A BRIEF HISTORY OF CARY’S TRAINS SEGMENT 3
The railroads literally put Cary on the map in the mid-19th century. Here are tales about how important trains have been to our town. Historic content was taken from the book, Around and About Cary, by Tom Byrd. Additionally, the transcripts from oral history interviews provided the majority of the information herein. Almost 100 interviews have been conducted with long-time Cary residents who shared their memories with members of the Friends of the Page-Walker history center, so those histories could be documented for posterity. Each narrator is named as a contributor.
MEMORIES ABOUT CARY’S TRAINS FROM ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWS
THE TRAIN RACES
ESTHER IVEY: (I was born in 1890). When I was a teenager, there was a Seaboard passenger train and a Southern passenger train that was going West. We had two train stations or depots in Cary. We could take either one of the trains that we liked to go into Raleigh. The trains went parallel until they got to Cary where they had to cross. Sometimes they were going in the same direction at the same time. We would sit with our windows open and the cinders flying in. We would shout out the window to the other train that we were going to beat them to Cary.
ELVA TEMPLETON (taken from Around and About Cary by Tom Byrd): (I was born in 1898.) In the early 1900s, both railroads had three daily passenger trains each way. Each had a southbound train that left Raleigh at 4 P.M. Some Cary passengers would take one train and some the other. The trip would result in a race, with passengers leaning out the windows, breathing cinders and shouting for their engineer to go faster.
A keen observer of the race would be the switchman perched in a two-story structure near where the tracks of the two railroads crossed. His job was to throw open the switch for the lead train. Railroad crews called the crossing Fetner, but to local people it was “Feetner.” One engineer always approached Fetner so fast that the switchman would throw the switch and run as the train came around the curve. Another engineer played hymns on his steam-powered whistle as he rolled through town.
KIDS TAKING THE TRAIN ALONE INTO RALEIGH
BILLY ROGERS: When we were kids, we would go alone, without an adult with us, over to the train station for the train that came from the Morrisville area to go into Raleigh for the day. You could hear it when it was coming up the tracks and blowing that whistle. It was always exciting. Everybody would be in the train station, waiting. On cold days, they had a big old potbellied stove over in the corner that kept it nice and warm in there. Mr. Massey, the train master, was the only person working. He sold the tickets and ran the teletype machine. He did the whole thing. As soon as we would hear the train whistle blow, we’d all go out and get on the train, and all aboard, be off, go on through Hillsborough Street and through North Carolina State campus, and then on into the downtown train station. That was the end of the line. I don’t know where that train began each day. On any day, there would might usually be twenty-five people going to and from Raleigh on that train.
We would go into Raleigh on Saturday mornings to go to the movies and in between two shows, we would have lunch. The train would usually get to Cary early in the morning, sometime around 9:00, 9:30. We would go to the first movie in Raleigh, which probably started at 10:00, 10:30. Then we would walk up to the little sandwich shop and have lunch, and go to the movie next to the sandwich shop on Salisbury Street for the second show. I believe tickets were $.09 to go to each movie. That’s how we could go to the movies, have a sandwich, and pay for the train ride, everything all-inclusive, for not over $1.50 and it might not have been that much. Then after the movie, we would walk back to the train station and usually not have to wait too long for the train to come back to Cary.
MARY CROWDER: When I was young, we had the Seaboard and the Southern coming through. We had a morning train that went into Raleigh. In the mornings, that’s the only way we had to go to Raleigh, because each family only had one car back in those days. You either rode the bus or most of us rode the train. I could ride it for a dime. We were left off in Raleigh in the central station downtown. Both the Southern and the Seaboard came in there.
When my friends and I got old enough to go to Raleigh alone, we would go on Saturday and spend the afternoon. We would go to the drugstore on Fayetteville Street, get a toasted cheese-pimento sandwich and a chocolate milkshake, go to the movies, go to Woolworth’s and get some candy and paper dolls or whatever, and have money left over from a dollar. We rode the train for a dime, both ways, and we got the movies for a dime. A milkshake was a dime. Sandwiches were like a quarter or a dime. Bottled drinks were a nickel. That was a lot of money though for a kid in the ‘30s.
CLYDE EVANS JR.: When I was about ten, twelve years old, we’d catch a train from Cary to Raleigh for ten cents. I couldn’t understand why they’d stop a big thing like that for a few dimes. The Southern went down Highway 54. The Seaboard didn’t stop, but headed south, through Apex and on down. The Southern went back toward Durham and Greensboro.