An Electric Train for Christmas

Remembrances by my brother Joel of our family before I was born:  In the 1940s, after we had moved to Texroy and World War II had started, Mom, Harry and I spent Christmas with our Grandparents Raiza in Woodson, 294 miles south in Throckmorton County.  We went on the bus because of gasoline rationing.  We caught a Trailways in Pampa that would take us through Shamrock to Childress.  In Childress we would change to a larger, faster Greyhound that was running between Denver and Fort Worth.  At one of those bus stations I noticed that the black people were congregated in a smaller room with benches, while we white folks waited in a larger more comfortable room.  There were two drinking fountains, labeled “Negroes” and “Whites.” I asked Mom about it, and she answered that the black folks (she said to call them Negroes, not “niggers,” the term most white folks used) had to drink from a separate fountain and were forbidden by law to drink from the White fountain.  They had to use separate restrooms too.  I studied their drinking fountain when the Negroes would get a drink and I noticed that the water seemed colorless and pure just like that in the other fountain.  And I got a cup to get some of the water from the Negro fountain so I could taste it to see if it was the same as what we were drinking.  As I was filling the cup, Mom caught me, made me pour it out, and admonished me sternly in hushed tones not to break laws I didn’t know anything about.  I always supposed it was really the same water we whites were drinking, but it took years to find that out for sure.  Now we all drink from the same fountain.

 The Greyhound bus would take us to Vernon, where we changed again to a smaller bus with a funny curved air intake over its back.  That took us on to Woodson and let us out in front of Grandma’s house, a 1930’s cottage-style, cream-colored wood frame house, with arches on the front and back porches.  There was a prominent stone chimney that made the house stand out at the foot of a curve in the road as the highway passed south through Woodson for Breckenridge.  We immediately trooped into the living room, which wasn’t used much except for company and big holidays.  There Grandma had put up and decorated a large Christmas tree, reaching all the way to the ceiling and dominating the room. The fireplace had a nice, warm fire going when we arrived.  Together with Cousin Jerry Raiza, who lived with Uncle Rex and Aunt Libby on their farm four miles south of Woodson, we hung our stockings.  On Christmas morning the stockings were filled with hard candies, nuts and fruit. Presents, supposedly brought by Santa Claus, were spread out next to the tree. Some sleepy adults instructed us as to which presents Santa had left for whom.  I sort of wondered how they knew for sure.  Soon I realized that fat Santa wasn’t really coming down that chimney where the fire still smoldered, nor through the metal flues of homes that didn’t have chimneys.  Later in the day we had a big turkey dinner. Rex and Libby ran lots of turkeys to eat the grasshoppers on their farm.  Grandma Raiza was a fine cook.  She made great mashed potatoes and gravy, and wonderful cakes and pies.  On Christmas evening we shot off the fireworks that Uncle Rex had bought–skyrockets that shot 15 yards or so into the air and Roman candles you could hold in your hand while the colored flaming balls whooshed out the other end.  The firecrackers had the acrid smell of gunpowder after they exploded. You could hear them all over town. Somehow we survived with all of our fingers and eyes intact.

 After a stay of no more than a week we returned to the Panhandle, which was always lots colder than Woodson. You could feel the cold creeping into the bus as we ascended the Caprock north of Estelline. When we got home to our house in Texroy, it would look sort of like a bachelor place, with opened cans, dishes piled in the sink, and dust all over everything.  But Pappy would be delighted to see us, and would have something warm to eat.  One year he bought me a special present.  It was an American Flyer electric train.  It was “O” gauge, with about an inch and a half between the tracks, and a central third rail that carried the low voltage direct current from a transformer that powered the locomotive.  The engine was blue and shaped in the fast streamlined modern style used by the Pennsylvania RR.  The cars were all metal, which was unusual in the wartime.  Most toys were made from plastic or wood.  In fact, electric trains were as rare as hen’s teeth in those years.  I don’t know how Pappy ever got hold of that one.  But it was a nice model, with a boxcar with doors that opened and a tank car that Paw had repainted black and pasted Phillips 66 stickers on, and a red caboose.  The hitches between the cars were devised so that you could back one car up into another and it would link up with a click, then move forward with the rest of the train.  How I loved that train!  I must have driven it for miles literally, forward and backward, around and around the oval track.  The train probably cost 20 or 30 dollars, which was a significant amount of money back then.  And of course, while he gave it to me, he had really bought it for himself.  Lots of presents are like that, and he was such a fan of trains.  Later we nailed the tracks to a plywood frame.  And that survived until we moved to Phillips, where it was suspended from the ceiling of our dusty garage.  Sometime after I had left home for college my train got thrown out or given away.  It must have gotten dusty and rusty.  But how I wish I still had it now.  What a nice Christmas that was.

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