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A Railroad Short Story – Hi, Ho Silver…Away!

“Hi, Ho Silver…Away!” by G. R. “Rich” Nuckolls

Rich Nuckolls, grew up in Bluefield, WV in the shadow of our beloved East River Mountain, and worked for the Norfolk & Western Railway. Rich wrote this short story in 2002, and as he confesses, based on “mostly” true events. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Merry Christmas!

It was a cold, bleak, snowy day. One of those kind of days into which only the hardiest souls dare to venture out. In typical Appalachian winter fashion, the temperature hovered around zero and the wind had begun to pick up, howling in out of the Northwest with a promise of even colder weather to come.
I, and the rest of the transfer gang, had just finished shoveling snow, sweeping ice and debris and spreading salt on the sidewalk around the Bluefield passenger station, anticipating the arrival of No. 3, the Westbound passenger train, better known as “The Powhattan Arrow” and then later “The Pocahontas” destined for Welch, Iaeger, Williamson, Kenova, and points West to Cincinnatti. Only a few passengers had arrived, most preferring to wait in their warm homes rather than at the railway station. The interior of the station was cozy, though, warmed by steam sent through underground pipes from a coal-fired central boiler located on the other side of the rail yard.
We were not so much interested in the passengers as we were in the mail truck that was to arrive at any moment. When the truck pulled in, our otherwise slow-paced shift would then get really busy, as we would begin stacking the mail sacks and boxes on baggage wagons. Yes, baggage wagons, the wooden hand-pulled carts with steel wheels that so many folks prize today as “quaint” antiques or large decorating props. We thought of them, however, as heavy, unwieldy, outmoded, man-powered appliances that had been around since the 19th century. (I think some actually had.) When the train arrived, we would then rush to unload the inbound mail, then load wagon’s burden of outgoing mail and packages onto the mail car during the scheduled station time. It was imperative for us to do this quickly so as to not delay the passenger train from it’s very tight schedule.
That night, as the truck backed in, we broke the ice away from the handle and flung open the door. Much to our chagrin, the mail bags were stacked from the floor to the ceiling. Behind the mailbags were rows and rows of boxes. Since none were loaded on pallets, each had to be transloaded by hand. Some were filled with printed material and were very heavy. Many of the boxes and bags, though, were lightweight, packed with Christmas presents, going to far away people and places, each with a wish for a happy holiday season.
At the very front of the truck, pushed up into a corner, stood one last Christmas toy. It was a wooden broomstick horse. Not wrapped in fancy paper or decorated with ribbon, the lone adornment was an address tag that was affixed to the handle just below the head and barely visible under the mane of yellow yarn. As I carried the small item to the mail car, I couldn’t resist the urge to “saddle up”, throwing my leg over the steed’s back and proclaiming, “Hi, Ho Silver…Away!”
My fellow workers, startled at first, began to laugh as hard as I’ve ever heard anyone laugh. I found myself laughing, too, as they were laughing with me, not at me. No thought of embarrassment or apology ever entered my mind. One of my co-workers, a rather elderly gentleman (or so I thought at the time…I think he was about the same age as I am now) confided in me later, with a trace of tears in his eyes, that he had felt the urge to do the same thing, but had resisted, fearing the ridicule of his peers. “I always wanted a pony for Christmas and never got one”, he said sadly, “not even a wooden one”, he muttered as he shuffled off into the cold night.
I vowed then and there to right that injustice, the following day purchasing a stick-horse from a local hardware store and writing his name on a gift tag. I slipped it anonymously into his locker in the Railway Express office, envisioning him riding like the wind around the benches and tables there. I was working in another area when he came in to work that night, so I was unable to see his reaction to the unexpected gift. I was not surprised later, though, when, under his breath, he whispered “Hi, Ho, Silver…Away!” to me as we loaded the mail into the mail car. We exchanged knowing nods and smiles and returned to our task, each bag and box feeling a little lighter…
I was saddened some years later to learn that my fellow rider had suffered a stroke and would not be returning to work. When I went to his home for a visit, he could not speak, nor write, but his eyes shone and sparkled with understanding. A niece had moved into his home to help take care of him and as I was preparing to leave, her small son raced though the living room, riding a stick-horse and proclaiming, “Hi, Ho Silver..Away!” My friend and I exchanged those same knowing nods and smiles.

