, Corbin, KY

December 23, 2013

A Different Time - A Familiar Place

Corbin, Kentucky, A Christmas Memory, Corbin, KY

CORBIN — Story by Noel H. Taylor

The new fallen snow on the street and sidewalk glistened in the darkness from the glow of multicolored holiday lights draped across the railway’s underpass, a gateway to opportunity and faraway places.

To the south parallel rows of street lamps glowing in the December night converged on a brilliantly lighted two-story depot, the town’s beacon to holiday travelers.

The station’s steel gray double doors adorned with twin holly wreaths welcomed all comers as they trudged up a staircase that led them from the damp frosty air into the brightly lit waiting room. Red and green garlands suspended above the train station’s windows overlooked automobiles and a taxi cab discharging their occupants who were laden with packages, bags and suitcases.

Inside, a line had formed in front of the open ticket window where a man wearing wire rim glasses collected money and disbursed tickets to various northern destinations.

Dressed in a black woolen coat and red head scarf a grandmother quietly sat next to her grandson whose wide eyes were absorbing the movements of everyone in sight.

In the background one could hear the scratchy efforts of a Victrola playing seasonal songs recorded by familiar singers and orchestras.

Outside, snow lined the eaves of the peaked roofs that hung above the three dimly illuminated platforms that separated the tracks. Low hanging clouds that looked like angel hair on a Christmas tree produced large flakes of wet snow that danced through the air as they fell toward the frozen rails below.

From the entrance to the railway express agency emerged a short, rotund, shapeless man who towed a baggage cart loaded with suitcases, crates mail sacks, and boxes of the Colonel’s chicken destined for Cincinnati’s customers.

Somewhere in the distance two long, one short and another long muffled whistles blared from the Flamingo’s engine as it approached a rail crossing a half mile south of its next stop.

Through the darting snowflakes one could see a spot of light appear slightly above the point where the two rails seemed to meet. As the beam grew larger, a line of people paraded from the warmth of the waiting room to the slab of concrete that bordered track number five. Over the public address system the ticket agent announced the imminent arrival of the train from Atlanta and Knoxville.

Suddenly, the royal blue and yellow striped dual engines with the familiar L&N red crest emblazoned on their engine cowlings roared past the south end of the platform. One low whistle signaled the train’s arrival, while the hissing of air, and the shriek of steel against steel pierced the stillness of the evening as train Number 18 came to a screeching stop.

The conductor and flagman, attired in their customary gold buttoned overcoats and caps, placed portable dimpled steps at the foot of the entrance to two heavy weight blue passenger coaches.

Passengers gingerly stepped off the train into the blanket of snow spread on the platform. Some quickly made their way to the warmth of the station, while others rushed into the expectant arms of loved ones who had anticipated their arrival.

Near the front of the train, men transferred crates, mail sacks, and various pieces of luggage between the baggage cars, the railway post office car, and the rickety wooden wagons. A new engine crew climbed aboard the lead F9 unit to drive the train to the end of the line.

After the last passenger detrained, the conductor and flagman reversed their routines to assist those traveling northbound into the half empty coaches. The ticket agent punctured a brief quiet moment to announce the departure of the Flamingo to London, Berea, Richmond, Paris, and Cincinnati.

As the front engine’s headlight searched northward through the swirling flakes of snow, everyone had vacated the platform except the conductor who stoically stood with his left hand raised toward the engine. “All Aboard” he cried!

The engineer blew the whistle twice, released the air brakes and nudged the throttle forward. With each wheel turning in unison, the train once more came to life, while a star atop the town’s water tower shined in the distance. When the faintly lighted passenger cars crossed the overpass just north of the station, one could see the grandmother and grandson waving good-bye to a place known as home.

Just before the train disappeared into the snow covered night, the twin red lanterns anchored to the last coach blinked as if to say, “To all a good night!”  

Noel Taylor was born and raised in Corbin. He is the author of “A History of Corbin,” published by the Friends of the Corbin Public Library in 2013. He is currently retired and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.