Petey Bob's Train Ride

A True Story

Paul Marion Fleetwood

Copyright 2016 by  Paul Marion Fleetwood


Photo of steam locomotive wheels.

It was during the Great War. The year was 1944 and I was 13 years old, getting ready to be 14 on July 23, 1944. 

My family lived in a small town in East Texas not too far from Longview. We had moved to Texas from Northeast Arkansas where my dad had a small farm. He had gotten hurt and was unable to work the farm so we moved to Texas where Dad's extended family lived so he could help out around their sawmill.

My mom's family lived in Southern Missouri near the small town of Doniphan. I wanted to visit my Grandma and Uncle Paul when school was out that Spring so Dad drove me to Longview to catch the train. 

My plan was to ride the Missouri Pacific from Longview to Little Rock and on toward Poplar Bluff Missouri. But just a few miles before you get to Poplar Bluff is the small village called Neelyville. From Neelyville there used to be a small railroad called the "Doniphan Branch". I was to get off there and ride the train to Doniphan, and then catch a ride with someone out to Grandma's house in the country about 12 miles away.

Well the fun started almost as soon as I got on the train with my small suitcase. First of all I couldn't get inside the coach. It was too full of soldiers on their way somewhere. So I schrunched up between cars in the little outside platform that is between railroad passenger cars. I had plenty of company though because the platform was full of soldiers too.

As we choo-chooed Northeast from Longview to Texarkana It was daylight and I could see the countryside and all that was going on. I got acquainted with a couple of the soldiers and was doing alright. Then it started getting dark and cool and I was getting very tired. Finally I just lay down and put my head on one of the soldiers stomach and slept for awhile.

During the night one of the soldiers started to smoke a cigarette. He had a package of tailor made Wings cigarettes. Back then most smokers rolled their own cigarettes because it cost less. So you were somebody if you could afford a package of tailor mades. 

Well, being a smoker, I asked him for a smoke. He not only gave me a smoke; he gave me a whole pack. Unlike packs today which almost always contain 20 cigarettes, The Wings packages only held 10 smokes.

I was big time now with my own pack. Well imagine! Here I am about four feet and 10 inches tall weighing about 95 pounds with my own pack of ready rolled smokes.

We rolled on through Little Rock Arkansas and choo-chooed up the line toward Missouri. I guess some soldiers and others must have gotten off at some towns along the line because I finally got inside the car where the seats were. By then it was the next morning and I was feeling pretty beat. I wasn't able to get a seat but at least I was inside out of the night air, smoke, and cinders.

Finally we arrived at Neelyville and I got off to wait for the Doniphan Branch to arrive and take me the last 30 miles to Doniphan where I would try to catch a ride with somebody to Grandma Happy's house. (Her real name was Hattie but I couldn't say that when I was very small so I always called her Grandma Happy).

I got off the train and looked around the dirty little old depot and went in to buy my ticket to Doniphan when I got quite a shock. For it turned out the train to Doniphan only ran on every other Sunday during the war and I got there on the Sunday that it didn't run.

I was stuck. I tried to find a ride with out any luck. I did find one old guy who said he would drive me there for nine dollars. Well as it turned out that was the exact amount of money that I had but it was supposed to last me all Summer. I wasn't about to give it up to him so I started walking.

Now it was about 35 miles by highway and gravel roads to Grandma's house. It was a hot sunshiny day. My legs were very short. I don't have any idea how many steps I took that day but it must have been at least a million. I walked about 23 miles when I came to a little country store and gas station. I was hot and dry. I went inside to get a drink. I wanted to buy a candy bar but during the war that was hard to find. I did get a drink of water and while I was resting a old car stopped for some gas.

When the man driving the car went inside to pay for the gas, I just got in the car and sat down. When he came out I told him I needed a ride and that he was headed in my direction. He agreed and took me about 5 miles to the junction where I had to turn off and he let me out. 

This still left me about 10 miles to go. So I continued on. Step, step, step, on and on. Finally I reached the old log road that was about 2 miles from home. By then it was nearing 9 PM and pretty dark. There was still enough light from the clear night sky that allowed me to see the old log truck road through the woods. By legs were numb. I couldn't feel them anymore and the trees beside the dark road started jumping out in the road ahead of me. It was kind of scary.

At last I arrived at Grandma's house. She was glad to see me and I was sure glad to see her. I was hungry and tired but she soon took care of the hungry part. The tired part took about 10 days for my legs to feel right again.

It was quite a trip for a little 13 year old boy but the great Summer I had that year more than made up for the trouble I had. But that's another story.

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