Later that year, my friend passed away. His family was puzzled over an arrangement of flowers that was delivered to the funeral home with no signature, simply endorsed with the phrase, “Hi, Ho Silver…Away!”

NW Passenger Station BLFD WV

 Pictures from Randy Galpin – Bluefield Historian

Old Depot Bluefield WV Bluefield Yard NW logo

Bluefield WV

Vintage Calling Cards from Grandmother’s Scrapbook

CALLING CARD Nannie R Gillespie

My grandmother, Mary Jane Davidson Buckland kept a scrapbook that has been a wealth of information in searching family history and is a unique and interesting piece that the Railroader had for many years and now I’m glad to have it. Among the various newspaper clippings of wedding, obituaries and railroad accidents, MJ had carefully glued these calling cards to the pages of her precious scrapbook.

DAVIDSON Mary Jane 1886-1960 2013-10-05 08.46.17 2013-10-05 08.46.26

“In the day of genteel manners and formal introductions,the exchange of calling cards was a social custom that was essential in developing    friendships. The custom of carrying calling or visiting cards began in France in the early 1800’s.  It quickly spread throughout Europe, and then became vastly popular in the United States, especially the New England area from 1840-1900.  Calling cards were carried primarily by the “well-to-do” ladies who made a point to  go calling on friends and family on a specified day of the week or month, depending on their location and proximity to neighbors. The gracious reserve of a simple calling card is a gentle reminder of one’s presence, and the care poured into a finely crafted card is a welcome courtesy.” …a history of Victorian calling cards.
Calling Card RM Baldwin

Calling Card AE Griffith

CALLING CARD Marion Knighten

Calling Card Mildred Louise Phillips

Calling Card Miss Ellen Stuart Bowen

Calling Card Miss Frances Henry Odom

Calling Card Miss Ruth Gardner

CALLING CARD Mrs Harry C. Preston

Calling Card Mrs Samuel Cecil Graham

Calling Card William Harrison

Remembering Another Fine Railroader – Cousin Richard McHaffa

Cousin Richard was one of the most pleasant relatives that I remember. He was kind and encouraging to me and complimentary of my children. I loved his smile. Richard seemed more like an uncle, rather than a cousin since he lived many years with the Buckland boys at Falls Mills, having lost his parents at a young age.  My paternal grandmother, Mary Jane Davidson Buckland and his mother, Nannie Crockett Davidson McHaffa were sisters. Richard would have been 89 today and we still think of him often. And yes, he was a railroader, as was his father. Richard had a 42-year career as a Locomotive Engineer with the Norfolk and Western and Norfolk and Southern Railroad.2012-08-15 06.51.09

September 27, 1924 – August 13, 2012

 McHAFFA Richard 1942 GHS football McHAFFA Richard Graham Class of 1942 McHaffa Richard military MC HAFFA Richard_McHaffa

Richard played football at Graham High School and served his country in the military. He married Jessie Odom on October 4, 1950 in Falls Mills, Virginia. They had three children and for as long as I can remember, they lived out Hwy 52 in Bluefield, WV.

