mabel (third from left) and girlfriends on an excursion circa 1915


mom - train

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mail passenger train
march 27th
by margaret anderson

there are many trains, but none quite like the mail passenger. fifty years ago it was probably the most wonderful thing on earth, but those same coaches aren't very comfortable anymore. worn, rough upholstered seats have but a hint of softness to them and torture your back with their stiffness. had it not been for the two cheerful conductors, the chicago-iowa city trip would have been unbearable.

clutching our last quarters and suitcases, my roommate and i boarded the rock island mail passenger at 1:00 am, weary but knowing we had enough money left to rent pillows in the train. we curled up in the dimly-lit, dingy coach, waiting for the conductor to come through with those precious pillows. finally he came, but all he had was a few wisecracks about our discomfort. he was so amiable, it was hard to believe him when he told us they didn't have any pillows. i don't remember his reason, but it didn't seem at all logical. the first conductor came through again with the second one. who punched our tickets and chided us for wanting pillows. "after all, " he said. "conductors don't use them, and they ride every day !" "oh sure, but we don't ride everyday, and that's why we need them !"

we had wedged ourselves into seats facing each other and were munching not so solemnly on dry soda crackers, when our two conductors returned and routed us from our "beds".

with a constant flow of teasing chatter and playful rebuke for the nasty comments we made about the train, they adjusted our seats so that we could lie down half way comfortably. we fitfully rocked and bounced our way across the illinois lowlands through the wee hours of the easter morning, with our two friends always there to chat with us whenever we awoke. they seemed to be waiting, ready to pounce, whenever we'd so much as lifted an eyebrow. and much to my amazement, they served us each a steaming cup of coffee and a fat raisin-filled ginger cooky, sitting by to entertain us while we ate. they had to know where we were going, where we'd been and what we had done, and where we were from. i had never realized that conductors could be so sweet, but these two were so friendly and generous, we could even feel more tolerant about the dirty, pokey train. their reason for giving us coffee was , they " just liked to make things more comfortable," although we noticed they didn't offer it to anyone else !

what a great sense of humor and love of people those men must have, to be able to take all the complaints about this train's peculiarities. just as we reached the tri-cities at dawn, we sadly took leave of our friends, knowing that train would not be the same without them. by doing all they could to make us comfortable and forget our tired bodies, they surpassed the coldly efficient conductors on the streamliners, to whom you are just one more passenger, and part of a great machine.