I thought I was going to retire. After all, I’ve been writing for publication since I was in my teens.
I was bored with retirement in a hurry, and I knew I still had things I wanted to do. When I told people about some of the adventures we had working for the Rio Grande Western Railroad, they asked, “Why haven’t you written that story?”
So, I kicked retirement aside, and made my way back to my desk.
We married in October 1953. Les asked me out when I was barely 15 and he was 19, but already working for the railroad. Daddy would have chased him off, but he was my brother-law Junior’s brother.
I wasn’t any ordinary kid. I’d been cleaning houses and taking care of children since I was in the sixth grade. At that time, I helped my aunt manage her small motel, even helping with painting and updating rooms and the exterior. I was the youth leader at our church. Sometimes I sang solos, or a duet with a sister, during services so I was noticed for more than my red hair and freckles.
I was surprised when Les asked me out, and kept being surprised at how determined he was to make me his wife. My older sister had been engaged five times, so when he asked me to marry him, I thought, “That’s once.”
He sent me telegrams that I picked up at Fruita’s railroad depot every week when he worked out of town. He wrote letters in between.
So we had a beautiful wedding and began living all over Colorado’s majestic mountains.
We spent our first anniversary at Pando, near the top of Tennessee Pass, and lived in a log cabin across from the depot.
We lived in the depot in Avon, close to Vail, in the agent’s quarters, but within reaching distance of the dispatcher’s phone and we could hear the click of the telegraph key’s sounder from the living room. The bay window where Les worked sat only about ten feet from the tracks.
When a train headed up the mountain, you could hear the locomotive’s wheels grinding and pushing for miles. Often the train had a helper engine behind the caboose. The monster locomotives pulled probably sixty cars then. But downhill was different. Loaded boxcars jostled against each other like huge creatures trying to be first in line. The locomotive whistled for the crossing, shook the depot like it wanted to make all the nails rattle, and then disappeared down the two shiny steel ribbons.
In Malta, we lived in a railroad boxcar, with a lean-to mud-room and living room built on.
Junior and my sister Joan came to visit there, with Linda, their tiny daughter. They were fascinated by our home. We bought a beautiful white Maytag gas range for the kitchen, and purchased a propane tank to haul around with us for fuel. The kitchen part of the boxcar house was about three feet above the lean-to area. It still sat on wheels.
When we turned off the lights that night and started to snooze, a shaky little voice said, “Mama, is a train going to come in the night and take us away?”
Some little railroad towns had no company housing and few rentals available, When we arrived in Thompson, Utah (at that time Les could bid on jobs in Utah) , only one house was up for rent—a dilapidated shack covered with wind-blown tar paper on one section, and rusty corrugated metal on the remainder. As with much of the housing in those days, no bathroom, only an outhouse. The boxcar had a pipe with running water in a little cabinet in the kitchen, but no sink. An ancient wood-burning cook stove sat in one end of the two-bedroom building.
I scrubbed and scrubbed the flowered linoleum floor and waxed it until it gleamed. I put curtains, colorful shelf paper on the kitchen cabinet, and when we brought in our furniture it didn’t look too bad.
My rich Uncle Bill dropped by to see us there. I was mortified.
He looked around and grinned. “I could build a house like this for about fifty bucks. But take a picture of this, and when your kids grow up tell them, “We started out the hard way.”
I have more stories about our lives revolving around the railroad, such as after we bought a beautiful mobile home and had it pulled by a truck to Leadville, Colo. Les was working a temporary job in Texas Creek and with about two feet of snow on the mobile home, our water froze. If you read the upcoming book, you’ll find out what happened when I went out at 2 a.m. to thaw the water pipes.
Yet, I have no regrets about marrying a telegrapher or going from town to town. God sent amazing people into our lives, and He walked with us every step of the way.
We’re in our 80s now, and in five days we will be married 66 years.
God’s faithful love and promise to direct our footsteps has been amazing. I look back today and marvel and the Lord’s plans for our lives and how He fulfills them.
*Copyright Ada Brownell 2019