A Loco Ride for a Veteran

A Loco Ride for a Veteran

By Roger Heid

 

Sometime during the late summer of 1950 I decided I needed a new box of Crayons. My Mom expressed the need for some new this and that, whatever that was, new Nylons, for example.

It so happened that my Step Dad had just purchased a car, a 1948 Chevrolet. It was a huge boat, a black menace. A few wealthy Germans drove something similar in looks, made by Opel. It was nice also, but it looked anemic by comparison.

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Left:  1948  Chevrolet  Aerosedan                          Right:  1948  Opel  Kapitan

My Dad loaded me into his Fleetline Aerosedan, and we took off, heading for the PX. I felt like the King of the Road, sailing along, hardly feeling a bump in the road. The PX did not have everything we wanted, so we went on to Woolworth’s in downtown Stuttgart. As we approached the entrance doors, I noticed a decrepit looking man sitting on the sidewalk. There was some suitcase with the lid open in front of him.

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Not an actual picture, but gives you the idea.

During the preceding years, men like that had been a familiar sight. There were plenty of them wherever there were people going about their business. Most of them were just begging, a small box or an empty tin can in front of them. Usually they had a yellow arm band with three black dots arranged in a triangular fashion. This indicated that they were registered war veterans suffering from debilitating physical shortfalls. A few of them played some instrument to attract attention. Occasionally, some kind pedestrian dropped a coin or two into their ‘Alms Receptacle’. As the years went by, their numbers receded; by 1950, they had become a rare sight.

This one was different. He did not just sit there or play a fiddle or a squeeze box; he was a Street Vendor; he had a license. His suitcase was filled with a variety of sundries I couldn’t make out from the distance. But at least he did something for a living; he had his own store, no matter how humble. I respected that. This one, for a change, did not look like some lifeless zombie, displaying this rehearsed pathetic look I had become so familiar with. This man actually worked, in a way.

My Dad and I decided to stand around for a while, just to see if this man actually sold something or if he was just wasting his time. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t 10 minutes later, he had sold four items. From the distance I could not tell what they were.

So I stepped up to his ‘counter’ to check what he had. Wow! In one corner of the suitcase I espied the familiar little boxes of my favorite candy from years ago. By now it had become almost impossible to find. The maker had ‘upgraded’ the product to the point where it appealed a lot more to adults than kids. I think the manufacturer’s marketing philosophy leant toward the idea that kids didn’t have any money, anyway. Shame on them; I hated them.

Spending half of my weekly allowance, I bought his entire stock of the candy plus a small gadget toy I had always wanted, but my Mom could never afford. She also had mentioned that it was too expensive for what it was. Well, that was strictly one of those adult viewpoints never shared by kids. This toy had disappeared from the market altogether. But, alas, now I owned one. My respect for this ‘store keeper’ grew in leaping bounds. I thought he should have a real store instead of sitting around on some stupid sidewalk.

During the transaction, I noticed the crutches leaning against the wall behind him. I also noticed that one leg was missing from the knee on down, a wooden stump sticking out the leg of his pants. He also missed three fingers on his left hand. His left ear lobe was a gruesome sight. While talking to him, it became apparent that he was deaf in that ear plus there was a deep scar on his left cheek. I did not want to know what may have been hidden under his cap. I had seen these steel plates before.

A closer look at his cap reminded me of the caps I had seen being worn by some railroad employees, like conductors and engineers. The jacket he wore had DRG emblems on it. Something started to click in my mind, but before I had a chance to talk to this man some more, my Dad dragged me toward the store entrance mumbling that we didn’t have all day.

While indulging in Coco Cola, apple pie and ice cream in the store cafeteria, I told my Dad that I wanted to talk some more to this man.

“Why?”

“Did you see his cap and uniform coat? He must have been a railroader before or during the war.”

“Oh! That’s what it is! Sure, we can spend 10 or 15 minutes on the way out, but then we have to go.”

When we left the store, the spot where the man had sat was empty. He was gone. An inquiry with the door greeter disclosed he had sold out and that he would be back in the morning, a Sunday, around nine.

On the way home, I kept my silence. I had learned something about my Step Dad. If I wanted to bug him about something, I didn’t, because it bugged him more when I didn’t bug him than it bugged me not wanting to bug him. Duh! Did you get that?

“Awright, Rodge, we’ll go back tomorrow around eleven. We’ll take Mom along. While we’re shopping you can talk to this guy all you want. Be in the cafeteria at noon, you hear.”

That’s my Dad! I was happy and content. My mom was happy that I finally got this toy. She had been trying to get it for me, but could not find it anywhere, she told me.

We got there around 10:45 AM; the man was sitting in his spot, busy selling his merchandise. Mom and Dad disappeared inside the store; I approached the man.

“Do you remember me from yesterday?”

“Oh yes. Do you need more of that candy?”

“No, not now. I only ate one box. Say, were you a railroader of some sort?’

“Yes, I sure was. I guess you can tell by my old uniform. Yes, I was an engineer until I got drafted. What do you want to know and why do you ask?”

We got interrupted by a couple of customers buying more than half of the stuff he had left in his ‘Warehouse’.

“What kind of locomotive did you drive? A big one?”

“Oh yes, a Class 03 steamer. A beauty she was. Do you know what an 03 is? They’re still around, you know.”

We were interrupted again.

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“My 03 didn’t make it. I almost didn’t either. Just look at me.”

He told me a few things that I would rather not to re-tell. I could not understand some of these things, anyway.

During the final stretch of our conversation I learned that his name was Jakob. By now, the suitcase was empty and he grabbed his crutches making himself ready to leave. But that’s not what I had in mind. I was willing to spend the rest of my allowance to buy him lunch. I could not just let him leave like that. Just minutes later, I spotted my parents in the cafeteria.

“Mom, Dad, this Jakob. He drove an 03 before the war. I invited him for lunch. I’ll buy.”

“No you won’t. I will,” my Dad said. “Sit down, Jakob. Pick from the menu whatever you want.”

We gave Jakob a ride home. It was an old house near the center of town where he said he had a room in the basement.

What transpired during the following weeks was outside my control. My Dad had taken the lead in this matter. I had mentioned in a previous story that my Dad was a Major and that he was in charge of the local US Army RTO (Rail Transport Office), located at the Stuttgart Main Station.

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Stuttgart Main Station around 1950

During the next five or six weeks, stuff kept going on which my Dad would keep under wraps, telling me I would find out soon enough and to just hold my horses. But he did tell me that Jakob was no longer in his daily spot peddling his goods; someone else had taken in his place, some older woman.

One evening, about seven weeks later, my Dad asked me if I wanted to go on a long ride in a BR 03 steam locomotive. That sounded very exciting and I instantly told him I would certainly like that a lot.

On the way to the Stuttgart Hbf, my Dad opened up by telling me that I had been invited by the locomotive engineer and that Jakob had successfully undergone medical treatment for his ailments. He also talked about a shortage of experienced railroad engineers and that, because of this, Jakob’s engineer license had been re-instated. He also told me that the name of the engineer who had invited me for this four hour trip was Jakob and that I had met him before.

Jakob seemingly had no problem operating his new found love. If you ever wanted to see a man real happy after years of total darkness, this would have been a perfect opportunity.

Dad picked me up from the railroad station.

“Are you happy now, Roger?”

“Yes, I am, Dad, very.”

“Good. I’m glad.”

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