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Boys on the train

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My name is Thomas Langley and I’m Editor-In-Chief for the Sentinel, a  local newspaper here in  Lewis Port Kentucky and I have a story to tell.

As a young boy I had the misfortune of both my parents being killed in an auto accident. As a result I was placed in foster care.

The husband and wife I was raised by were church going Christians and their kindness and generosity was spirited by their deep faith. We lived on a small farm in Lewis Port and all worked together to keep the farm going.

I was eight years of age when they took me in and life was great.

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As time went on I would notice my mom meeting other women from the church in front of our house early in morning.

They would walk up a dirt path until out of sight only to return a half –hour later.

This would happen Monday thru Friday. In the evening around six they would do the same thing, meet in front of our house and walk up the path and return about a half hour later.

One morning my curiosity got the best of me and I garnered the courage to follow them.

I found them standing by a railroad trestle that crossed the path.

Within minutes I could hear the train coming and, as it reached the trestle, slow down. There were only two freight cars being pulled by a locomotive. In the two cars I could see groups of young boys peeking through the slats waving to my mom and the other women. All the women waved back to the children, it was a pleasant moment in time, a simple wave that seemed to lighten the loneliness evident on their faces.

In the evening I followed them back to the trestle and, sure enough, the train returned. The children waved but, this time you could see tears streaming down their precious salt chalked cheeks,  later I was told the full story by my mom.

It seems South of us was Campbell reformatory for boys and North of us, Pikeville Salt Mines. An arrangement had been made between the superintendent of the reformatory and the mine owner that for a nominal fee the boys would be supplied to do the hard work in the mine. 

This was around 1930 and at that time child labor laws were non-existent.

 After learning about the boys on the train I realized certain things, why did the children and the mothers wave without saying a word? Perhaps to savor the moment of solemnity. Why did the boys have tears running down their salt chalked cheeks? Perhaps knowing they were returning to the hell of the reformatory. Why did the train master bring the locomotive to a snail pace when passing the trestle? Perhaps it was a gesture of kindness realizing the significance of the moment. The women waving were seen as the slightest kind of human decency, affection and maternal kindness. 

As I grew older and married, my wife and I adopted two children, twins, a boy and a girl.

Once they were old enough to understand, I drove to Pikesville with Tommy and Beth.

The salt mine was played out and closed down, the rail tracks sold for scrap iron, and now just a weedy path where they once laid,  the reformatory torn down and replaced with apartment buildings. 

The thoughts emblazoned in my mind drifted back and I found myself wondering what had happened to those wonderful little boys?

Bless them, bless them forever and ever, bless the boy’s on the train, wherever they are.


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