A chance meeting

By the look on his face, I already know what Dad is going to say. I can feel a lump begin to form in my throat and my chest tightens as my heart begins to sink. I know how badly Daniel and I want to go for a ride with Chapman in the Railroad Lizzie.

"Michael," Dad begins. "You know that times are tough for our family right now and we can’t really spare any money for you and your brother to go for a joy ride on a Railroad Lizzie."

"Besides, Michael," Dad continues. "On Sunday, I am planning on you to help to load the wagon with wood again so that we can make another trip to Rocky Mount on Monday. If you and Daniel aren’t here to help, David and I cannot be ready by Monday and we won’t be able to deliver another load of wood until Tuesday."

I lower my head and stare at the table as the words my father has just spoken ring in my ear. Mom walks over to the table from washing the supper dishes at the sink and gently places a hand on my shoulder. "Michael," she says, "why don’t you run along upstairs to your bedroom for awhile and spend some time with your brother Daniel. I would like to talk to your father alone for a few minutes."

I slowly get up from the kitchen table and quietly go upstairs. I see Daniel playing on the floor with a wooden toy train that Dad made for him last Christmas. Daniel looks at me with excitement in his eyes.


"I can’t wait until we go with Chapman for a ride in that Railroad Lizzie on Sunday," he says. "We can finally have fun together instead of always working. What did Dad say? Did you ask him yet?"

I didn’t have the heart to tell Daniel that we couldn’t go on Sunday. It would break his heart, and we have so little to look forward to these days. I abruptly change the subject and sit down on the floor with him as he plays with his train.

A change of heart

Downstairs at the kitchen table I can hear Mom and Dad talking. I can’t really make out what they are saying but it sounds serious. In a few minutes I can hear Mom calling, "Michael, can you come back downstairs? Your father and I would like to talk to you."

I walk back downstairs where I can see Mom and Dad sitting at the table. I still have hope that Mom and Dad have changed their minds about letting us go on Sunday. Dad looks at me with his piercing eyes and begins to speak. "Your mother and I have been talking and we have agreed to let you and Daniel go on Sunday. However, you have to promise me one thing."

"We’ll do anything you ask Dad," I exclaim as my eyes widen with excitement.

"You and your brother have to promise to be home early enough to help me load the wagon for town," Dad continues in a serious voice."Do you think you can do that?"

"Yes!" I reply in disbelief, not sure if I heard correctly the words that Dad just said. "We will make sure that we are home."


Before Dad can say another word I scramble up the stairs to tell the good news to Daniel. He is totally captivated and can hardly be contained.

Riding the rails

It seems like an eternity until Sunday, but the day finally arrives. Daniel and I are up early in the morning, dressed and ready to go. Before we leave for the rails Dad reminds us that we must be home in time to help load the wagon. We promise that we will return on time. We wave good-bye and run out the door.

The other day when we spoke to Chapman we made the arrangements that we would meet him at the top of the hill where the train wreck had occurred. He would then take us to the train station in Rocky Mount and return back to the original spot. As we approach the site of the train wreck we can see Chapman coming down the road in the Railroad Lizzie. It looks like he has another passenger with him and that he has two available seats for Daniel and me.

"Good morning, boys!" Chapman says cheerfully. "Are you ready for a spin down the rails in the old Tin Lizzie?"

Daniel smiles and asks, "You mean Railroad Lizzie, don’t you?"

"Absolutely!" answers Chapman, who is anxious to go.

We give Chapman 18 cents and take the two seats in the back.


Chapman turns around and yells, "I want you to meet my friend Betty. I hope you don’t mind if she takes a spin with us. She wants to take one last ride before she goes off to school."

I holler back, "We don’t mind so long as she doesn’t." A very shy-looking girl in the front seat turns around and smiles gently. Daniel and I are puzzled as to where she goes to school and why she can’t go for a ride any time she wants to go in the Railroad Lizzie. We sit back and get ready to enjoy the ride.

The day is particularly beautiful. It is one of those rare winter events when the sun shines brightly and the temperature of the air warms up to make it feel like a fresh day in spring. The rushing breeze flows across our faces like newly blossoming flowers as Lizzie speeds down the railroad tracks, heading in a careless path to a seemingly nowhere special place. The joy for me is not where we are going, like it usually is, but the way in which we get there. The farther down the tracks we go, the farther away our everyday fears and concerns become. It is like nothing exists around us except for Lizzie and her splendor.

Betty appears to be having a great time as well, although Daniel and I detect a certain sadness in her eyes.We know that Chapman will have to stop in Rocky Mount and fill the tank with gas.We are hoping that we will have a moment to talk to Betty and find out where she goes to school. It seems like it is no time at all when we see the Rocky Mount station. Daniel and I know that our trip in the Railroad Lizzie is now half over. But now is our chance to talk to Betty and find out where she is going.

Private school

When everyone gets out of Lizzie, Betty appears to be leaving us. While Chapman is filling the tank with gas, I ask him, "Where is Betty going? Isn’t she going on the trip back with us?"

Chapman replies by saying, "No, she isn’t, Michael. She is taking the rail bus to Danville." Daniel and I realize that we better hurry if we want to talk to Betty before we go.

We approach Betty who is standing at the station waiting for the arrival of the rail bus.


"Where are you going, Betty?" Daniel asks. "We thought you were going on the trip back with us."

"I can’t today," Betty explains. "I am on my way back to Chatham Hall."

"What is Chatham Hall?" I ask.

"Chatham Hall is a private school for girls," Betty answers. Daniel and I can tell that it is difficult for Betty to talk about her return to school.

"When school is in session I live in a room at the school," Betty continues. "I won’t be home for awhile."

Betty goes on to say that she enjoys going to Chatham Hall and that she knows it is a privilege for a girl to go to a private school, but that she feels sad when she has to return and she misses her family a great deal. Betty turns away from us when she hears the sound of the rail bus approaching.

Chapman, Daniel and I wait at the railroad station until Betty boards the rail bus. We can see Betty waving good-bye from the window as the rail bus begins its long journey down the tracks toward Chatham Hall. We wave good-bye and quickly return to the Railroad Lizzie.

In a moment we are racing down the tracks on our way back home. It was difficult to say good-bye to Betty and even more difficult going home. We will be reminded of the harshness of life as soon as we see Dad again and have to load the wagon for the trip to Rocky Mount tomorrow.

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