11. Coming Into a Station

Wednesday night (5/30/34)

Dear Mary:

I should have told you all about coming into a station! But I just plain forgot. Now you’ll understand how I couldn’t possibly miss you.

In the first place, you must remember, I know exactly what you’re going to wear from hat to sox. I couldn’t miss that outfit on a bet.

Now when your train is about forty miles out of Chicago, you will enter a very elaborate system of keeping track of your train. You won’t see a thing, but every time you pass a sort of a thing that looks like a shack on stilts way up high above the ground, a man will take his telephone off the hook and say something like this: “Twenty two past Techny seven forty”, and so on.

In a room high up in the station building, a man keeps track of your train. With little flashing lights that move down the track as you pass one point after another, he knows where you are every minute, and this man sees to it that every switch is right and that every signal is right.

When you near the station, he looks at his big winking board and says to an assistant “Twenty two on track eleven”. That means that the train will enter the station way out in the yards, and it’ll be pulled in on track number eleven.

Now inside the station, there are about 24 tracks from which trains leave, and on which they pull in. The even numbered ones are on one side, and the odd ones are on another. Each one has a lighted sign above the big steel gate. When a train is expected, the dispatcher writes into a special instrument the track number where it will arrive. The moment he writes it, a moving pencil writes it on what they call the “Teleautograph” at the information bureau in the center of the station. The minute it is written where your train will arrive, I’ll get the track number and head where the train is due. Your train may be still five minutes out, but I know where to go.

I go over to the gateman, explain that I have permission to go out in the train shed, and he rolls back the glass and steel door that separates the big waiting rooms and the station proper from where the trains pull in. I am permitted to go out along the track and wait for the train to come in.

Suppose I describe just what it looks like. Your track is eleven. The rails are right in front of me as I stand there, and I can look away down to the entrance of the train shed to watch the engine as it pulls in its long train of cars. On the right hand side as you ride in is a broad long pavement — about twelve or fifteen feet wide, and about twice the length of the train. This is the side upon which the porter will open the door. On the other side is a lane of steel, where baggage and mail are unloaded, and where all the heavy work of unloading a train is done.

Your train is just coming into the north end of the station, nearly a half mile away, its big fast engine handling those fifteen cars like Buddy pulls his toy train across the floor.

I start on the run down the long platform as the engine and tender come past me. It’s slowing up nicely now, almost to a walk. There go the baggage cars — two or three of them. A mail and express car. Two or three coaches. My! But you’re far back. There are the Pullmans, about five or six of them. The porters are swinging out the baggage now, to the arms of a young army of waiting redcaps. Now to find your car.

Your mother has wired me the number of your car, so I can find it in a hurry. And who do you suppose is just coming down the steps? Well, it’s a little lady in a blue and white sweater, a blue skirt, white sox and a white beret! She looks around for a minute. Maybe she can’t see a young man knocking down some porters who are getting in his way. But there he is!

And that’s the end of the story.

Simple, isn’t it? The simplest thing in the world. If my legs are good, I’ll be at the car door before the train stops. If they aren’t, you stand still till you can count ten, and there I’ll be.

Does that answer your question?



In case I have to argue with the gateman a minute and he delays letting me through, it may be a minute or so before I can reach your side. But I’ll be there!

Previous: See You in Just Ten Days! | Next: What We’ll Do


One thought on “11. Coming Into a Station”

  1. These letters are just delightful and touching. Thank you so much for sharing them with the world.

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