My mother and her sisters grew up in a small town in Harlan County, Kentucky, but train travel to big cities was a normal part of their lives. Their father worked for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad hauling coal out of the mountains in Harlan County, and that made the family eligible for passes to travel on the L&N and other railroads.
When Aunt Edna’s family was going through her things after she died in 2016, they found a pass she’d saved for 75 years. It was the pass she used during one of her years at Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky, to travel back and forth home to Loyall on weekends.
None of the other passes the family had survive, but my mother fondly remembers many of the trips they took. They often took the train to Chicago, Detriot, and Tampa to visit family. When she was in high school, she and her classmates and their chaperones traveled by train to Louisville for Beta Club Conventions.
My grandfather was a Jehovah’s Witness, and he enjoyed attending the church’s national convention. The whole family went to St. Louis, Chicago, and other cities for those conventions. He would spend the day at the convention center and expected my grandmother and the girls to do so as well. As members of the Church of Christ, my grandmother and the girls had little interest in the convention and always managed to sneak away and spend parts of their days sight-seeing.
My grandmother and Edna took the train to Tampa in June 1943 for Edna’s wedding. The groom was in the U.S. Army and was stationed near Tampa prior to shipping out to Europe soon after the wedding. Getting leave to come home to Kentucky for a wedding wasn’t possible. so the ceremony was held at my grandfather’s brother John’s home in Tampa.
Shopping trips to Louisville were great fun for Mom and her sister Helen when they were teenagers. Along with their mother, they left Loyall about 7:00 p.m. and stayed overnight on the train in Corbin. The next morning the train headed to Louisville. Since no dining car was available for that run, they got breakfast when the train made a stop in Brodhead. They arrived in Louisville by mid-morning and took a cab from the depot at 10th and Broadway to the area around Walnut and 4th Street to spend the day shopping at Stewart’s, Penney’s, Embry’s, Byck’s and other stores. On the return trip, they again stayed overnight on the train in Corbin before getting home early the next day.
One of those shopping trips was to buy Mom’s wedding dress. On that day it started pouring rain about the time they needed to go back to the depot, and they couldn’t get a cab or a bus. They had to walk nearly a mile in the rain and arrived soaking wet a few minutes before the train left.
A trip that is still vivid in Mom’s memory is a vacation in New Orleans when she was in college. Edna was married with children by then so it was Mom, her mother, and Helen going. Because they had sleeping berths in the Pullman car for the overnight each way, my grandmother wanted a fourth person to go along so that no one had to sleep in a berth alone. Mom’s college roommate was a friend from Loyall named Dorothy. Since her father also worked for the railroad, she could get a pass as well and was the obvious choice to make the trip with them. My grandmother insisted that they all pin a piece of paper with their name, home phone number, and address written on it to their pajama top at night. That was in case of an accident and they were unable to talk. They spent a week in New Orleans, staying at the Roosevelt Hotel, taking tours, and eating great food.
The day my grandfather retired from L&N in 1960, my grandmother, their three daughters, and six grandchildren jumped the train and rode part of the way on the caboose with him on his last run. But that is a whole different train travel story for another day.