One of my close friends in childhood was Ray Goodin. We grew up together in the 1920’s and 30’s in Louisville, Kentucky, and lived near the railroad tracks. Ray had a fascination for freight trains and was always talking about the L & N or the C & O or other freight trains. One time when Ray was 13 and I was 11, he suggested we go on a hobo trip. “Where,” I asked. He said he had an aunt that lived in Scottsburg on the Tennessee border and that we could go there. He knew there was a freight that left Louisville every Tuesday morning and went by that town. Though we never told anyone about our plans, we decided to go on this hobo trip. We left one cold December morning about 9 o’clock, heading south.
Though this was a couple years before the depression, there were many hobos riding the train. We rode a low-sided car, open and filled with quarried stone. All the boxcars were full and locked. Brother, it was cold sitting on that cold stone, whizzing along 50 or 60 miles an hour. Whenever the train stopped, I hopped off the train and shuffled around to get my blood circulating. Finally, in late afternoon we pulled into Central City, which was as far as the train was going. We asked around and someone told us there was a coal train headed in the direction we wanted to go. We climbed into one of the coal cars. The train went about 5 miles south, stopping at a small mining town. When we climbed out and looked around, it was cold dark and snowing. Only a few small buildings and one tiny light was visible. We walked toward the light, which turned out to be a bulb hanging under the porch of a small grocery store. We found two men inside, the owner, and a customer. We asked them if there were any trains going out of here tonight. “No,” one of the men shook his head, “and I have no idea when there will be one going out”. Fortunately, the customer was a coal miner and he invited us to stay at his home. We were very glad for the invitation, surely the Lord was watching over us.
Though his small home wasn’t much more than a shack, it was warm and dry. His wife invited us to share their evening meal. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast and that was the best meal I’ve ever tasted. That night we slept on a straw mattress.
We awakened early and ate a hearty breakfast of biscuits and eggs, stuffing our pockets with those flaky treats before we left. We thanked our kind friends and headed back along the tracks toward Central City. Before we arrived, we decided since we didn’t know where we were going and didn’t know how to get there even if we did, we should head for home. Spotting a man along the rails, I asked him when the first freight train was leaving for Louisville. Instead of answering, he grabbed me and then Ray, and marched us off to jail. He was a deputy Sheriff. At noon, the High Sheriff took us home for dinner. His family treated us royally, as did the people who heard about us and stopped by to see the little hobos.
The Sheriff contacted our parents and they wired money for our passage home. We came home in style, leaving on a cold freight, but returning on warm seat cushions.
We arrived early the next morning. My father and Ray’s dad met us at the Union Station at 10th and Broadway. When we arrived home, my mother, sister and brother were sitting around the warm morning coal stove. They never said a word. They probably had discussed the situation and decided the best way to handle me was to not say anything. Later, my mother told me how much they had worried about me. We lived near a cooper shop that made beer barrels. They had a huge storage yard with large stacks of wood staves seasoning in the outdoor weather. She told me how my dad had gone all over the huge yard searching, thinking we might have been buried beneath a fallen stack of lumber.
I felt extremely guilty about what I had done and knew I would never do anything like that again.
I have thought a lot over the years how God used that kind coal miner to rescue two wayward small boys from extreme exposure or death that cold snowy night in the year of 1927. Thank you Lord. (Rodney Lee is a retired building contractor in Louisville KY.)
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