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by Michael Joe Moore a.k.a. REDHAWK1954 Last updated: 2016-08-13 10:58:49
LISTENING FOR THE TRAIN
When I was three years old my dad got a job driving a local delivery truck for the Standard Oil distributor in Columbiana Alabama, my home town. He kept this job until he retired forty one years later. His job consisted of delivering gas from the tanks at the local plant to the Standard Oil gas stations there in the county. He normally performed this part of his job between the hours of 6:30 AM until 5:00 PM, Monday thru Friday, but on Saturday mornings he had to work the train.
Back then and I guess now, a train used a thin layer of sand spread on the tracks to create enough friction for the train to be able to move. The sand was carried by the train and it was funneled onto the track as the train moved. The train he worked stopped at the steam plant in Wilsonville about ten miles away. His job was to load the sand onto the train while it was stopped there to deliver coal for the plant. This was hard work because the sand came in canvas bags which he had to open and then pour the sand into the container. This took several minutes to perform. This was his responsibility for several years. During that time we only got to hunt or fish in the afternoons except for holidays. Years later the plant loss the contract for this job and my dad had all day on Saturday off.
On its way to Wilsonville the train passed within a mile from our house. At the nearest road crossing it would blow its whistle to warn traffic that it was coming. If the train was on schedule my dad would be home around lunch but if the train was late my dad would be also.
By the time I was seven years old I was in the habit of sitting on the back steps on Saturday mornings listening for the blow of that train whistle knowing that if the train was late my dad would be late getting home and our hunting or fishing trip would suffer. I remember well how I would listen and hope that the train would be early or at least on time. I was often disappointed as the train was regularly late and my dad also.
Until I was twelve and I got my first shotgun, I carried a 22 rifle and we hunted mostly squirrels. I know that at times my dad had to be itching to do more deer hunting and less squirrel hunting but he was very patient and taught me the fundamentals of hunting and safe gun handling while we hunted for small game.
My dad’s parents lived on a two hundred acre farm which was the center of our hunting ground. Until I was about thirteen they did not have running water in the house and heated with an open fireplace.
My dad and I cut, split and stacked the majority of the firewood they used each winter. Being too young to run a chain saw it was my job to carry the fire wood from where ever the tree fell to my granddaddy’s truck so we could then take it to their house. Most of the wood was cut during squirrel season. Much like the fishing story I told in the introduction, my dad used my desire to go squirrel hunting to get the most work out of me. We would often cut and load one load of firewood before going hunting. I remember running back and forth to the truck with a stick of firewood in my arms so we could go hunting sooner, rather than later.
It was during that time that my granddaddy and I made a trade that impacted the way we hunted squirrels. My dad had bought two black and tan hound puppies for me and my sister. I think he had plans to train them to run deer. My grandmother had a dog that was mixed who she had named Fido, believe it or not. My sister and I loved to play with Fido so I worked out a trade with granddaddy. I traded him both puppies for Fido and he gave me a small shop hammer that needed a new handle to boot. My dad made a handle out of hickory and I still have it today to remember them both by. One pup was a male and the other a female. The female died soon after, and I can’t remember her name but the male’s name was Ring because he had a white ring around his neck.
When Ring got old enough my granddaddy trained him to tree squirrels. Ring would hunt ahead of us as we slipped thru the woods. When he treed a squirrel he would stay at the tree until we got there and then he would start hunting for another squirrel while we found the one that was treed and shot it. Sometimes he would tree a second squirrel while we were still trying to kill the first one. Hunting with him was much more fun and productive than hunting without him.
Sometimes we would walk on opposite sides of a hollow watching for a squirrel to turn on the tree. I would walk thirty or so yards ahead while he watched and then he would walk ahead the same distance while I watched and then we would repeat the process. This was more productive than sitting and watching during the middle of the day when squirrels were less active or sunning themselves in the warm Alabama sun. Early and late we would sit still and watch for squirrels to move.
