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Living by the Railroad Tracks

February 7, 2011

I am usually able to sleep through the rumble of a passing railroad locomotive. But at 3:00 A.M. on Monday morning, I was awakened by a loud screeching noise. A boxcar on a southbound freight train had faulty brakes. The grating of steel-on-steel friction was jarring. Clare and I live by the railroad tracks. Most of the time we enjoy it. Occasionally, it is annoying.

My grandfather lost his lumberyard and his home in The Great Depression. As the economy improved, Pappy wanted to start another lumberyard. He bought a strip of land that bordered on the main Southern Railway Line from Spartanburg to Columbia. In those days, a lumberyard required a railroad siding, since most building materials were transported by trains. Pappy built a lumber shed on one end of the land. On the other end he built a house big enough to accommodate his family of eleven.

Pappy was told by several people that building a home so close to the railroad tracks was not wise. One fellow told Pappy, “If you build there, every train that comes down the tracks will shake the house. You’ll spend a fortune replacing broken windows.”  When Pappy dug the footings for the home he went a step further by drilling holes in the clay deep enough to support a telephone pole. When concrete was poured for the foundation it filled those holes essentially putting the house on pilings like those used to stabilize houses along the coast. To this day, when a train passes by, the house vibrates.

The Drakensberg Boys Choir visited Spartanburg in 1983. Clare and I hosted two of the South African lads in our home. On the first night they were with us, I heard them scampering about in the middle of the night. Two frightened boys were peering out of the bedroom door. One blurted out, “Dr. Neely, did the earthquake do much damage?” It was the train shaking the house that alarmed them.

As a boy, I often visited my grandparents’ home; the very same house Clare and I live in now. The porch on the back of the house was a place to sleep. Before air conditioning, sleeping porches were common throughout the South. Spending the night almost outside in the summer was cooler than sleeping inside the house. I preferred spending the night on the porch even in the spring and fall.

Several trains, pulled by coal-burning steam locomotives, passed on the tracks behind the house during the night. In the morning, my grandmother, Mammy, would scrub the soot from my face and make me blow my nose several times. The thick black gunk was alarming!

Clare and I enjoy living by the tracks in the old home place built by my grandfather. I am glad to report that the railroad is alive and well. Eleven trains rumble down the rails by our house every single day.


Kirk H. Neely
© February 2011




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