McHaffa Richard Bday 86 - 2010  MCHAFFA Richard 87 in 2011

MCHAFFA, NATHANIEL RICHARD – 87, passed into the arms of his Savior on Monday morning, August 13, 2012, after a short illness. He was a resident of Trinity Hills Senior Living, Knoxville TN, since November of 2011, having moved from Bluefield, WV. Awaiting him were his wife of over 50 years, Jessie Odom McHaffa; his parents Nathaniel Ezra and Nannie Crockett Davidson McHaffa; his brother, Charles Hiram McHaffa, and his sister, Mary Ruth Rutherford, as well as cousins with whom he was raised. He is survived by son, Richard and wife, Debbie of Stuarts Draft, VA; son Michael and wife Debbie of Bluefield, VA; and daughter Eva Pierce and husband, Les of Knoxville, TN; grandchildren Libbie (Tony), Steven, Kristin (Micah), Evan (Sara), and Lance; also 5 great-grandchildren, extended family and friends. Mr. McHaffa was born on September 27, 1924 in Williamson, WV. He was a football letterman and graduate of Graham High School. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, stationed in Puerto Rico and Trinidad. He worked briefly as a Surveyor for the Virginia Highway Department, before beginning a 42-year career as a Locomotive Engineer with the Norfolk and Western and Norfolk and Southern Railroad. He was a longtime member of the American Legion, Riley Vest Post. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, high school and college football. Receiving of friends will be held from 5:00-7:00 p.m. Wednesday evening, August 15th, at Centerpointe Baptist Church, 2909 North Broadway, Knoxville, TN, with a Celebration of Life to follow. Visitation will be held at Craven-Shires Funeral Home, Bluefield, WV, Thursday, August 16th from 6:00-8:00. A funeral service will take place Friday, August 17th at 1:00 p.m., with entombment to follow at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bluefield, WV. Family and friends will serve as pallbearers. In lieu of flowers, Mr. McHaffa requested that memorials be made to A Hand Up for Women, P.O. Box 3216, Knoxville, TN 37927.

Boys will be boys~

“When harvest time is over, they cloak themselves in long johns, flannel shirts, and heavy winter coats and disappear into the woods. This time of hunting bear and deer, and sometimes rabbit or squirrel, seems to be their passion.” (Beneath the Shadow of the Mountains)

BUCKLAND Buddy,_Robert,_Cecil,_Porter_&,_Jackie_Jones,_Richard_McHaffa

Of course, that is how I described these guys in Beneath the Shadow of the Mountains. And it’s just how the boys behaved. The old shanty had a small coal stove and these boys stayed in that shanty while they were hunting. Left – Buddy Buckland, Porter Jones and Robert Buckland. On the right was Uncle Robert’s son, Cecil Buckland, Jackie Jones and ?? maybe cousin Richard McHaffa. The bear was killed by Jackie, but for some reason, Dad had it dressed and the old black bear rug lived at our house for years.

BUCKLAND Buddy, Charles, Richard, Walter, Robert

Now you know trouble when you see it and I think this photo speaks for itself. The boys were known for their “carrying on” and this looks like there was a little “carrying on” that day. All railroaders (well except for the gal I don’t know) from the left-  Buddy Buckland, his brother Charles, cousin Richard McHaffa, – unknown pretty gal – youngest brother Walter and 2nd oldest brother Robert. All these boys worked hard on the railroad; All these boys played hard, too!

BUCKLAND The boys and picture

The Buckland Boys – Charles & Walter standing
Robert, L.W. Buckland, Sr. & L.W. Jr. Buddy

 tipAlways take a good look at the pictures within pictures. From this photograph, I was able to track down the identity of my 2nd great grandparents, James Harrison Tabor and Nancy Moore Runyon. The framed picture of an unknown couple was hanging on the left back wall. It was difficult to discern and no one in the living family seemed to know who they were. I enlarged the print for a closer look and uploaded the image online.  A distant relative contacted me with the name and confirmation of their identity!

BUCKLAND LW JR Age 19 BUCKLAND Robert Cecil  Sr BUCKLAND Charles N Class of 42

L.W. “Buddy” Buckland, Jr.               Robert Cecil Buckland                    Charles Nye Buckland
10/8/1915 – 11/6/1993                      4/4/1918 – 5/29/2011                      3/16/1924 – 6/29/1978

                  BUCKLAND Walter_Edward     McHAFFA Richard Graham Class of 1942

            Walter Edward Buckland                       Nathaniel Richard McHaffa (cousin)
3/14/1926 – 4/20/2001                           9/27/1924 – 8/13/2012

BUCKLAND LW Jr - Larry on Harley      BUCKLAND Walter on motorcycle

The boys had toys. Buddy on his Harley with son, Larry Buckland and Walter on his bike. 1940’s

BUCKLAND Grandmother, Daddy, Frankie, Robert

And the boys had Mama (Mary Jane Davidson Buckland) left, then Buddy, sister Nora Francis Buckland and brother Robert.