My dad’s eye sight was always much better than mine and he could pick out squirrels much farther away and quicker than I could. We did not know it then but I really needed glasses and did not get them until I was fifteen and failed the vision test for my learners permit. I remember many times my dad trying to show me a squirrel that he could plainly see and not understanding why I could not.
One time he kept trying to show me a squirrel on the side of a tree. Out of frustration I finally shot a knot on the side of the tree instead of the squirrel. The squirrel immediately ran to the top of the tree and jumped to another tree and escaped. My dad was so aggravated that he told me if he had known that I was going to shoot the knot instead of the squirrel he would have shot it himself. A couple of years later I had a pair of glasses and that solved my problems with seeing squirrels.
For my twelfth Christmas I got a used Iver Johnson twenty gauge single barrel shotgun. It was a great surprise! My uncle Raymond found it for twenty dollars which was a lot for a Christmas gift in my family in 1966. I remember a few days before Christmas my dad, uncle and I went somewhere to shoot my uncle’s new twenty gauge. After I shot it once my dad asked me what I thought of it. A course I said that I liked it. You can only imagine my surprise to find it under the tree a few days later. That was a Christmas that I would never forget. I got to hunt deer and squirrels with it the remainder of the season. It was very light and kicked like a mule, not having a recoil pad on it, but I loved having my own gun.
Having a shotgun meant that I could now hunt any game that lived in the woods surrounding my grandparents house including deer and turkey. My dad and I were what I call meat hunters, which meant that we hunted anything that was in season with our guns loaded with buckshot or slugs and our coat pockets loaded with six shot for all the small game we would come across while looking for a deer. We did not kill many deer this way but we had loads of fun and made many memories that I will carry with me until my last days. I just hope my son can say the same when he is my age.
I remember so many events that happened while we were hunting and fishing that would bore most people but their memory is precious to me. Like the time we were walking thru the Jake Swamp as we called the swamp that was located just off of my granddaddy’s farm. I was carrying my twenty gauge but my Dad had his twelve gauge in his hands loaded with buckshot and his 22 rifle slung over his shoulder.
He jumped a cane cutter, as we called the large swamp rabbits that lived there. As it started to run off my Dad whistled making a noise much like a hawk. The rabbit stopped quickly and hunkered down to try to hide from what he thought was a hawk about to swoop down on him. I watched as my dad laid his shotgun down and shot the rabbit in the head with his rifle. I will never forget how easy he made the whole event look. Another time I saw him shoot a squirrel forty yards away, that I could not even see, in the head with his rifle and open sights.
There was one thing that my dad tried his best to teach me that he never could. Having grown up in the country all his life he had learned to not only “walk a log” across a creek but he could actually run across one. I tried my best to learn this great trick but just never could get the hang of it. I always moved slow and tried to hold onto anything I could reach to help keep my balance. My dad was short being only 5’ 9” with a low center of gravity and I was 6’ 2” with a much higher center of gravity. This gave him a big advantage over me. That is what I always told him anyway.
One cold January day we were walking back to my grandmother’s house for lunch after deer hunting all morning. It was still 14 degrees that morning with frost in the shade. To get home we had to cross “Little Yellow Leaf Creek” which cut my granddaddy’s farm in half.
My dad wanted to walk a log across the creek. I tried to talk him into walking to the bridge just a couple of hundred yards away and walk across on it but he did not want to walk the extra distance. He ran across the log without any problem even though there was still some frost on it. As he took each step the log would bounce up and down making it even more difficult to keep your balance.
Then it was my turn to cross the creek. When I had gotten three quarters of the way across I slipped off the log and fell into four feet of very cold water. By the time we had walked to grandmother’s house my clothes had frozen stiff and me with them. I jokingly told my grandmother that he had pushed me in. We all had a good laugh after I thawed out. That was one of the last times I tried to walk a log across that creek.
It has now been almost fifty years since I sat on the back steps listening for the train and hoping my dad would be home on time to go hunting or fishing, but I can still remember the anticipation I felt, the sound it made and how excited I was to hear it.
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