Mississippi has produced stars in country, gospel, jazz, and blues. Even if the Delmore Brothers came from Alabama, they sang for some time on station WMC in Memphis and that makes them part of us.  
My email address is cncooper1@hotmail.com or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and your input is always appreciated.  
Have a great week.

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