BEANERY ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE
RIDING THE RAILS
NELLIE RIGGS McQUILLIS
This piece is included in a self-published book of short stories written by a new contributor, Nellie Riggs McQuillis. TALES FROM THE FOUR MILE RUN was written and published in the 1980s, after her retirement. She taught in the Ligonier (PA) School District between 1936 and 1978, except for a few years when she took time out to grow a family.
“Now, you young ones pay attention. You’re not to leave this place today. Do you hear me?”
“Of course,” I said. “They can probably hear you half way to…”
“What’s that?” he said, whirling around.
“I said of course we hear you. We hafta stay in this place.”
Then he was gone.
We jumped up from the table, scraped the rest of our oatmeal into the dog’s dish on the porch and prayed he’d eat it before Mom came up from the cellar, where she was hunting Mason jars for canning beans.
Then we were gone.
“Dick said he’d meet us by the school path,” said Doris as we hurried around the hay field. The dew wet our bare legs and hay seeds stuck to them. My legs started to itch.
There was cousin Dick standing beside the school path, just as he’d promised.
Now we walked single file along the path which was worn down by the feet of long-forgotten scholars on their unwilling way to the little one-room schoolhouse that sat on the back of Granddad’s farm. The dew-berry vines slashed at my ankles. One whipped back when the person ahead of me walked through it. I felt it sting and saw little drops of red ooze out. Hot tears stung my eyes, but I kept going. Adventure called!
We reached the bank mine and saw the coal cars sitting on the narrow gauge track. The cars were made of heavy saw mill lumber and had big iron wheels. They were pushed into the mine, then loaded with coal by men using picks and shovels. Then they were moved down the tracks to the tipple where the coal was dumped into wagons or trucks to be taken to the coke ovens.
Doris took a big safety pin out of her pocket and pinned her skirt together between her legs. She looked as if she were wearing some kind of pantaloons.
“We’re going to take a ride today,” said Dick happily.
“No, no,” said Audrey. “He said we were to stay at home today.”
“No,” said Doris firmly. “He said we weren’t to leave this place. Well, we’re in this place now.”
With that she climbed up on the big wheel and into the car. Dick helped Audrey up. I climbed onto the wheel and Doris pulled me into the car. I landed on the bottom of the car and a cloud of fine coal dust rose, making me sneeze.
Dick went to the front of the car and stood on a block of wood so he had a better view of the track ahead. Doris took her position at the brake.
Dick raised his hand. “Brake off!” he yelled in a loud voice. Doris struggled, but at last released the brake. The car barely moved at first but then began picking up speed as it swayed and rocked on its way down the track. Suddenly I remembered the drop off at the tipple.
“The tipple,” I yelled. “We’ll go over the tipple.” I had visions of us lying crushed or trapped under the heavy car.
I looked up and all I could see was a patch of blue sky and some green limbs as they whipped back from the car. I crouched down in the bottom of the car and tried to pray but I couldn’t get past “Our Father…”
“Brake! Brake!” yelled Dick.
Doris tried but she couldn’t brake the heavy car to a stop.
“Our Father… Our Father…”
Dick ran to her side and together they pulled the heavy car to a stop. The iron wheels screeched and screamed to a halt. We all climbed out.
“Now,” Dick said happily. “We have to push it back up the track for another ride.”
“Maybe that’s enough for today,” said a white-faced Doris.
That evening as we trooped in for supper, Dad looked up from his everlasting book and fixed each of us in turn with his blue, blue eyes. (How had he found out?) He gave his book a shake and pronounced sentence.
“If you young ones ever go near that pit or those coal cars again, I’ll take your hid clean off.”
We never did.
He never did.
The book, TALES FROM THE FOUR MILE RUN, is available at the Ligonier Valley (PA) Library.
TWO HALLOWEEN STORIES: