Rocky Mount’s Railroad and Asking Qui Bono?

In the latest Podcast, Talking Main Street with Stepheny, CLICK ON: (Episode 20) I ask the question, Qui Bono? In five minutes there wasn’t enough time to tell you about a conversation I had with my great granddaughter, who at the time was four years old. We were headed into the Event Center to have lunch and hopefully see some trains go by. As we got out of the car, we could hear a train coming. We waited. As car after car rolled by

Annaclaire said, “This is a long train.”

I responded, “You’re not kidding.”

Annaclaire answered matter of factly, “No, I’m not kidding.” Of course, I laughed.

As we stood and watched, this dear child looked up at me and said, “Lots of people going on vacation today.”

I hope you have children in your lives that love trains. I have a great grandchild that plays on the floor talking to himself as he lays down the track and pushes Thomas, the engine, and the wooden cars Thomas pulls, through the magic of magnets. Even without tracks, the driveway works too.

This little guy’s father loved trains too. He was playing on the floor in his room one day and was having trouble getting a bridge piece in place on the wooden track he was building. My daughter, Claire, stood in the doorway unnoticed when she heard this little boy say, “We got troubles!” “We got troubles!”To this day this utterance is repeated in the family. When I was still playing golf, I over shot the green and landed in a deep sand bunker with the green high above me. I remember looking up at Bob who was standing on the green looking down. Of course, said, “We got troubles.”

The railroad was one of the reasons Rocky Mount grew and prospered. Today’s family members still tell the stories of their parents that worked for the railroad. Part of those stories reside in Historic Villa Place and Historic Edgemont where many of the railroad families lived. I fell in love with the Villa Place area when I first saw it because of the homes that line the streets. In Edgemont, there is the beautiful D.J. Rose house on Tarborro Street that Jean Bailey and her husband lived in for years. Home after home in Edgemont are architectural gems. Many of these homes hold the railroad stories of Rocky Mount.

I talk about a phrase that was new to me when I came upon it while reading the series, The Railroad Detective, by Edmund Marston. I made note of it. The words, Qui Bono, asks the question, who stands to gain? I begin with Fred Holdsworth who is the weatherman on WHIG-TV. Among many things he was once a railroad detective. I don’t want to give the rest away, but as the City Council elections are upon us, we should ask, Qui Bono?

The Queen of France Arrives in Rocky Mount by Train


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.


The Charlie Baker Switch in Rocky Mount, NC