For the love of a boxcar
Boxcars are wonderful things. There is so much more to them than you might think, from the sturdy interior structure, to the couplers and shocks. They are a place to express creativity, and a place to haul the most mundane things. I’m guessing from the placement next to the brick yard that this one hauls bricks.
There’s really a much more personal reason that I love boxcars, though, with a story that I promised to tell you a few months back. It’s a story about a crooked little house that I loved dearly when I was a kid.
Years ago, my great-grandfather owned some land on the Escambia Bay in Pensacola. When L&N built the railroad through Pensacola, they leased the land from him, not only for the railroad itself, but also for housing for the railroad workers. They built four houses on this small strip of land, for section crew and a foreman.
As the rails became more automated, and relied less on daily maintenance, the land was ceded back to the family, namely my grandmother, and the houses were auctioned off. One of the houses was auctioned off before my grandmother got there, but she was able to win the other three, one of which was a crooked little house made of a boxcar, with a kitchen and a porch added. I think that the kitchen may have been a partial boxcar, but I’m not sure of that.
This crooked little house is where we would stay when we came down to visit my grandmother. So many of my friends would go to luxury resorts, and stay in hotels with pools, but I can honestly say, I never felt jealous of that luxury. I got to stay in a crooked little house, with the bay sparkling outside, with miles of beach to explore and all the freedom a kid could want.
The trains ran past the house, just about 10 feet from the front door, if that far. Since there was a curve and a driveway, the engineers were required to blow the whistle as they went past, that wonderful long note that so many songs have been written about. The train on the tracks would create its own rhythm, which was like a lullaby to me.
When we would first arrive, usually in the middle of the night, the yellow bug light would illuminate the porch, while the bugs and frogs would sing outside. Grandma would greet us on the porch, that wonderful porch that we would all fight to sleep on, where the golden light would touch first in the morning, signaling a new day.
As one of the younger kids, I almost always ended up sleeping in the boxcar, not on the porch. This long, narrow space was one of my first architectural experiences, the uniqueness of the space penetrating my consciousness at a very early age. It was lined at one end with bunk beds, the kind with metal frames and no bars to keep kids from rolling out. The danger didn’t matter; everyone wanted to sleep at the top. At the other end was a double bed and a crib for parents and baby. Windows and a front door had been cut into the sides, large windows that let the light flood in. Even if you didn’t sleep on the porch, there was no way to sleep late in this house!
It was a wonderful place, the most wonderful place a kid could ever have to vacation in. Unfortunately, as is wont to happen on the Gulf Coast, it was destroyed in a hurricane many years ago, so my own kids have never gotten to stay there.