Childhood Memories of Steam Train Travel

This sidewalk mosaic located at one of the doorways to the historic City Market in Roanoke, Virginia brought back childhood memories for me when I saw it recently. When I was a child I rode many steam-powered trains from city to city with my parents as we moved about. Journey via train was then the best (perhaps only) way to travel. Several things stick in my mind still today.

First, the terror I felt while holding tight to my mother’s hand as we walked along the train platform toward our assigned coach and near the massive engine, with its loud, hissing steam being ejected from vents next to the main driving wheels. Secondly, our large warm and comfortable seats in the coach, and a nice guy sitting near us and who demonstrated a few magic tricks with coins. And lastly, the train porters who helped us board, who carried our bags, and who walked the aisles during the trip seeing if there was anything we wanted. To me, they and other train personnel in their fresh crisp uniforms made me wish to perhaps someday do the same thing they were doing. Aside: I did in a way…spending almost 30 years wearing an Army uniform.

Minority civil rights then were limited or non-existant depending on where one lived in the country, unfortunately and sadly, but it’s been written historically that during the 1940s and 50s, many blacks attained middle class status by working with railroads as porters. They formed their own unions, gained numerous job benefits otherwise impossible, and in many ways set an example for what would be accomplished later on.

I thought of all this when I saw this mosaic depiction of a Norfolk & Western porter.

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