Twelve days after Lida’s birthday the train Roy’s family rode eased into another station with a puff of smoke and moan like an old lady rising from rocking chair.
Roy frowned at his dad and brother Joe said, “Not another stop, at this rate we’ll never get to Washington.”
Going over to the cattle car door Joe eased it back a crack to let in some air. He mopped the sweat from his brow. Man is it ever hot. At least when we’re moving, the air circulates through the louvered sides. What I wouldn’t give to be in the comfort of coach with Mother, Richard and Lida.”
Their dad rose from the bench where he sat. “Those cars get hot, too. Sure, miss seeing my little girl’s smiling face, though. I bet you 2 bits to a dollar right now your mother is fit to be tied trying to keep that wiggly angel contained to her seat.”
He motioned for both boys to stay back and opened the cattle car’s door and gazed out. “This stop is where they change crew and service the engine. We will be here a while. Say if I don’t spot a Harvey House. Reckon I’ll hop off and see if I can’t scare up some grub for the three of us and maybe catch sight of your mother letting our little Lida stretch her legs. Remember to stay out of view, I can’t afford to buy you boys a ticket.”
As his dad strode off Roy and Joe stared out at the station. Mounds of luggage sat heaped on the loading platform, waiting to be loaded into the baggage cars. Two Harvey girls dressed in black dresses and voluminous white aprons hurried toward the restaurant.
Joe stared at their attractive young faces. “They sure know how to choose lookers. Sure, wish you and I were the one getting off. I’d love to talk to one of those pretty girls.”
Roy took a deep breath and plugged his nose. “This place smells worse than an outhouse. I reckon the smell coming off us is none to pleasant. They’d run the other way if we came near them.”
Joe laughed, “Spose your right, guess I’ll go take a snooze in the hay until Dad returns with something to eat. With all the stopping and starting this train does at night. I haven’t slept well.”
Roy joined Tango his horse in her stall. He handed her a carrot and patted her side. “I know the all the jostling of the train is hard on you. We aren’t going to move for a spell, so why don’t you take a snooze too.”
He reached for his ruck sack stashed in the corner of the stall and pulled out his copy of American Family Robinson.
“I’m just going to curl up here and read another chapter. It’s kind of a fantastic story, but it does make for good reading. Thought I’d have finished it by now but reading while in motion kind of makes me seasick.”
As he finished Chapter 11, he heard the cattle car door creak open.
His dad set a box on the floor and hoisted himself inside, “I’ve come bearing food.”
Roy left the pioneer family and Indian chief deep in some prehistoric cave. He put the book back in his rucksack and joined his brother and dad beside the box. An unbelievably good smell permeated the air. Roy’s mouth watered, “tell me that’s chicken I smell.”
“Indeed, it is, and biscuits almost as good as your mother’s.”
Roy bit into a chicken leg and groaned. “I think I must be in heaven.”
“Also bought you some cherry pie to top that off with, said his dad.” Saw your mother, Richard, and of course your sister. We were able to enjoy a meal together, and then I took little sis outside to let her run off some of her energy. Hopefully, it was enough to give your mother a little rest. And of course, she sent you, her love.”
Roy clomped some Jam on a biscuit as the train jerked.
“Feels like we are on the roll again,” said Joe.
His father nodded. “The more we roll, the sooner we get to Cheney. Our next stop should be just after dark. It will be harder to spot you so you can get off and stretch your legs a bit.”
He took a blue paisley scarf from around his neck and wiped the sweat trickling off his forehead. “Not to mention it’ll be cooler.”
Two days later the train blew its horn and as it screeched to a stop. The sign above the depot said Cheney. Out on the platform, people scurried about ready to greet folks’ disembarking while others readied themselves to board. Wagons waited on the nearby streets to take folks to their destinations.
Roy spotted his mother, Lida, and Richard standing in front of the station, waiting for them to have their turn to unload the wagon and horses from the cattle car. Once off, they planned to take their wagon and horses to the public corral and spend the night at the home of a friend, his mother had made when they had lived here before.
Roy wondered how long it would take for them to find a home of their own. Would this be the place he’d make his forever home?
The book Roy is reading is in my possession and bears his name and word Caple, Oklahoma. It is considered the fore runner of today’s science fiction novels. The book was printed in 1853. The copy my grandfather had was a boys book club edtioin from the 1880’s.
My grandfather often spoke of this trip and how hot it was inside the cattle car. He said he and Joe were allowed off on stops after dark to stretch their legs. One stop was beside and orange grove. He said they picked some of the oranges and they were delicious.