Monday, November 18, 2013

Rockin' The Rails!

~photo by Suzanne * Fort Worth, TX * November 18, 2013

Greetings, readers...hope this finds you all well!
  This part time blogger is reporting back in with a new gig!

My wife Suzanne and her friend Cindy are always looking for a story, and, there's nothing like an extra pair of eyes to bring an old relic back to life!  These two ladies work together, and sometimes even Cindy veers off the interstate, and travels through town to work, like Suzanne does.

One morning as Cindy  drove under the old railroad trussel just about a mile east of downtown Fort Worth,  she saw an old 'Rock Island' logo either stamped or painted onto the concrete just at the bottom of the tracks.  It was faint, barely to be seen, but, she reported her find to Suzanne when she got to work, knowing Suzanne would jump on the chance to tell a railroad story of some kind on her blog.  Cindy recalled how she sang the song 'Rock Island Line' in school as a young girl, and, sang a quick verse of the song for Suzanne.  After she returned home that afternoon, and, upon relaying the possibility of me learning the song, I chanted out a verse of it...Suzanne was so surprised I knew the song, her mind was then set.  It so turns out, the railroad story appears on my blog!

Rock Island Depot * Bridgeport, Texas in the 1950's

Soooo...if I can get a word in, here's my story!

When I was a kid, there was a Rock Island depot in Bridgeport, Texas where I grew up.  In the late 1950's the depot was run by one Jack Waters.  Jack was a gambling man, who was mesmerized by the sound of the roll of the dice.  Sometimes at night you could see Jack and his friends rolling dice on the floor at the old Magnolia Gas Station.  And, as the evening wore on, Jack would get hot...take off first his tie, then coat, and, any other article of clothing that was appropriate to shuck.

That's me...they caught me watching them thru an open window as they gambled away their paychecks one hot, summer night...just kidding, lol!  But, I did watch them shoot craps through that window!

This is what remains of that Magnolia Gas Station
~photo by Suzanne * November 16, 2013 * Bridgeport, TX

* and this is the window, now bricked over...DRATS!!!
~photo by Suzanne

Well, folks, Rock Island had a line from Kansas across Oklahoma territory to the Red River in 1892.  Then, within a year's time, Rock Island and Texas Railway Company, with charter in hand, began construction on 92 miles of track between the Oklahoma-Texas line through Bridgeport, and on to Fort Worth.  At the time, Bridgeport was located on the banks of the Trinity River, and the line that was laid came within a mile east of Bridgeport.
~Rock Island steam engine * Bridgeport, TX

Both passenger and freight trains passed through Bridgeport, TX daily.  The depot had become a popular hot spot in town...this railroad had virtually put Bridgeport on the map.  In the early 40's, the Rock Island train acquired the nickname "The Rocket', and a husband and wife in town opened up a restaurant, naming it  the "Rocket Cafe".

  You know, 'Pappy Stevens', a Rock Island engineer & switchman, would put me up in his lap when I was 8 or 9 years old in the locomotive and we would actually ride up  and down, back and forth to Chico and to the rock crusher around the depot.  Years later, when my son Chad came along, switchman John Moody gave him rides the same as 'Pappy Stevens' did me.  Frequently, I would sit out on the porch of my folks cafe and watch the trains go by.

  Boxcars would chug by, hauling hobos, coming from other parts of the country, on a road to what they hoped would be a better life.  The hobos would wave at me as the train went by, and I would wave back.  I thought it was pretty cool.  Most of the time they just kept going on to the next city, and, sometimes the next state, looking for work of any kind.  Sometimes some of the hobos would get off the train, and come to the cafe asking if there was any work they could do for food.  My dad never turned them away, and he would find some sort of chore they could do in return for the food, such as picking up around the grounds.

And, the mail was thrown out of the train in a canvas bag every morning to be picked up and taken to the post office.  It would roll quite a ways down the tracks before stopping.

* And, to be honest...I'm sorry those days are gone-I truly miss them!

Rock Island Railroad was one of the weaker of the major railroads, but still succumbed under attempts to merge with other railroads for survival.  Consequently, in March of 1980, it ceased operations and the branch between Bridgeport and Graham was acquired by the Texas Export Railroad Company.  Sadly, the depot in Bridgeport was torn down in 1984.

OK!  Now on to something good!

If you're still with me....thanks a bunch!  You probably think I came from the 'Windy City'! ☺

There is an old American blues/folk song called 'Rock Island Line'.  Gosh, there have been quite a number of recordings of this one song by many artists, like Johnny Horton, Paul McCartney, Ramblin Jack Elliot, Lead Belly (who made it pretty popular), a couple other Beatles sang it, lol! and, Johnny Cash!

* It was a song that became popular among prisoners, beginning in the 1930's,  about the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroads. The song became well known by the 1950's in the folk culture.  It was kind of a funny story about a train operator who smuggles pig iron through a toll gate, and claims to be carrying livestock.  I'll not get into who wrote the song-as there appears to be some conflicting ideas concerning the origins of the song and its authors.

Before I close this session of Rockabilly 101, please let me thank the following:
Rock Island railroad
another one or two, I didn't write down

Thank you Cindy for your inspiration!
Thank you Suzanne!

*** Thank you wonderful folks for your visit. I hope you enjoyed the information and pictures.  As you can see, Suzanne took several of the photos herself.  Please stop by anytime, and don't be too shy to say hello!  I might even muster up the nerve to say 'hello' back to you!

OH, Hey!  I think I found a copy of it...don't go away now! You have to hear this!

Have a great week...Happy Thanksgiving!

Be safe...give love! ♫


  1. Hi, Karo! How're you feelin', good buddy? It's great to find you back in action on your blog. I see Suzanne and her friend collaborated with you on this post so thanks to all of you for the interesting information, stories and pictures. As I read this post and learned about your childhood experiences in Bridgeport with the Rock Island Line, it was like watching an old black and white movie. Suzanne's mentioned this on her blog but it was like watching The Last Picture Show. I thoroughly enjoyed this history lesson filtered through your boyhood memories. Those must have been great times and I can easily understand why you wax nostalgic about those days and wish they had never ended. The Johnny Cash recording of "Rock Island Line" is the only one I remembered and it was fun hearing it again.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, Karo. Please take good care of yourself and come over and visit my space sometime. You're always welcome there even if its just to say howdy.

  2. Well Hi Shady! I have to give Suzanne a lot of credit for this post. I do get a lot of encouragement and help from her. She just tells me to start talking, and she takes notes! Lo, and behold-a story appears!

    It was a great time of life, exciting for a small town back then. And, I'm amazed that now we can share our stories today with others who have had similar experiences, or events in their lives that are equally interesting to others.

    I have to admit, I'm a bit shy about making comments, but I have enjoyed your blog, and will get by to say howdy. I am feeling much better, thanks for asking. I appreciate your coming by and leaving a comment, Shady! Have a great week!

  3. Whoa! This is good! The video you picked out is the best! A lot of us are Johnny Cash fans, and, he sure delivers on this one.

    I wish I could have seen some of these sights myself-what fun to be a kid and experience these events in those days. I love your childhood memories, and, I am grateful that I can help revive them for others to see. Thank you for your inspirations! ♥