Telling stories by the campfire


Stretching across the rural countryside, miles, and miles of railroad track makes me long for the experience of hopping on a train just once in my lifetime.

I was pulled back into those old dreams while thumbing through a very old Life magazine collection.


A story of a railroad man, 88 at the time of the writing, said the rumble of the steam train pulled him from his home in the early 1900s.

He took a job as a railroad worker which horrified his father who thought only bums worked the railroad.

My maternal grandparents made their home on a pretty little farm which was situated a half mile or so from a once-busy set of railroad tracks.

We heard my grandmother tell of a hobo or two coming to her door in years past, asking if she had any work they could do for a bit of food.

She was never fearful of them and said even though there was never much in her own cupboards, she always found something to give them to eat.

As young kids, my cousins and I had high hopes of meeting up with an authentic railroad bum.

Any time spent at Grandpa and Grandma’s gave us the opportunity to walk the way of the railroad, place a penny on the tracks before the train came rumbling through the Paradise Hill area, squishing our round little pennies into a keepsake of flattened copper.

Just the short walk from the house to the tracks gave us time to find ourselves transforming into young railroad gypsies.

Something about watching that huge train rumble through ‘our’ stretch of tracks made us itch to hop a boxcar, riding off on an endless, life-changing journey.


Summertime sleepovers at the little campground area my grandfather had created was such fun for a big group of cousins, all stair-steps in age.

The Quonset huts Grandpa had purchased and moved there for shelter gave us the sense of playing house.

After an evening of food and fun around the campfire, the adults all went home and the kids settled into scary storytelling in the huts, making sleep seem unlikely.

The sound of a train passing through only added to the shivers of “anything is possible” — whether it be adventure carrying us away or strangers arriving in our midst.

So many years have passed, but those memories remain amazingly indelible.

I can still recall the scent of those old sloped huts, the sound of each individual voice of my cousins and after all was quiet, the mosquito buzzing near the ear.

I remember a darkness so absolute it seemed paralyzing, that mix of dead-tired but with senses suddenly on high alert so that sleep seemed impossible.


My cousin Steve could spin stories that set nerves jangling, but he also made the adventure of the railroad seem real, accessible.

As I tried hard to find my way to sleep, I pictured jumping aboard the caboose as Steve had described.

“If you go that way it will take you to New York City. But, if you go that way,” he had said, with a nod of his head, “you’ll get to that place where Dorothy went in The Wizard of Oz and you can live on candy forever.”

Now that’s the stuff of wonderful dreams.


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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, and three grandchildren.



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