A Wailing in the Night – Mysterious Death on the Railroad Tracks

The house, where I came into this world, was situated about a third of a mile from the GM&O railroad, that ran from Montgomery to Tuscaloosa and had a depot in Billingsley. In the middle 40’s, steam was still king, and I was three or four when I saw my first steam locomotive, but I remember it well.

Mama and some neighbors gathered at a house down by the public road, busy doing grown-up stuff. The railroad tracks were about 150 yds away, and left to my own devices, I began wandering closer to them. I was familiar with the sounds the trains made, but I had never seen a freight engine up close.

I heard a train approach, so I waited for a good look at it. I had just looked up, and from around the curve came a big black-iron monster; a monster that could have only come from That Book Of Revelations Mama talked about so much: black smoke belching, demonic sounding whistle screeching, big arm like-things (side and main rods) sticking grotesquely from its sides, pumping those iron wheels – I turned and screamed all the way back to Mama and hide my face in her skirts. The adults were very amused.

I now had a picture to go with the train sounds. It wasn’t long and the night trains became just another sleepy-time sound, sort-of a lullaby.

One cool dark and quiet night, I slumbered, hearing the approach of the nightly freight train. It’s steam engine chug-chugging in faster and faster intervals picking up speed to climb the hill beyond our house, when the familiar lullaby was rent, simultaneously by the scream of the whistle and the shriek of iron wheels locked, sliding on the metal rails until it stopped.

The engine huffed, steam ssss-ling. Then a different, hair raising, wailing whistle pierced the quiet air of the country night. The train huffed, backing up.

The whole household erupted into activity. Daddy was dressed in seconds after his feet touched the floor. Mama ordered me to stay in my bed. No problem there.

Daddy discussed with Mama, what action to take, but that was decided for them.

“Thwack.” The front door vibrated in it’s frame with urgency. Railroad men wanted Daddy to bring his car (need for transportation again) and identify a victim.

Daddy was gone for hours and I, no more than five years old, was sleeping when he returned. So it was the next day that I learned Ole Ty, a neighbor who lived so far back in the woods that only a foot path led to it, had been lying on the tracks with his neck across one rail, was killed.

Daddy described the headless and mangled body condition of Ty. It gave him bad dreams for months.

Much speculation ensued. The engineers reported Ole Ty. never moved and it looked like he had been carefully placed with a gallon jug of white lightning by his side.

There were no law officers in those parts, and Railroad detective’s concern was with the RR’s culpability.

We’ll never know what brought Ole Ty to that pass, but the sounds of that night were imprinted in my memory and easily recalled on a dark, cool and quiet night.

October 28, 2010 В· Carolyn В· One Comment
Tags: , ,  В· Posted in: country life

One Response

  1. Sue - October 30, 2010

    I wouldn’t be able to sleep for months either.

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