We Need a ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’- Captured By A Past Not Of Our Own Making

At Monday’s City Council meeting, September 9, 2019, I had to face the fact that for some people, there will never be an expiration date, or enough markers placed, or an end to talk of reparation, an issue raised during the public comments. Life is filtered through the dark lens of the past.

Growing up in the North, I know I have a different perspective, but that doesn’t make me wrong.  None of us living today are remotely responsible for slavery in this country nor lived a life as a slave. Yet we choose to remain captured in that past, a past we poke at as if it were a bear we must keep riled and angry. We even have a convenient image, a metaphor for maintaining a racial divide; the railroad tracks that separate Nash and Edgecombe Counties.

I know people strongly identify with one side of the track or the other, they talk in these terms, weigh and measure in these terms. The rationale for a project like a hotel, parking, and mixed-use development is predicated on the past. Never you mind that there are problems associated with these kinds of projects. Never mind about dubious line items that raise red flags, or any other reasonable concerns: The past dictates that Edgecombe County deserves this project. If only half the energy, leadership, scheming and planning spent on the Atlanta Street corridor in these last months had been spent on Main Street after the Peter Varney years, it wouldn’t be in the state it is.

Because I am a board member of the Twin County Hall of Fame and know their good intentions, I am saddened by Councilman Knight who raised the issue of the Civil War Monument that offends him to now include Mr. Ricks of the Ricks Hotel era because of his association with the monument. Mr. Ricks will be inducted in the Hall of Fame in November. Knight strongly objects to this inductee and a portrait of Mr. Ricks added to the exhibition in the public space of the Event Center. Agreed upon at the opening of the Event Center, this is where the Hall of Fame inductee portraits are displayed. It is a beautiful exhibit enjoyed by all who pass by. Each inductee is honored for their particular contribution to the life and times of Rocky Mount. These good folks now remembered serve as an inspiration to us. Still, at this Council meeting, the past shook its long angry finger once again.

If only we could light a candle and place it on the altar leaving the past in God’s hands to repair and heal. We could become the lead story on the evening news. Rocky Mount North Carolina, has opened a walking, jogging, and bicycle bridge over their railroad tracks that divide Nash & Edgecombe Counties. The bridge is a symbol of the two counties working, playing, living and prospering together. The counties will no longer allow the railroad tracks to separate the community’s spirit and common goals. They have ‘laid themselves down’ for one another. The famous John Legend was on hand for the celebration and sang his beautiful rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water –

 

Why can’t we slip the negative constraints that bind us to the past, and become an inspiration to this weary world? We need a bridge, either literally or symbolically, over troubled water that the community is willing to lay itself down for. That bridge is the future! Our future and those who come after us. Will the younger generation still be lugging the burdens of the past with them, or allowed to live to the other side of this divide: the past finally resting in peace?

Take an extra minute to read an earlier post:  Rocky Mount and the Railroad – Can’t Be Separated

PLEASE scroll down to read the thoughtful reply from Monnique Taylor who has taken the time to write her wise and careful words in this matter. I’m grateful!

Research Leads To Edward Marston’s Railway Mystery Series

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I’m reading the first in the series, The Railway Detective and can hardly put it down. Robert Colbeck is an Inspector in the Detective Department of the Metropolitan Police, still in its infancy. A former barrister, Colbeck abandons his career after a personal tragedy, which I haven’t discovered yet.  He has an abrasive relationship with his boss, former soldier, Superintendent Tallis. The Superintendent seems to recognize the Inspector’s rare gifts as a detective, but I doubt they will ever be friends. All of Colbeck’s cases are connected with the railways in Victorian England.

Series titles:
The Railway Detective
The Excursion Train
The Railway Viaduct
The Iron Horse
Murder on the Brighton Express
The Silver Locomotive Mystery
Railway to the Grave
Blood on the Line
The Stationmaster’s Farewell
Peril on the Royal Train

Well written and plotted, featuring fully drawn characters, I am delighted to have discovered this series while doing research on the resent posts about the Railroad, important to Rocky Mount and the area. My used book arrived in a few days and I highly recommend you give them a try. Above, I have given you the Amazon link to order.

The Railroad Detective is set in 1851. The London to Birmingham mail train is stopped and derailed, injuring the driver. Inspector Colbeck is faced with the first crime of its kind, a daring, well-organised train robbery involving the railway company, the postal service, the Royal Mint and the bank where a large amount of gold coin is headed. I have enjoyed these blog posts about the railway and I hope you have too. Maybe I should think of writing my own series featuring a Railroad Special Agent. I could title the first book, The Arrival of the Queen of France. 

