I was born in 1927 to Frederic P. and Alma Gibson in Monahans, Texas where my father was the Station Agent for the Texas and Pacific Railway. My earliest memories are of our life in the Agent’s house which was directly behind the depot, and of the depot grounds which actually became my play yard.
I played there pretending that the freight wagons were stage coaches taking me to far places, walking the rails, and learning to tell when a train was coming by the humming of the tracks, even before the train came into sight, sometimes putting a penny on the track to have it “mashed” by the train. . The conductors, brakemen and engineers from the trains were my friends, and some, who were my favorites, often gave me pennies, or occasionally, a nickel or a dime. It was a real treat for me to take a nickel and buy a hamburger at Mickey Bland’s hamburger stand a block away on main street.
I adored being with my father at the depot where I “played office.” He allowed me to stamp the railroad report forms with the “Monahans” stamp and I kept a large supply prepared well in advance. I loved the odor of the dark red sealing wax that was used to close the envelopes of official reports, and there again, I would be allowed to press into the hot wax, the imprint of the official seal. I would marvel at my father’s courage as he stood just inches away from the rails, using the message hoops to hand up official orders to the trains as they “flew by”, and I was amazed that he could turn the “clickings” that came over the telegraph wire into words.
In the depression years of the early 3 0’s, there was always a flurry of activity when a freight train would stop on its way through. Men by the scores--hoboes as they were called-- would pour from the trains, fanning out to all the houses in the area close to the tracks, desperate for something to eat. To my knowledge, my mother turned no one away. I do not know how she managed to find food for everyone, but she did--even if it was simply an egg sandwich or a bowl of soup.
One evening when a freight train heading west pulled to a stop, Mother got up to prepare for “the knocks on the door.” When the first knock came, she opened the door, stood for a moment and then gasped. She was looking at her own brother, who had lost his job in central Texas, and had headed west on the freight train along with all the other desperate men. He was covered with soot, bearded, exhausted and hungry. He stayed with us for some little while, where with the help of my father, he went to work on the Texas and New Mexico rail line that ran from Monahans up into New Mexico.
When I was a little older, we moved from the house behind the depot to quarters upstairs in the depot itself. My mother, suffering from terrible allergies, felt she would be better living in a second story than on the ground where so many weeds and grasses flourished, so my father wrote for permission to move our family to the upstairs quarters of the depot. We lived there “unofficially” for a short time before the official permission was given, and I can remember that at night, when a train came through, my mother had us turn off all the lights lest railroad officials found that we were already living there.
The landing at the top of the stairs in the depot was “my spot.” There I had my tea table and chair, my dolls, my small bookcase with my books and my blackboard. I moved freely between my mother’s world in the upstairs living quarters and my father’s working world at the foot of tbç stairs. Not many children have the opportunity to be as close to their fathers at work as I had, and atlthough my father worked hard and very long hours, I could be with him at almost any time.
When the work load became too much for my father, we moved to a smaller station, Allamore, 11 miles west of Van Horn. The agent’s house was north of the depot--the equivalent of about a city block, had we been in a city! And I still had the privilege of being with my father very often at work. Those were treasured years in my life.
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Reading your story was very interesting. I live in Louisiana and grew up near the Meeker Sugar Refinery, Meeker, LA. This mill was owned by the CrackerJack folks of Chicago. Most of the sugar cane that supplied the mill came by rail from the early 1920s to 1940-50s. There was a T&P depot here and one of the executives of CrackerJack would travel by rail from Chicago to Meeker which is about 14 miles south of Alexandria on U.S. Highway 71. He would stay in an apartment attached to the mill office from October to mid-January. The depot was torn down sometime in the 1950-60 area after the mill received no more sugar cane by rail. I have been looking for pictures of this old depot but have had no success. Would you happen to be aware of any place where I might continue my search?