Women Trapped on Rail Trestle at Wittens Mill

June 13, 1931

As I recollect the story as it has been passed down, Grandmaw Altha Davis and *Aunt Jo  were picking berries along the railway near Wittens Mill in Tazewell County, VA (just off Route 460 between Tazewell and Bluefield). It is my understanding that they were crossing the trestle to get to the other side when a train came round the curve on the mainline and over the trestle – catching the two women. Grandmaw’s big toe  was cut off and she was tossed off the trestle but landed on a bail of wire that cushioned her fall. Aunt Jo was fowled beneath the locomotive which resulted in a broken coccyx but no other serous injuries.

I remember Grandmaw showing me her big toe. It was just the top of her big toe that was cut off, but I can’t image being in that difficult and frightening predicament.

The story always amazed me because this same family of Asa Davis (Norfolk & Western Maintenance of Way Foreman) who moved their entire household in a box car from Russell County to Tazewell County obviously knew the dangers on the rails. Why anyone would walk a trestle is beyond me.

Fortunately, by God’s grace, the two recovered to pick berries another day.

trestle

Mrs. A.C. Davis and Daughter, Mrs. Forrest Mace, Seriously Injured
————————————————-
Mrs. Mace is Fouled Beneath Locomotive While Mother is Tossed Bodily From Structure; Victims Are Patients In Bluefield Hospital
————————————————-
Trapped by a locomotive as they were crossing the Norfork and Western railroad….

Altha

The white cabinet now sits in Mom’s house, but was originally her grandmother’s,  Nancy C. “Nannie” (Jessee) Davis.

MACE NF and Joella

* Aunt Jo Ella (Davis) Mace with Uncle Forrest Mace

Railroad Payday, the Call Office and Train Order Hoops

I’m one of those people who just can’t throw away anything with a family memory attached, and we have a garage and attic full of junk to prove it. If you’d ask my husband (CSX Engineer), he’d confirm the fact that the old primitive items, handed down or salvaged by me, are my most prized possessions.

The wooden lock box below is one such treasure. At a point in time before direct deposit, people who worked received real paper checks on “payday“. And if you were like most of us who grew up in the mountains of Virginia & West Virginia, your family lived from payday to payday. The Norfolk & Western Railroad paid-off on the 1st and 15th of each month.

The “call office” on the northside of Bluefield was where the crews were called to work, reported for work and signed off when they finished work. Inside the dusty old homemade box are slots or shelves which held the coveted paychecks in alphabetical order. Notice the letters scratched inside. The crew clerks held the checks under lock and key as the employees stopped in, a crew at a time, to pick up their checks. The railroad has been our bread & butter my whole life – even before me – and for our children too.

The box itself is probably worthless, but it meant enough to my dad that when it was replaced with a more modern system, he came home with the box and stashed it in the basement.

2013-07-19 19.49.21

2013-07-19 19.49.10                 2013-07-19 19.49.28

Dad was known for bringing home the strangest items from the railroad, usually something that would otherwise be thrown away. The iron finial below is one such piece that he had lying around the backyard for years. So heavy that I can hardly move it, I somehow managed to get it in my van and bring it back to Florida and place it among the flowers.  As a railroader’s daughter, and as a railroad clerk operator myself, I’m familiar with many of these antiquities once used on the railroad. This particular piece is the top of a semaphore board or signal board. define 2013-07-19 19.51.15

Train Order Operators would leverage the signal board (below left) from inside the depot to signal the crew. The image (below right) is a V-shaped Train Order hoop.

