By: Esther Hastings Miller
When we moved to Clive in December of 1957, the railroad station was still in its original place, with a Western Union telegraph sign still on the outside. Even though we waited near the station after we got off the school bus for the paper man to deliver the evening newspaper, we had been told not to “snoop around” the station so we didn’t. I may have looked in the window once but nothing there would have made any sense to me, so I don’t remember much about it.
I do remember walking those rails with a great sense of balance I wish I could still have. It was easier than trying to walk on the ties, which have never been placed evenly and maybe that was done deliberately to discourage people from walking on the right of way.
Once I was coming back from picking wild raspberries up along the track about halfway from our house to Hickman when suddenly a “speeder” came down the track. It was a flat, open platform with two men on it. I know I’ve seen the kind of speeders where the two men had to alternate pushing and pulling a lever to make the speeder go and I’ve seen motorized ones and I honestly can’t remember which this was. It’s enough to say I wasn’t expecting it and I jumped off the tracks in a hurry!
There was only one regular train a day on that track and it came through every night at 9:55. You could set your clock by that train! I remember the time because we were in bed with lights out by then but Mom would have the radio on WHO so we could listen to a program called Velvet Serenade. We didn’t have a record player or a TV and Mom wanted us exposed to good music. The show went off at 10:00 and we could never hear the end of it for the loud whistle of the train at the crossing. It was going pretty fast by the time it got to our house and it had a hill to climb around the bend. Many nights, both in summer with the windows open and in winter when the cold air carried sound so well, I fell asleep listening to the train fade into the distance, never knowing for sure whether I was still hearing it or just imagining that I was. Later when I first heard of a doppler shift, I understood immediately what it was, by having listened to the changing sound of the train as it approached and as it faded into the distance.
For as much time as I spent near the depot, I was always a little scared of the work cars. Several times an engine would pull one or two work cars onto the siding on the far side of the depot. These were boxcars with screen doors on them. I suppose that inside they had been turned into campers of sorts and I remember seeing children and women living in those cars. I wish I had talked to them or learned more about them. Maybe someone else will remember them or know more about them.
Years later, probably in the 80s when I was visiting in Des Moines and before the old house was torn down, I walked part way up those tracks again. By chance, I was in just about the same spot as before, but not carrying raspberries this time, when a motorized speeder came down that unmaintained track. It scared me as the first one had and I got out of its way in a hurry. How ironic that I would pick a day to walk up that old track and get scared by a speeder in the same place.
Note: This is the seventh of 11 stories written by Esther Hastings Miller. Follow along as she shares her precious memories of growing up in Clive, Iowa.
About Esther Miller:
My parents, younger brother David, and I moved to the old house at the end of what is now Swanson Blvd just before Christmas in 1957. The address was University Avenue and the house may have been the “Kurtz Hill” mentioned in Mildred Swanson’s story about sledding. That yard was outstanding for sledding!
I was in fifth grade at Clive School and David was in third. We lived in that house until June of 1960 when the property was sold and we had to move. We moved to the Johnston area where we went to school for a year. In September of that year, my father was severely injured at work and was never able to work again. We moved to Des Moines, since Mother didn’t drive and Dad couldn’t anymore. And then, in December of 1961 we moved to California. Mother had gone to school in a small town in Southern California in the 40s, so she had friends there and she knew the climate would be a lot easier on all of us.
Both David and I finished high school in California, then I attended two small colleges nearby and graduated, first in my family, in 1970. I worked as an occupational therapist with severely handicapped children, then took several years off to raise my own two children. I eventually returned to work until my husband took early retirement. We traveled around the country in an RV, a long-time dream of ours, until we found some place we wanted to move to.
We sold our home in California and settled into an old farmhouse in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where we lived for several more years. I returned to California a few years ago and now live way out in the country. Do you see a trend? I love living in the country and over the years I’ve built on the skills I first learned in that old house in Clive.