Inspiration From The Past

In “Storytellin’: True And Fictional Short Stories Of Arkansas” I write about a young boy, a midnight train, and the value of friendship in the tale “He A Friend Of Yours?” The title of the story is actually a question posed to the young boy by a train station employee.

Several of my family provided inspiration for the story not the least of which were my grandfather, father, and an uncle who all worked for the Rock Island Railroad in various capacities including railroad bull, brakeman, and conductor. All of their work began and ended with the Rock Island Rail Road train depot in the small town of Booneville, Arkansas. Not coincidentally, the fictional story’s beginning is set in and around a train depot.

In its heyday, the Booneville depot was a busy, thriving place, bustling with activity. I remember trips to the depot to either welcome or say goodbye to family members as they left for work or arrived after a working absence. More than once, I too, rode the railroad to and from Little Rock to visit uncles and aunts.

RI-BoonevilleTrainDepot

This picture of the Booneville train depot was taken in the early 1980s and reflects a mere ghost of itself in comparison to the days when it thrived. Built in 1910 originally as a railroad eating house, the building style is unique compared to the average Rock Island train depot in Arkansas.

The days of riding the rails from Booneville to Little Rock are gone forever now, as are my family members who worked on the line. Sadly, just a few years after this picture was taken the Booneville depot burned down and its stories mostly lost to history.

17 thoughts on “Inspiration From The Past

    • Thank you, Susan. The history of railroad eating houses goes back to 1875 and the Fred Harvey Company owner of the Harvey House chain of restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality industry businesses alongside railroads in the western United States. The Booneville Arkansas depot was one built by Harvey. Such a shame it was not maintained as an historical site and allowed to fall into disrepair and eventually burn.

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  1. Harvey gave generations of women a chance to escape poverty, poor life choices, bad men, worse conditions and stand on their own working outside the home. While possibly sexist in one sense, he was wise enough to know women would be reliable and effective employees. Their presence was a great to deterrence to the chaotic behavior of a station full of male employees, travelers and Terminal Roughs. “Single and between the ages of 18 and 30. They had to be of good moral character, well-mannered, attractive, and intelligent with at least an 8th grade education.” They came by the thousands to populate stations like yours. It is sad when the story of who we are, and how we got here goes up in smoke…Because stories tell us who we really are, and stories and their keepers are disappearing. Nice piece.Need to go find your book.

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  2. I love stories about the old railways, both here in the UK and over there in the US. There’s something about the old-style railways and their associated buildings that gets the imagination going. And that’s before we think about the wonderful great steam engines. I rode on those regularly to get to school 3 miles away when I was a teenager. I love the fact that the Booneville depot is the one used in your book. You must have been thrilled to hear all the stories from family members who worked on that line.
    Glad to be able to see the Booneville photo here, Jack. How odd that images don’t show on Goodreads. Such an interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

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