Train Derailment

Train Derailment

By Roger Heid


It was a day like any other, sometime in late fall of 1956. The day in school was about as dull and boring as most school days were. Nothing noteworthy had occurred. Even the teachers had behaved, except the music teacher. He had insisted we listen to excerpts of some symphony composed by some ancient longhaired dude. Most of us would have preferred he’d play something more hip like Elvis and Bill Haley, and make compost out of this symphony. Well, we all managed to suffer through the entire ordeal. No one died, except a pesky fly.

Finally, we were on our beloved commuter train, on the way home. The train stopped at a certain station which had three sidings. Still, there was nothing unusual about that. However, things strayed away from their ordinary pattern when the train refused to depart. It was just standing there like a stubborn donkey. It was getting late. My Mom would probably throw a fit or two and blow all available gaskets, on grounds of my failure to report for supper on time. Well, at least I had a legitimate reason instead of some fabricated excuse.

Then some punk came running through the car, loudly announcing that there were free potatoes and Coca Cola about 100 feet in front of the train. Driven by curiosity rather than greed, I headed toward the front of the train. There I saw a short freight train, partially derailed; a box car and some gondola type cars were tipped sideways. It reminded me of the results of my cat helping me with my home use train operations. It was the same pathetic sight except the dimensions were 87 times greater. This was not my cat’s fault.


There were sacks of taters and a bunch of bottles strewn all over, giving the ground around the scene a new look. A small crowd was gathered around, some being busy stuffing every available pocket and bags and such with some of the merchandise exposed to the whim sickles of the bystanders. Some railroad employees urged not to steal the stuff, but their beckoning was totally ignored. One of them headed back to the station building, mumbling something about calling the cops.

Suddenly, I was overcome by some irresistible sensation of greed. Coca Cola was my favorite beverage. Mom would not buy it very often. I ran back to the car and grabbed my duffel bag which was only half full with gym gear. There was plenty of room left.

By the time I got close to the crime scene, two cops were guarding the site which, in the meantime, had been abandoned by all these criminals. I was proud not to be one of them, after all. About 30 minutes later, the outbound track was cleared enough for our train to pass through.

When I finally got home, more than a hour late, I expected to see this ominous look on my Mom’s face which usually preceded fragments of certain gaskets flying all over the place. Instead, she was an image of relief, utter joy and contentment. She smiled from ear to ear. I was stunned. Maybe she was trying a new strategy, having run out of gaskets. I was about to find out.

“I heard all about the train wreck on the local news. You poor thing. I was sooo worried about you. I’m so glad you’re home safe. I will make pork chops for you, and I bought a six pack of Coca Cola for you; and I cleaned the tracks for you; and I will buy you that freight car you’ve been bugging me about; I can see you need it.”

I will skip the scene her hugging and kissing me. It’s too sappy.

I still don’t know what kept me from fainting. Apparently, life is full of unexpected surprises. Something like this was bound to happen, sooner or later. I had finally managed to push her over the cliff.

The whole event made me wish that the inbound switch in that station would be in the wrong position more often when this freight train came through. The local butcher might then run out of pork chops and my Mom would be broke. As a result, I wouldn’t get that freight car. I abandoned my wish and labeled it counter-productive.

At the time, pork chops were my favorite. I gulped both of them down, but I saved three bottles of my favorite drink for the next day. Before falling asleep, I became pensive. My last fleeting thoughts were that there had to be a way to obtain some spare Coca Cola without having to become a thief. There just had to be.

You won’t believe this. A few weeks later, my school mate and I, on our way home from the train station, observed one of those Coca Cola delivery trucks taking a corner too hard. A bunch of crates crashed on the street. Many bottles got busted in the process.

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We felt sorry for the driver, so we helped him to clean up the mess and reload whatever had survived. The driver was so grateful he let us have as many bottles we could carry. It is amazing what one can achieve in an emergency. I managed to bring home 13 bottles. I have no words to describe the look on my Mom’s face. I had never seen it before. She stared at these bottles as if they were a gift from the Gods on Olympus. Compelled by an overwhelming wave of generosity, I shared the loot with her. She prepared large pork chops, the next day.

Henceforth, the Coca Cola truck driver was a lot more careful, unfortunately, but also fortunately. If he would continue his reckless driving, the butcher would run out of pork chops, and my Mom would be broke from having spent her last penny on pork chops. I still would not get my new freight car. So, it’s a good thing he cleaned up his act.

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I got my new freight car, my dream boat, for Christmas. It was quite a bit longer than my other freight cars. My cat was quite apprehensive about it. He would not even come close to the train. During a station stop, he carefully edged closer, his neck getting longer and longer, his tail puffed up to four times its normal heft. He took a careful sniff at this new menace.


1956 Dream Boat

Then I turned up the throttle, the train started to move, my cat somersaulted backwards and wasn’t seen, for the rest of the day. On the following day, he re-appeared and carefully approached the railroad. He kept a respectable distance from the train, from here on in. My railroad operation had become a lot safer.

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‘What a difference a car makes, twenty four little hours.’ According to Dinah Washington.

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PS: These days, I have the symphony mentioned above in my CD collection. The long haired dude is Edvard Grieg. Naturally, I also have Elvis and Bill Haley in my collection. There are also six dream boats in my train collection.

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