Hitchin’ a ride on the rails (well, almost)

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While some kids played house, I remember playing railroad hobo with my sisters and our cousins.
Our maternal grandparents, Henry and Mabel Tucker, lived on a nice, small horse farm on the outskirts of Ashland. Just a short walk down the road took us to a wonderland of fun – a set of railroad tracks that seemingly went on to the great beyond.
Our ornery cousin, Steve, always one to stir up some sort of action, tried to talk us in to becoming railroad hoboes and setting off on foot down those tracks.
Where to go? “Where do you want to go? Cause if you go that way,” he said, pointing to the northern bend of the tracks, “you’ll end up in New York City, and you’ll be a star for sure. If you go that a’way,” he said, nodding to the forever southern stretch of tracks, “you’ll end up in the rich horse ranch country of Kentucky and Tennessee.”
Well, that ole Steve was a smarty-pants. He knew he could never get seven girl cousins to agree on where they would want to end up.
So, as it turned out, we never went far in either direction along those tracks.
But, we spent hours upon hours wandering around, talking and arguing about it. Steve said if we played our cards right, we could jump on a passing railroad car and the trip would be an easy adventure.
Girl turned criminal. Steve also convinced us that we should place pennies on the tracks and come back for them after the trains went through.
After we returned to pocket our smashed-flat copper pennies, he broke the bad news. “Oh, I forgot to tell you girls somethin’ – you can get hauled away to jail for putting pennies on a railroad track.”
I remember that feeling of my blood running cold, an innocent girl turned criminal without even knowing it.
Fast-talkin’ Steve said that if a kid stretched out on the tracks and lay perfectly flat and still, a train could pass over without harming a hair on the kid’s head.
While I remember contemplating that for hours, luckily not a single one of us was dumb enough to actually try it.
The railroad today. My husband now has a nephew who works on the railroad. I could spend hours asking T.J. all sorts of questions about his job, one in which he gets to drive the train all day long. I find myself as fascinated by the prospect of railroading now as I did when I was 8 years old, and I can’t for the life of me explain precisely why.
I remember Dad telling of the railroad that came through the little village of Jeromesville, a prospect for which his great-grandfather Samuel Young contributed a whopping $300 back in the late 1800s to ensure its completion.
Helped by the railroad. There was a great celebration in Ashland on October 12, 1899 when the Ashland and Western Railroad was completed.
While the line was only 21.35 miles long, it connected with the Pennsylvania Railroad and offered an incredible new market for goods and livestock.
The addition of a railroad running so near his farmstead was to improve my great-grandfather’s farm income considerably.
Samuel would drive his livestock on foot to the stockyard where they would board the train to be sold in Pittsburgh. Perhaps one day, he thought, he just might ride along to see that city in far-away Pennsylvania.
I believe listening to those old stories sparked the railroad hobo in me!

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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