Local Residents Share Their Memories
MARY ELISABETH "BETTE" STEWART RHODES
Mary Elisabeth "Bette" Stewart Rhodes attended the dedication of the Mark Twain Zephyr on October 25, 1935, along with her mother and siblings. She remembers that her father probably worked that day.
About twice a month, she, her sister, and her mother took the Zephyr to Quincy, Illinois, to shop. They would get off at Quincy’s Union Station and walk the short distance to Maine Street. She remembers the train would leave Hannibal about 11:30 in the morning, and they would ride back to Hannibal that evening. Special memories include the nice, well-dressed crew who helped them on and off the train and the shiny stainless steel train cars.
Mrs. Rhodes also attended the dedication of the Mark Twain Memorial Bridge in 1936 and the new Mark Twain Memorial Bridge in 2000.
MARJORIE S. COLEMAN
Sunday afternoons were such a wonderful time in our family. Mother, Daddy, my sister Marie and I did so many things together. We read, sang and played music. We listened to classical music and talked about things that had happened and things that were going to happen.
When church was over, we would come home and have a delicious dinner, and then we had free time to do the aforementioned. After a few hours of relaxation, we would go back to church for our evening service.
One of the most memorable Sunday afternoon activities was going downtown to the Union Train Depot. We walked around and enjoyed all of the sights. We especially enjoyed the "newsstand". There were so many magazines to look at. The restaurant was nice, too, but most of all, Marie and I loved the high-domed ceilings with carvings and pictures on them.
As we stood in the beautiful depot, we would suddenly hear a deafening sound, and we knew a train was coming. Of course, we could hear it chugging, and we saw lots of smoke and steam and, I suppose, soot. Brushing it off left long black streaks.
My Aunt Mary would ride the train down from St. Paul, Minnesota, to visit us. One time, she asked Mother and Daddy if she could take us back to Minnesota for the State Fair. Marie and I were so excited! We rode in a passenger car with windows that opened. We had so many cinders in our eyes, we cried. That trip took many, many hours.
During our first train trip, a new train was being built, or, dare I say, fashioned. New train or no, Marie and I agreed we would never travel by train again, especially after we had to take the long trip back home.
One Sunday, a beautiful, shiny, sleek streamlined train rolled into the station. Oh, what a magnificent sight! It looked like a big dragon as it chugged into the station. Even the passenger cars were new and better. And, lo and behold, there was a dining car. Imagine that!
My aunt came from St. Paul on that shiny dream. She spoke of taking Marie and me back with her for the Winter Carnival. She told us that we didn’t have to worry because the trip would only take twelve hours. Since I was always the adventurous daughter, without question I wanted to go, but Marie didn’t want to leave Mother and Daddy again. The only thing I didn’t look forward to was the bitter cold and snowy Minnesota weather. Even though it would get cold and snow here, it was different there. I couldn’t understand how my aunt could like temperatures at twenty and thirty degrees below zero … and with that wind.
After saying goodbye through excited tears, Mary and I boarded the big, beautiful dragon. The first stop was in Burlington, Iowa. We didn’t disembark the train. Instead, we walked through several cars to the dining car. Oh, it was so plush, and it was hard to imagine tablecloths on train tables. The windows were so much larger than the ones in the passenger cars.
The conductor yelled, "All aboard!" and so, the train pulled away from the station, ever so smoothly. We went back to our seats, and the conductor brought pillows and blankets to us. We had separate, but facing, seats. Imagine that!
We arrived in St. Paul around 6:00 p.m., and one of my cousins picked us up. I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to call home and tell my family about the train. Mary had to go to work, so she took me to my other Aunt (Tin) Elizabeth. Later, more cousins came to visit and when Mary got off work, we went back to her apartment. She called it a "flat". I was already beginning to miss my family, having never been away from Marie. I was beginning to experience my first taste of homesickness and when I thought it was as bad as it could get, snow began to fall. Everywhere you looked, there was snow, and it kept falling. I thought it was so strange that busses, cars and trains continued to run, just like there was no snow. We would go shopping, but I was cold and I missed Mother, Daddy and Marie. I was truly becoming sick. Finally, I told Mary "I want to go home!"
That Sunday evening, Mary took me to the train station. This station was much, much larger than ours in Hannibal, but in my opinion, not as pretty. I boarded the train and waved until I couldn’t see my relatives any longer. I wasn’t afraid or apprehensive traveling alone. Mary had given me a book A Dog of Flanders to read. I looked at perhaps three pages then put the book down. I WAS GOING HOME! I thought that if I went to sleep, time would pass more quickly.
When I opened my eyes, I felt like I was flying through the air and dropped very heavily from a high place, but, worse than that, there was a horrifying sound, like two trains running head first into each other. The accident occurred in Marble Rock, Iowa. I could hear people screaming, crying and moaning. All of the cars, except the one I was on, had derailed. I remember thinking that Jesus was there taking care of me for Mother and Daddy. I was not injured, but the doctor came and checked on me. I wanted to tell Daddy about the accident, but the phone lines were down. Someone from the train said they would contact my parents so they would know I was all right and when to expect me.
I was safe, but that beautiful, shiny, magnificent train was a wreck. I felt so sorry the train was ruined and people got hurt. Later that week, there was a picture of the two engines in the Hannibal Courier-Post. I thought, "I will never ride a train again!"
That gorgeous train was called the Mark Twain Zephyr (better known as The Rocket). It ran from St. Louis to St. Paul. The Zephyr was eventually restored to its former beauty. I was glad that others would be able to experience the magnificence that I enjoyed before that fateful night.