I actually own such a V-hoop and still have a yellow tissue copy of the first train order that I ever wrote. I have personally set the signal, written the train orders issued by dispatcher and handed up the train orders to crews as their train flew past me. I have stood apprehensively along side the mainline and held the hoop high and still.  As the engines roared by the train order office, a crew member reached his arm out the window and through the hoop. The simple design allowed the twine loop holding the orders to easily slip away from the hoop.

Ditto for the cab crew.

Train Order

Old time railroading is fascinating. If you like it, please follow the blog and my Facebook page.

See more about Train Orders here

hooping_up3          Limon6_27_2005_019

Train orders were of two types: “31’s,” which had to be signed for by a member of the train crew, and “19’s,” which did not. The former were employed when the dispatcher needed to know that the affected train actually had the order, while the latter were used when he did not.

Train-order forms themselves came in pads printed on a thin onion skin paper, or “flimsy,” which enabled crews to read them over the light of a firebox or against a kerosene lantern.source

A Railroad Bell

(my) Family gatherings are always sweet, but at a recent 4th of July cookout, we had an especially goflagod time. Sister and brother-in-law served up the traditional burgers, sausages, potato salad and my most favorite, a Virginia-style grilled hot dog with lots of yellow mustard, chopped onions and hot chili! Yum – Happy Birthday America!

The setting for the holiday spread and after-dinner game of corn-hole was absolutely picturesque – a lawn to be proud of indeed! It is obvious that the hosts give above average attention to their lush backyard with its deep, thick green grass- edged to perfection! There are also colorful flower beds fully mulched, an herb garden for the consummate cook and cozy vignette seating which work in harmony to create a venue worthy of a magazine feature.

However, there is one treasured, hand-me-down object that is the centerpiece of the lovely garden. And of course, it most definitely appeals to The Railroader’s Daughter.  It is a steam locomotive bell!

2013-07-05 19.06.24
Carried south, all the way from Mundy town in southwest Virginia, the bell offers more than a rich sound, it is full of history. Placed near the farm house of one of our favorite aunts & uncles, the No. 2 bell was made by C.S. Bell Company, Hillsboro, Ohio, and was once used on a railroad steam engine! I’m not sure where they got hold of the bell, but our beloved Aunt Russ and Uncle Preacher used it on the farm for a dinner bell. They referred to it as the “railroad bell” and originally it traveled many miles above the boiler of a steam locomotive through the Appalachian Mountains we call home.

Note the marking across the cast iron bell yoke. 2013-07-04 11.33.05(right)

According to steamlocomotive.com Bells were standard equipment on steam locomotives in North America from around 1840 onward.  Their purpose was to make noise, alerting people and animals of an oncoming train.  Steam locomotive bells were usually made of cast bronze or brass.  They were typically between 11 and 17 inches in diameter (measured at the widest part).  They could weigh hundreds of pounds.  When a steam locomotive was scrapped, the locomotive bell was often one of the few items saved from the torch.

The bell assembly included several parts:

  • The Bell: The bell itself is one solid piece.
  • The Cradle: The cradle is the framework portion that attaches to the locomotive.
  • The Yoke: The yoke holds the bell and allows it to swing in the cradle.
  • The Clapper: The clapper is the metal piece hanging inside the bell.  When the bell swings the clapper hits the bell causing it to ring.
  • The Pull-Arm: The pull-arm is attached to the yoke.  A rope is attached to the pull-arm so that the engineer or fireman can cause the bell to swing.

On early locomotives and others that did not have clearance issues, bells were mounted on top of the boiler.  On larger locomotives where height clearances became an issue, bells were mounted on the front of the smokebox.  There were also cases where steam locomotive bells were mounted in odd places like under the smokebox or under the running board….

MUNDY Preacher Mace Russell

     2013-07-04 11.14.12      2013-07-04 11.13.52      2013-07-04 11.16.07

I did find evidence that the beloved gardeners had just finished their green thumb magic just moments before the guests arrived. The rake and rustic bench look like the perfect respite after a long day of keeping the garden.

2013-07-04 11.14.34

Thank you so much for your warm hospitality. It’s always a pleasure to visit and enjoy family – the “other” railroader’s daughter~