Yesterday's Magazette

3 – My First Train Ride

My First Train Ride


By Dade Cunningham

Do you remember your first train ride?

This is the story of my first train ride, and the events leading to it.

In 1933 at the age of five, I had never been near a train, but on a hot August day in the Phoenix, Arizona, Union Station, I was about to not only get near, I would be taking my first train ride. I had no idea that it would be one of the most frightening and one of the happiest events of my young life.

It all started when Mama ran away from home. In 1930, when my mother and father were divorced, my mother, who was only twenty-three-years-old, took me and my three-year-old brother to live with her parents on their farm near Muleshoe, Texas. She was not able to support us and herself. In those days, being a young divorced woman with two small children was not a position that society looked upon favorably.

Grandpa, Mama’s father, would not allow Mama to go anywhere except to church, church functions, and to work in the fields. She had hardly any freedom. He let her know that as long as she lived in his house, she would obey his rules. Grandpa ruled his home and family with an iron hand.

After three years of living under Grandpa’s rules, without telling anyone her plans, Mama took her two small children and left the farm. She didn’t have much money, but in her desperation to get away, she hitchhiked from Muleshoe, Texas, across the state of New Mexico and half of Arizona to Phoenix. I remember one ride we took was in the back of a flatbed truck loaded with fresh pineapple. Mama and my brother got sick from eating pineapple. All of the rides were with nice helpful people.

In Phoenix, with a social worker’s help, Mama found a boarding house where we could live with other young mothers and children. She found a job in a laundry, ironing and folding clothes. Best of all, she met a grandmotherly type woman to care for us while she worked.

After a few days, we began to adjust to our new life. Mama knew she should let her family know where she was and that all was well. She wrote a letter to her mother. That was a big mistake. When Grandpa learned where we were, he came immediately and told Mama that he was taking my brother and me back home with him. He told my mother she could come with him and us or stay in Phoenix. He did not believe she was able to care for us properly. She did not protest, in fear that he would take us and leave her there alone. She had no doubt he could and would do that.

The next day after Grandpa’s arrival in Phoenix, we got to the Union Station in early morning. Grandpa checked with the attendant to get our tickets and make sure the train would be on time. My brother and I were excited about riding the train, We never strayed far from our mother’s side in that big, busy waiting room. We watched the other waiting passengers, some sleeping on hardwood benches, reading, or eating.

Children running around kept mothers on their toes to keep them in sight. One mother who especially got my attention was holding her baby while he nursed his breakfast from a bottle. The little fingers were curled around the bottle. His efforts to get the milk from the bottle caused beads of perspiration to form on his little button nose.

His mother kept wiping her brow as fingers of perspiration crawled down her face. Many people were fanning themselves. The whir of the one ceiling fan over the ticket counter lazily moved the hot air around the room. August in Arizona can get to 100 degrees early in the morning.

When our train arrived, the conductor announced “All aboard.” Mama picked up my brother to carry him to the train and told me to stay close to her. She didn’t have to tell me to stay close; I hung onto her skirt in awe of my surroundings. I was a shy child and not comfortable with so many people. Grandpa carried a suitcase. We had to pass the engine to get to our car. The train make a lot of noise, huffing, puffing and rumbling. Just as we were even with the black monster engine, it spewed clouds of steam. I screamed!

That explosion scared me so that I was petrified to the spot. I tried to run, but couldn’t move. A man stooped to pick me up. In my fright, I did not recognize it was Grandpa. One of the train attendents came running to help me onto the train and get safely settled with my mother. Once there, she assured me that nothing was going to hurt me; that riding the train was going to be a fun time. She was right!

As we left the station, I looked out the window and saw again that huge noisy monster as its shadow fell across the wall of the station building. In a few minutes, I was no longer scared, but a happy five-year-old on her first train ride.

We spent the next five years l
iving with my grandparents. Mama again ran away and remarried in 1938. The man she married became a wonderful husband to my mother and a real father to me and my brother.

Exactly sixty years later, in August 1993, I was back in the same waiting room, listening to the whir of the ceiling fan and watching the other passengers seated on the same hardwood benches.


There still was no air-conditioning. The hand-held fans did not ease the intense heat of an August day in Arizona.
I have had many wonderful train rides over the years. I love the train!

Vol. 36 No. 3 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Fall – 2009


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