My Mom As A Railroad Wife

by Twilla Perry

My Dad, Terrell Allen Perry married my Mom in June 1940. He started to work for the Missouri Pacific in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, during WWII. He started as a fireman on the steam engines, and by the time he retired he was an Engineer on the Diesels. I have seen him come home after shoveling coal with nothing but the white of eyes showing.

My Mom was a country school teacher during the depression and had earned her lifetime teaching certification before they had married. My Dad had an eighth grade education. He started on the railroad on the extra board. Sometimes work was good and there were times when he was laid off. During the times he was laid off, he would farm or run his own sawmill to take care of his family.

We lived in South Poplar Bluff which was next to the switching yards and where the round house use to be. We could hear the trains banging all day and all night. Many a time my Dad would get called out during the night and would walk up through the yards to work or catch his train.

In the 1950s I saw the first diesel engine. My dad and his engineer stopped in the yards to let us see the new diesel engine. Firemen were replaced with engineers and my Dad had to take a test. As I mentioned before, he only had an 8th grade education. I remember him and my Mom sitting up way into the night to get him ready for this exam. He passed with the help of my Mom and probably would not been able to pass this test without my Mom's help.

In 1966, my Dad was able to stop a runaway train in the yards, probably saving lives, also saving a lot of property damage. Mom’s educational ability had helped him in passing this exam, so he was able to stop the runaways. If he was not able to pass this exam, he would have probably lost his job because firemen were no longer needed to shovel coal.

My Mom would cook for my Dad for when she thought he was coming home. She put it into the refrigerator, and we would wait for him. He had a special whistle he would use when he came into the yard and we would run outside like a bunch of nuts waving and hollering. My Mom would run into the kitchen to get something warm on the table before he got home.

When Dad was on the road, her job was to see about the family. My Dad would be gone two or three days at a time. I didn’t have a Dad who left the house at 7 o'clock in the morning and was back home by 5 o'clock dinner time. Our home life wasn’t like our friends who had a Dad at home all the time. This could not have been easy for my Mother raising three children and taking care of a home. My Mom’s name was Fern Marie (Nixon) Perry.

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Passenger Trains, Family, Love
Poplar Bluff, MO
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  • Good story of determination and someone having the fore sight to upgrade his skills once the technology changed from steam to diesel.

    - Denise Tinsley a few years ago
  • I am a railroad wife with four kids. It's very hard. I am thankful that my husband has a job even though we had to move from Portland, OR to Fort Worth, TX last fall in order for him to continue working with UP. We have met other transfer families here, & I am thankful for their friendships, especially with the other train wives because they know what I am going through since they are going through the same thing: being away from family in a new state while our husbands are working away from home. The only difference for me is that I had a baby a few months ago, & my mother-in-law moved in with us to help me with the kids. While this is a challenging time it is also a growing time, & I know it is making us stronger. I have a lot of respect for your mom. It is so cool that your family lived that close to the yard! The hardest part for us (and all the transfers) has been our men starting over with their seniority dates & being forced out of Fort Worth to work out of towns 2 to 3+ hours away. We are all looking forward to the days where they can hold Conductor jobs out of Fort Worth consistently. Even with all the hardships we have faced though, I am very proud of my husband & his job as a Union Pacific Conductor, & so are our kids. And some day, (when we can afford the 6 month pay cut for Engineer school), he would like to be a Union Pacific Engineer. :)

    - Renee' Dresser a few years ago