My maternal grandfather was a railroad engineer. He and my grandmother lived right next door! He died when I was seven.
He had heart trouble and for exercize he walked a lot. What better place for a RR man to walk than to walk the rails! And he took me along.
The Illinois Central main line ran north to south through Jackson, Mississippi, parallel to Galletin Street. This line crossed Highway 80 just east of the new G. E. Plant. A branch line which came into town from the west joined this main line right at South Street and Gallatin. We had several walk routes to choose from.
This fateful day we’d walked far south, crossed Hwy 80, and continued south, even crossing Lynch Creek. An old wooden railroad tresstle crossed this rather large creek.
During this period of time, most locomotives were powered by steam, which fed on burning coal and boiling water. They were big, heavy, noisey, and absolutely amazing to a six year old boy.
We’d walked far enough after crossing Lynch Creek, so we turned around to walk back northward. I guess that the trestle was at least twenty to thirty feet above the water, and perhaps twenty to thirty yards in length. We were perhaps a third of the way back across, when we heard an ominus sound behind us… the sound of a thundering north bound locomotive!
Granda Fairchild thought fast. The train was coming fast! He reasoned that there was no way we could make it back south and off the bridge… and worse yet, no way we could beat the train north and off the bridge. Only one option remained!
During this time period of steam trains that burned coal and spewed hot ashes, wooden trestles were always in danger from stray sparks and fire. Rail companies installed large 55 gallon barrels filled with water which were mounted mid-bridge and just far enough to the side to allow the train to pass. This water was for fighting fires. We headed for the barrel.
The barrel sat on a very small extension on the bridge. This platform was hardly large enough to accomodate the barrel! We climed out onto the tiny platform and hugged that barrel for dear life… and squeezing as far away from the coming train as we could.
Soon it was upon us and thundering by! The whole world seemed to shake and tremble. I can’t begin to describe how it felt and soundeed as thousands of tons of steel rumbled by. It was the most thrilling thing I’d ever experience in my young life!
Grandpa and I clung to each other across that barrel until the last car had sped past. I’m sure that his relief was overwhealming. I was gitty with joy!
After we’d gotten off the bridge, and were once again walking north towards home, he turned to me and said sternly, “Don’t dare tell your Mama what just happened!” And I didn’t, not for many years after my beloved grandpa was gone.