Rocky Mount And The Railroad – Can’t Be Separated

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“Trains are beautiful. They take people to places they’ve never been, faster than they could ever go themselves. Everyone who works on trains knows they have personalities, they’re like people. They have their own mysteries.”                                   Sam Starbuck, The Dead Isle

The sound of the train whistle, the clatter of the cars going by can transport us back in time. You may remember growing up shooting rabbits near the train tracks, perhaps running to catch hold of the ladder to swing up and ride a few miles down the track. These sounds drifted through open bedroom windows in concert with katydids and the last birdsong of the day.  I didn’t shoot rabbits or tumble to the ground from a moving train, but I stood on my tip toes at Christmas time watching the model trains go round and round in the Marshall Field’s toy department on State Street in Chicago. One of my favorite childhood books is titled,  A Tree For Peter, written and illustrated by Kate Seedy. (Six year old Tommy first sees Shantytown through the train window on a rainy afternoon.) As a boy, my husband, played with National Geographic maps and railroad time tables. He took colored pencils and drew the railroad routes, like the Illinois Central from Chicago to New Orleans. For many years he could drive over a mainline track and tell you who it belonged to.

I invite you to come along with me and pay tribute over the next few weeks to the integral part railroading plays in the Rocky Mount story after the tracks first reached Rocky Mount on Christmas Eve, in 1839. In 1840, a train of cars enroute to Wilmington stopped in Rocky Mount to import some “Old Nash” for special toasts at opening festivities. Let us raise a glass of “Old Nash.” even in the form of sweet tea, as I begin this series of Main Street Rocky Mount posts about the railroad, railroad families, architecture and your memories. Hit the FOLLOW button on the top right side of the blog so you don’t miss anything. PLEASE scroll down to the comment section and leave me your railroad thoughts. I want to follow up with you, and together, let’s honor the past while enjoying the sound of trains today that call us to reflect on our journeys; paying attention to the tracks we run on.

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About Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin

Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin grew up in Evanston, IL. and is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. She is an author of two novels: The Greening of a Heart and Facing East. She lives, writes and gardens in NC. Visit her: Stephenyhoughtlin.com
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13 Responses to Rocky Mount And The Railroad – Can’t Be Separated

  1. Mary Ruth Anderson says:

    The train brings my sister and niece for their annual Thanksgiving visit every year. What a joy to pick them up and to carry them back to our beautiful train station.

    We are so lucky to have the train in Rocky Mount and I suggest a trip on the train to Washington, DC or New York, for a stress free vacation. It really is a wonderful way to travel.

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  2. jackie wall says:

    When I was young, like 6 or7, I would ride the train to Wallace NC for the weekend with my grandmother. It was an awesome time.

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  3. Helen Brake (McGrath) says:

    Traveled 4 or 5 times a year from Richmond to Rocky Mount to visit my sweet Mama before she died 3 years ago. He Daddy was the head timekeeper for the ACL Railroad. We love trains.

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  4. My Uncle worked for ACL and he and my Aunt took me to Florida to visit his daughter in the late 50″s. My first time on a train and my first time away from home. I don’t really remember a lot about the ride- (I think I was too traumatized- lol) plus that was a really long time ago!!

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  5. Helen Raper says:

    I am a big Amtrak fan.I left last Friday on 79 and went to Charleston SC ,I am now in Orlando Fl and plan to leave here Thursday night and arrive in Rocky Mount Fri am.I get a sleeper since it is a night trip and therefore I have my own potty,basin to wash up,and a very comfortable bed to sleep in.Believe it or not the food is very good and is included in the price of the sleeper.Sure beats getting someone to get me to RDU 2 hrs early.and meeting me again on Friday..I should do commercials for Amtrak.

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    • You should do commercials. Are you part of a Rocky Mount railroad family? When you get back home would love to catch up with you if that is the case. I want you to know I am green with envy you were in Charleston. Hope you train adventure was all you’d hoped for. Would love to hear from you about this. THANKS.

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  6. Peggy Searcy may says:

    My dad was an engineer south the ACL railroad in Rocky mount and we took our vacations to the Georgia mountains by train. So many good memories.

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  7. Howard Batts, Sr. says:

    When I was 5 y.o. back in the mid 40s, Mama and I would catch the train that ran from Norfolk to Rocky Mount at Brake Sta. (that was a stop about 1/2 way between Ry Mt and Kingsboro) about mid morning into Ry Mt. After Mama did her shopping, we would catch the afternoon Ry Mt to Norfolk train back out to Brake Sta. I loved sitting on Mr. Pearce’s porch which was across the track from Brake Sta. and watching the trains loaded with war material (Tanks, Landing Craft, Big Guns, etc) pass by on their way to Norfolk. Still today, I love to sleep with my window open just to hear trains passing by into and out of Raleigh. I’m luck to live about 1/2 mile from the CSX & NS tracks.

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    • Thank you for leaving this memory. Wish we could talk further about them…railroad tales by Howard Batts, Sr. would be a best seller, I’m sure. Here is a quotation for you. “Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of the Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it. Those whistles sing bewitchment: railways are irresistible bazaars… Anything is possible on a train…”
      ― Paul Theroux

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