The Rooster Crows – December 20, 1999 Addendum

By Bill Anderson

Here’s a Christmas reminiscence I wrote back in 1999  that appeared in The Sargent County Teller as an addendum to the December 20, 1999 edition of The Rooster Crows.

WAITING FOR THE TRAIN
When we were kids, growing up in a small town in southeastern North Dakota, the rhythm of our lives was governed, to a large extent, by the schedule of the Great Northern Railway Company. Our father, Earl Anderson, was the station agent/telegrapher for the Great Northern in our hometown of Rutland, North Dakota. His schedule was set by the Great Northern and our schedule was set by him. Back then railroad trains ran on schedules, with arrival and departure times calculated down to the minute. Tough conductors like Shag Lehmann and Herb Cochrane would cuss a blue streak if their train arrived in the station as little as a minute or two ahead or behind the scheduled time. Forty-five years ago, you could tell what time it was by the freight train steam whistle or the passenger train air horn as it came into town or departed with a load of freight, passengers, cream cans and U.S. mail. It’s not that way any more. Now, a person can’t even determine the time of the year by the arrival or departure of trains on the Rutland branch line. As Ahrlin Hoffman commented some years ago, “I used to set my watch by the old Great Northern, then, one day, I came into town and discovered I was two months late.”

Back in the 1940’s and 1950’s the trains ran on schedule every day, holidays being no exception, and the men who worked for the railroad were on duty whenever the company said they were needed. As the railroad’s agent and telegrapher, Dad had to be at the depot when trains were scheduled to arrive. Everybody knew the train schedule and, a lot of times, folks would go down to the depot in the evening to “meet the passenger train” just to see who got on and who got off. The arrival of the eastbound evening passenger train from Aberdeen was always looked forward to with anticipation. Everything from freight to passengers to postcards moved by rail in those days and folks were always looking forward to either sending or receiving something.

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