My name is Charlie Stallcup. I started working for the Burlington Railroad on August 4, 1943. I started my career as a freight brakeman and only became a passenger brakeman as the result of an emergency. A volunteer was needed, and I stepped up to the mark. The uniform required was pieced together from my own wardrobe and that of other employees. The die was cast. Once I had experienced passenger service, I had no desire to return to freight, and the Burlington agreed to let me stay in passenger service. Even though I was offered a promotion in 1951 that would have taken me out of passenger service, I declined it and remained in my position until passenger service was terminated by the railroad.
That explains how I came to work on the Mark Twain Zephyr and subsequent zephyrs, especially the Zephyr Rocket. There were seven passenger crews on six jobs. A conductor headed each two man crew. Each crew worked six weeks on, one week off. As the brakeman, my job included duties normally attributed to the brakeman as well as some porter duties, flagman duties (If a train had more than five cars attached to the engine, then there was a separate position of flagman, but the Mark Twain Zephyr, having a smaller number, did not require this position), and conductor duties. On any given run my duties would extend from getting passengers on the correct train, making sure passengers left the train at the correct stations, carrying baggage (since the Mark Twain Zephyr was considered a local, many of the passengers did not carry baggage), and retrieving orders as the Zephyr passed through a station.
Although I was only on the Zephyr as an employee, I do have vivid memories of the physical attributes of the interior of the club (Tom Sawyer) and dining (Huckleberry Finn) cars and the vestibule. The Tom Sawyer car had 16 seats along its perimeter. Magazines and newspapers and ashtrays were provided for the passengers. There was a radio on the car, but you have to remember that radios were still fairly new when the Mark Twain Zephyr was built and put into operation. Therefore, most of the employees didn’t know how to operate it so it was used rarely, if at all. At the front of the car was an eight-day clock (it had to be wound every 8 days to keep it running). My crew worked on the Mark Twain Zephyr every six days, so Freddie Clark, the conductor, took it upon himself to use the key to wind the clock at that time.
Upon occasion my crew was the relief crew scheduled to return the Zephyr from Burlington, Iowa, back to St. Louis. On the rare occasions when the Zephyr was running late and we would be unable to debark to eat, we were allowed to eat on the dining car (Huckleberry Finn). The food was excellent. (Yes, we did pay for our suppers.) There were professional chefs aboard and two waiters or so.
Although short of putting baggage into the Becky Thatcher car (baggage car), I didn’t have a whole lot of contact with that car, except to say that in its later years, mail was sometimes carried on it as well. The person in charge of the car was referred to as "Messenger". He was technically an employee of the Railway Express Agency.
The vestibule between the club and dining cars was where passengers were loaded. When the train was in motion, there were full doors in place (although the tops of these doors could be opened by employees if needed), making it a solid structure. The floor consisted of a trapdoor that would remain closed until the train stopped and passengers needed to enter or exit the train. The doors would be opened and the trapdoor extended into steps.
The Mark Twain Zephyr’s overall appearance was maintained by a regularly assigned crew in the St. Louis yards. In addition, there was a structure – not totally unlike today’s automatic car washes – where the train could be pulled through and the exterior washed and brushed.
Although most of my individual days on the Mark Twain Zephyr and Zephyr Rocket were mundane enough not to be of special value in my memories, there are several occasions that do stand out clearly, and I would like to share them.
First, the Zephyr was in an accident one day when I was on duty. To explain what happened I need to provide a little background. In the early days, much of the communication between the trains and the dispatcher was done by telegraph and telephone. There were a number of sidings (tracks off the main line used for various purposes such as moving a slower train off the track for a faster train, etc.). At either end of the siding was a telephone used for communication. The lines of communications had to be kept open at all cost. Thus, the railroad had a Communications Department. A Communications Department employee was sent out to make sure the wires were intact. To do this they had little lightweight vehicles that traveled the track. One day, somewhere between Louisiana and Clarksville, the Zephyr came upon one of these vehicles. The employee on board has his eyes trained on the lines overhead and only heard the train at the last minute. He jumped off and was unhurt, but his vehicle was hit. The Zephyr was undamaged, but the little vehicle was knocked off the track. My most vivid memory is of the tarp on the little vehicle as it sailed away from the wreck like a big bird.
Second, Hannibal had three railroad tracks located at the foot of Broadway, two for the Burlington and one for the Wabash Railroad. All engines had whistles with slightly different tones. One day, the Zephyr came through with a Rock Island engine pulling it. (There was a slightly hard-of-hearing Burlington conductor, out of the Galesburg division, on the Wabash track at the time of the whistle). He mistook it for a Wabash train, stepped off the Wabash track onto the Burlington track and was struck by the train. The Zephyr’s engineer tried to stop, but trains do not stop quickly. I helped to pull the man from under the train. He passed away the next day.
Third, railroad accidents were rather common. You used to see many of the older men missing fingers, limping, etc. My one injury during my years of service was on my right hand, the third finger, and this is how it happened. Sometimes in order to get orders for the train, the stationmaster would used a sticklike contraption, with a mental triangular piece, with a fork that held the message with a clasp. Above this was a loop of red string. As the train passed through the station, the stationmaster would hold this contraption out, and a railroad employee on board the train would thrust out his arm, catch the string on his arm and pull it back in, the clasp releasing the orders at the same time. Something went wrong when I tried this maneuver from the Zephyr as it passed through the Louisiana, Missouri station. To this day I am not sure what happened, but my middle finger hit the metal piece and bent back along the back of my hand. To this day the finger is still misshapen.
I am proud that in sharing some of my memories of Zephyr service, I can preserve a piece of Americana, that is not gone and is known only in books and pictures, to so many people who have never ridden a train.