by RD Foster
The railyard was just a half a block east of our house in McKinney and trains ran constantly, twenty-four hours a day. At first it was very odd, having come from a place when it gets dark the only thing you can hear are dogs barking or coyotes howling down in the woods. It didn’t take long to get used to the clicking, chugging sounds of passing freight trains and the loud metallic banging as the workers uncoupled cars and hooked up to others. After a while, we hardly even noticed. For me that railroad sound was comforting, kind of like rain on a tin roof.
Now that we didn’t have the woods and creek bottoms to play in, we had the railyard. Hundreds of big creosote-treated wood crossties were stored there in big stacks that the workers could load on and off of flat cars for track repair. But that’s not what we saw. We saw forts, club houses and secret hideouts. The unsupervised railyard became one of our playgrounds. The railyard had a smell of its own, as did the barnyard. It wasn’t a fragrance that you would create a perfume after, but it was pleasant to me. Along with the aromas coming from metal wheels on hot rails blowing out from under passing trains, and the smoke and exhaust from the big diesel engines, it became the smell of adventure.
The tracks were to me what the Missouri River was to Lewis and Clark. I knew that the tracks going south ran through Dallas and on down to the Houston shipping yard. The trains headed north, that was a mystery. I would watch those trains roll through, wave at the engineer and a few minutes later wave at the conductor, wondering where they had been and where they were going. Now that’s the kind of job I wanted to have when I grew up. I was tempted many times to hop into one of those empty box cars, doors wide open, when they would stop to load or unload just to see where it went. But thankfully I had a little sense back then. We would also put coins on the track and when the train passed over them, they would be totally flat and thin as a piece of notebook paper.
During the summer we would all get up for breakfast at about six and Mom and Dad would leave for work. Johnnie and Frank would be left in charge of washing the dishes, cleaning up the house and looking after the two young’uns, me and Donnie.
One of my favorite things to do was get my WWII surplus backpack, which I kept readily available with a canteen, mess kit, pocket knife, extra BBs, box of kitchen matches. I’d swipe a can of pork’n beans, or a couple of weenies from the kitchen, two fresh eggs from the hen house, and with my Daisy Red Rider BB rifle and a dog or two, I’d start walking the track. North went into town which wasn’t that exciting. There were a lot of dogs that liked to come out and cause trouble, but south went through the country toward Allen. Most of the time I headed south. Sometimes friends would go with me, but I preferred it being just me. My brothers didn’t care, they didn’t have to watch me if I wasn’t even there. Besides, I was armed with a BB gun and a pocket knife, what could possibly go wrong. I would explore until lunch time, find a good spot in the woods or along Wilson Creek, build a campfire and cook lunch for me and the dogs.
Adjacent and to the west of the railroad track was a thicket of trees next to Pecan Grove Cemetery. It was a very spooky place, especially at night. One day we heard that a Boy Scout troop was going there to campout. That night we crept through the dark woods we knew so well and hid in the bushes close to the campers. They were sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories, and being in close proximity to the cemetery, I’m sure some of those boys were already a little scared. We began making scary ghost noises and cat howls and tossed a few pebbles toward their campfire. It wasn’t long before they jumped into the two Scout Masters’ cars and got the heck out of there, not even bothering to douse the fire or grab their belongings. We put out the fire and went home, laughing all the way and of course thinking about our next adventure.