The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

Features

August 17, 2008

Working on the railroad

COMMERCE — They came to listen, learn and reminisce. Those old enough to remember and those young and eager to learn gathered at the James G. Gee Library at Texas A&M; University-Commerce on Saturday for the Second Annual Cotton Belt Symposium.

The Cotton Belt Route was actually the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company and ran from the Midwest down through East and Northeast Texas.

“There’s something about working for a railroad,” said Harley Davis, moderator of a panel discussion of those who had a close connection with the Cotton Belt. Davis worked for the Cotton Belt as a fireman from 1959 to 1964. He later went on to work in higher education at A&M-C; and Paris Junior College.

Reba Icenhower, of Commerce, recalled how a call boy would come to her house around 2 a.m. to tell her father, who was an engineer for the Cotton Belt, what engine number he would be taking out.

“It didn’t seem to bother our household,” Icenhower said. “He would be gone maybe a day, maybe come in the next night.”

Icenhower also said as a young girl living close to the station, there would be a lot of hobos that would come to her house.

“My mother never turned them down,” she said. “If they wanted a biscuit or just whatever, my mother always had something for them.”

Not all of Icenhower’s memories are pleasant, though. Her father, J.O. Martin, was killed in a train wreck in 1945. There were oil cars on the line when they shouldn’t have been and her father’s train ran into them.

“My dad was on the last step to jump and that engine turned on its side,” she said.

But she continued to ride the rails through a family pass and remembers special times like when her mother took her to San Francisco on the train.

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