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Special Agent Fred Holdsworth – A Font of Knowledge

Among many things, Fred is a writer. He is blessed with a sense of humor and a long memory. He has had several incarnations as a teacher, before and after he was a special agent for the railway. His interest in Civil War history has earned him the designation, “buff.” Long fascinated with weather, you will see him on WHIG-TV as the weatherman. He rises early to prepare his charts before arriving at the station. I can vouch for his driving skills after riding shotgun in his car for several hours over railroad crossings, through tunnels on Kingston Ave, past an overgrown parking lot that once served the yard. He pointed out the names of everything we passed and who once had a business on this corner or another. We looked at the Tobacco Platform, my favorite shed that I can imagine all kinds of uses for. I saw the Charlie Baker switch and from a distance, the tower and yard office, the Maintenance of Way Signal Department and the windows in the train station that once belonged to Captain Billy Hill and Lieutenant Doug Langston. Many of you will recognize the name Seth Currie, ‘Red,’ and Brent Edward, the special agent after ‘Red.” Fred is an encyclopedia of railroad history and the Rocky Mount connections. I can hardly wait to revisit the Edgemont historic district, once home to many, railroad families.  Fred has lots of ‘special agent stories’ to write, and I am on the case to see that he does. Thank you, Fred, for sharing your expertise and memories allowing me to write further on Main Street Rocky Mount.

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Once the Freight Agency – A Building Waiting To Be Born Again

 PS: As our society has changed, so have the nations railroads, and so has the railroad police service.  Railroad policing has developed into a highly specialized branch. The modern day railroad police officer/special agent is more than just the hired gun from a hundred years ago.  Their experience, training, and tactics make them some of the most capable law enforcement officers in the country.

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The Queen of France Arrives in Rocky Mount by Train

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It was a cold February day in the early 1980’s  when Special Agent Fred Holdsworth received a call that a woman riding the train had refused to pay her fare. Thinking he would have to take her off the train upon arrival in Rocky Mount, the Agent was glad when the lady, wearing a big green winter coat, disembarked. When he asked her name, she replied, “I’m the Queen of France.” Playing along, the agent asked,  “Your majesty, who is going to pay for your ticket?” “My government will be sending the money in a few days,” she answered. Back then, local motels took turns taking in people off the train that needed assistance. After welcoming her, the motel clerk announced, “Your majesty, you are in room 113.” She had a request. “I’d like a bowl of fruit sent up.” “We haven’t any fruit just now, but you’ll have a clean and comfortable room with a TV.” Her Majesty’s next accommodations were over at Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro. Months later, in hot July, while having lunch, Agent Holdsworth looked up and saw the Queen, still in her green winter coat, come into the coffee shop in the midst of a group of women. (The church ladies occasionally took people at Cherry Hospital out for lunch.) We don’t know how this story turned out, but we can hope that in the words of the illustrator, Mary Englebreit, that if this lady wasn’t the queen of everything, that she turned out to be the princess of quite a lot. 

When special agent, Holdsworth began his career in June, 1974, the railroad was called the Seaboard Coast Line. In September 1987 when he retired, it was known as the Chessie Seaboard X. A young boy with a mother who worked for the chief surgeon of the railroad in Jacksonville, he grew up loving trains, the art of investigation, and reading file cases in crime magazines. For three summers during college he got up early and drove from FL. to Waycross, GA. to do everything from dirty dog work to bull gang, and clerking. Eventually he was certified in Raleigh with a written test to join the police agency. His job description has quite a ring to it: the investigation of depredations against company property! Long hours, hard on ones personal life, his job went far beyond meeting the Queen of France.

Railroad police monitor and secure the facilities associated with railroads including stations, warehouses and fuel depots. They ensure that only authorized personnel are on trains. They investigate thefts, property destruction or vandalism.  Ensure the security of tracks, patrol the cars and detect suspicious behavior or packages. They investigate any disruptions to rail service. Briefly, this gives you an idea of the scope of the job.

Special Agent Fred Holdsworth’s story will continue tomorrow. See you then.

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The Charlie Baker Switch in Rocky Mount, NC

Rocky Mount And The Railroad – Looking Back

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Do you remember the names Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Longbough? Probably not, but you will recognize Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the names we associate with them. These two men take us back to the late 1800’s and the need to provide security and safety for passengers, cargo and crews when railroads were plagued by criminal gangs and crime sprees. The railroads began to contract private detectives like Bat Masterson and Allan Pinkerton to address criminal issues. Eventually, railroads recognized that sworn law enforcement officials were needed because of the flow of crimes committed against the railroads. The “railroad police” have come a long way from the time when employees were given a gun and a badge and “turned loose” to enforce the laws.

With an extensive history, the railroad police offer an over looked branch of  law enforcement jobs. Duties that go beyond scolding small-town, rabbit-hunting kids who thought it was okay to be ‘jumping trains. See my opening post of this series.
By most accounts, the position of railroad officer was created in 1849 by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad for the purpose of protecting the property and people that used the railways. The protection of cargo and passengers was a difficult task in those days when money, gold, and other valuables were transported by rail in very remote areas.
It took a certain kind of person to take on these duties. Catching bandits like the Dalton Gang, James Gang, and the Wild Bunch demanded long hours, good skills, and a willingness to work without backup.

The Pinkerton Detective Agency got its roots from railroad police work. Founded officially in 1850, the Pinkerton Detective Agency used their investigative skill and tenacity, to catch the villains. The Agency pioneered the first criminal intelligence database, which began as folders of newspaper clippings and photos they used to keep track of the outlaws. It is believed that Allen Pinkerton’s railroad detectives gave J Edgar Hoover and other police agencies a proven model to create their own teams of investigators to combat crime.


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Rocky Mount And The Railroad – Can’t Be Separated

“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 tiptoes 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 en route 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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