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Transportation in the early years

One of the many stories I heard as a kid growing up on a Southfork farm was the different kinds of transportation used by my Hawkins grandparents to go from their Southfork farm to Princeton, Minn. Princeton was where they saw their doctor and did some shopping.

When my dad was little, about 1920, my Grandfather Hawkins would harness and then hitch his team of horses to his buggy. He, Grandma Hawkins and my dad would drive the team of horses and buggy to Ogilvie. At Ogilvie, Grandpa Hawkin would tie the team of horses to a hitching post at the train depot. They would ride the passenger train from Ogilvie west to Milaca, and transfer to the passenger train, going from Milaca to Princeton and farther south. They would go to the doctor, do their shopping, and go back to the train depot and wait for the arrival for the next passenger train going north to Milaca. At Milaca, they would again transfer to the passenger train coming east from St. Cloud and get off of the train at Ogilvie. The horses had been waiting patiently all day for their return. They then went back to their Southfork farm, where the cows were to be milked and the other evening chores had to be done.

Train passenger car as it leaves the Ogilvie Depot. Contributed photo

Train passenger car as it leaves the Ogilvie Depot. Contributed photo

As a kid, my dad showed me where the railroad roundhouse was in Milaca. This was where the steam engine turned around to go back south after reaching Milaca. I understood it was a large type of turntable on rollers, which the steam locomotive was driven off for its trip back south.

When I was about 8 years old, my dad and I were watching the freight train cars being switched at Ogilive to one of the siding tracks. Just before one of the freight boxcarts was moved, my dad put a copper penny on the track. After the boxcar wheels ran over the penny and it was safe to retrieve it, my dad showed me how flat the penny had become with all the weight of the boxcar going over it. I’m quite sure my dad had the same thing done to show him as a little boy while they were watching the train boxcars being switched at Ogilvie.

How many of us still remember the old train depot in Ogilvie with the passenger waiting room and its benches where people sat to wait for the next passenger train? The ticket window had a grate iron grill in it. I can still see the depot agent’s desk and the telegraph key on it, the wooden plank platform between the depot and the railroad tracks, the wooden platform leading to the freight room and the water tower holding tank for use in refilling the steam engine locomotive water tank.

Who can ever forget the smell and the sound of the steam locomotive starting from a dead stop to starting to pull the entire train into motion? There was also the smell of the coal smoke, the sound of the steam as it entered each large steam piston, and the sound of the steam being exhausted out of the piston– the steam having done its work.

The black coal smoke would intermittingly be coming out of the smokestack as the steam locomotive labored to start the entire train to move. I also remember the slipping of the big driver wheels as they lost their grip on the steel tracks, and the chug, chug, chugging sound as the steam locomotive gained speed and momentum. The loud steam whistle would blow at each road crossing.

These are the things I remember about the era of railroading before the diesel locomotives arrived on the scene and took the place of the steam locomotives.

Hawkins is a retired rural letter carrier with the Ogilvie Post Office (28 years), a veteran of the U.S. Army and remains an active farmer on a century farm between Ogilive and Mora in Kanabec County.

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