Tracking down a big memory
Bennie Sw if t of Rockdale, and sister Jessie Cooperwood of Gause, though they were just going to pay their respects to Union Pacific No. 844 Sunday in the Hearne train yard.
Instead they boarded a passenger car pulled by the final steam engine ever manufactured by UP and rode it all the way to Navasota.
‘Would you like to ride?”
No. 844 was on one of its periodic trips through the heartland of America and the engine, built in 1944, spent Sunday night in Hearne.
Train buffs know when it gets near and Coopersmith and Swift headed to Hearne early Sunday to have a look before it headed for Houston.
“I had walked over close to the train to take photos and began talking to one of the workers,” Coopersmith said. “I told him how my brother and I had seen other vintage trains and how we used to take train trips in the 40s and 50s.”
The man asked if they would like to take a ride.
“Now I ride the Texas Eagle (passenger train) regularly but Ben was as excited as a child,” she said. “He went to the concession area and purchased a whistle which sounded just like the train.
“All the phone calls he made began with the sound of that whistle,” she laughed.
Coopersmith and Swift got to know their fellow passengers on the trip, including a 93-year-old woman and her family.
“Train buffs are all ages,” Coopersmith said. “The youngest passenger was a 2-year-old boy.
“We waved out the windows at the ‘train chasers’ all along the way to Navasota,” Coopersmith said. “Some drove alongside the train.”
There were lots of stories.
“In 1944 I was a little girl and my grandmother, Lugrelia Long of Gause, and I boarded a train in Hearne and went to Chicago to visit family,” Coopersmith said.
“This was during the war and troops were boarded at night in blacked out cities,” she said. “Shades were drawn in each car and street lights were turned off to maintain secrecy about where, when and how many troops were boarding.
“I awoke the next morning in the lap of a young soldier with whom my grandmother, and others, were sharing the contents of their train travel rations, fruit, fried chicken and other delectibles,” Coopersmith said.
Coopersmith said Swift could identify with the operation of the train.
“Ben was assigned to the boiler room on the Navy’s USS Mauna Kea during the Vietnam era,” she said. “It seems the ship and train engines have similar operations.”
Sw if t sha red stor ies w it h another boiler man.
The brother and sister left the train in Navasota and were returned to Hearne by a Union Pacific van.
“We had a great trip and we thanked all the conductors and personnel who served as part of Union Pacific’s ambassador of goodwill program.”