Remember When: Remembering Janet Goodwin and the railroads

Published 8:00 am Friday, January 18, 2019

We were surprised to read the obituary for our friend Janet Goodwin.

We have not seen them for some time, so this was a shock. 

Though we share the same last name, we cannot find any connection that would make us kin. It was the same for the late Bennie Goodwin; we wanted to be kin, but we are not.

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One of the other residents here at Oak Hill apartments, Suzanne Monroe, told me that the name of our complex is only “Oak Hill,” not “White Oak Hills,” as I had put in a recent column. I thanked her for setting me straight — appreciated and acknowledged as always.

After some thought, I told her the next day that I would make it only one “Hill,” but I would continue to add “White” to help my readers identify where I now live. I think most people know where White Oak Manor is in Tryon, but they may not realize that it sprawls across Howard Street and on up the hill to Markham Road. 

The father of one of my favorite Lions, Past District Governor George Suggs, died recently.

I read in Clayton Suggs’ obituary that he worked for the Southern Railway, so I wrote some of my railroading lore in his guestbook. I also sent George a photo of the Southern 1401 locomotive that is enshrined in the Smithsonian in Washington.

George replied that he had ridden that train with his dad. I continued the father-son theme with him, as railroading is in my DNA…

My grandfather Goodwin was a steam locomotive engineer, pulling Seaboard Railway freights out of Durham every day. My father was hired on as a brakeman; he did not enjoy that work, but he did love trains.

He would take me up to Melrose to see the helper engine stationed there to push trains up the famous Saluda Grade.

At 4.5 percent, it is the steepest mainline railroad grade east of the Rockies, and fraught with danger for trains coming down it. The switch was always set for the runaway track; it would be thrown to the mainline only if the engineer had his train under control.

We moved to Wateree, South Carolina, when my Uncle Charlie Harrill found work for Dad in a big gravel pit there. My older cousin, Bryant Harrill, often operated the steam locomotive that positioned the drag line and some empty cars for it to fill.

Bryant loved to get the locomotive moving forward at a good clip, then throw the Johnson bar to reverse the driving wheels. Not every dad can give his son a real train to play with!

We moved to Mooresville when Dad found work there as purchasing agent for the big cotton mill. Southern operated 1401 through Mooresville back then (c.1938). My Dad would take my hand (I was 7 or 8 years old) and lead me right up to the engine, which I thought was a fire-breathing dragon, what with the flames licking about in the firebox.

The engineer was often oiling the linkage with a big oil can with a long spout, wiping the excess off with a large wad of cotton waste. Dad always engaged him in conversation, all the while holding onto my hand, as I wanted to run back to the car!

Soon, the relief valve would blow with an extremely loud hiss, so I would jerk my hand free to cover my ears!

After Dad died in 1938, Mother moved us to Durham. I often walked home from school thru the railroad yard, where the yard superintendent would yell at me to get off the property!

I loved to watch the switch engines shoving the boxcars along, cutting them loose to roll into contact with others, thereby making up long freight trains. I knew to stay away from the rail switches, being operated from towers in the yard.

I have many fond memories of a childhood filled with railroading lore, fascinating for this youngster, who had become fearless instead of frightened!