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Memories of Riding the Rails and Hearing that Familiar Sound

I heard it before I saw it. But I knew what it was – possibly the last steam engine to run south on the tracks by my old home place at Lumberton.

I remember the year, 1954, because there was a big drought that year, crops failed, and my daddy lost his prized 1954 Ford two-ton truck, repossessed by the local bank. This was the one with “Always Late,” his favorite song by the country crooner, Lefty Frizzell, painted on the bumper by an itinerant painter at the French Market in New Orleans, where he hauled what watermelons that didn’t dry up and die on the vine.


Growing up by the railroad tracks and marking time by the daily passage of the trains, I thought of them as the epitome of travel, especially when I glimpsed the faces of passengers in the windows of the gleaming dining cars as they flashed by in the night.


Probably more than anything else, the mystique of train travel led to my joining the Navy to “see the world,” resulting in visits to over 100 countries on six continents, all courtesy of my “Uncle Sam.”

The first trip I ever took, however, was on a bus – my high school class trip. The Lumberton High School Class of 1959 chartered a bus and went to Chattanooga, Tennessee, home of the Moon Pie, to see Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls. All 51 of us.


Including some “honorary” members who didn’t actually graduate. We gave them a “pass.” Seems like every other barn in the South used to be plastered with “See Rock City,” so we did.


The old diesel bus couldn’t make it up the mountain with us aboard, so we had to get out and walk along behind it.


There actually wasn’t that much to see when we got to the top. If you knew your Civil War history, you did have panoramic view of the site of the Battle of Lookout Mountain, a day before the terrible Battle of Missionary Ridge, but that was about it.


I was just killing time until my Navy shipping out date.

What really sticks out in my memory about that trip is that Lumberton native, M.C. Parker, had just been broken out of the Pearl River County Jail in Poplarville and murdered by a mob, quite possibly the last lynching in Mississippi.

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