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Living By The Tracks

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"My Mother's Roses" or "Mail Pouch at Winnisquam." Oil on Upsom Board by Phyllis J. Clairmont


Reprinted from the Weirs Times

by Phyllis J. Clairmont Laconia, NH

Growing up in Winnisquam at the railroad station proved to be fun and memorable. Since my Mother was hired by the Boston & Maine Railroad as stationmaster, the station became our home. We were responsible for the daily operation of the station. We lived there at a time when trains were stopped for passengers to board. By signalling the train to stop; the engineer would see the sign when rounding the corner from Laconia or coming up the tracks from the south.

We could always tell when tourist season was near when the Steele Hill Inn station wagon arrived waiting to pick up their guests. Also when some of the summer campers started arriving, we greeted friends who had been absent for the winter months.

Many a morning, we woke up to see the daily papers strewn along the tracks having been pulled in under the morning train from Boston when they were thrown from the baggage car. We helped pick up the torn and shredded papers making sure we found scraps with the name and date as the storekeepers could be reimbursed by the newspapers, We found papers for several yards up the tracks from the station north towards Laconia.

Twice a day, we would go to the Post Office, to get the mail pouch to be hung for the train to pick up. We climbed the steps to a small platform at the end of the boardwalk, hitching the ring onto the top iron bar. As we lifted the top bar, the heavy lower bar had to be reached to hook the other ring of the pouch. The pouch was always hung upside down. This was a difficult job for a young girl, often taking two persons. Boys and adults had no problem hanging the mail pouch.

While the train tumbled on by without stopping, the trainsman caught the pouch with a hook which he protruded from the open door of the postal car. As soon as the trainman grabbed the pouch he would throw off another pouch with the days mail which we would then take to the Post Office. This was done around noontime for the northbound train and before 5 PM for the southbound train.

There was a large front room in the station which served as the waiting room. This was also used as a playroom by the family, a meeting room for local 4H Club meetings and a room in which to warm up with hot chocolate and cookies or cake aft ice skating on the lake in the winter. A huge Iron pot belly stove warmed up the whole house when coal was fired up enough to make it glare bright red. One need not stay close to the stove to get warm. This also was the gathering place for neighborhood children.

The section hands were thankful for the warmth of the station after working many miles repairing the tracks. My Mother always had hot coffee for them or good cold iced tea in the summer.

During the thirties and forties many tramps would walk by, some asking for food or directions. We young folks were told not to follow them up the tracks as there was supposedly a gathering place or camp where they stayed perhaps a mile or two north of the station.

The “Cannonball” would come by about 11:40 PM headed north. Many a night I remember hearing the tram whistle as it approached the Tucker Shore crossing, just about one mile south, but falling asleep, I cannot remember the train as it passed the station at full speed.

Life at the station with the exception of the above was as normal as any other home. We had our pets, dogs and cats, fish and birds - even raising pullet hens and angora rabbits. Our cousins often stayed with us and once brought home a donkey from one of the Sanbornton farmhouses. We had a rooster with personality who would allow only my brother to feed him. I always liked little yellow kittens. Living so close to the tracks and the highway, I lost several who wandered off to their destiny. My brother, on the other hand, had a tiger cat called “Streaky” who lived to a ripe old age. My Mother picked up a pretty little Pomeranian which we called “Sandy” who soon became a member of the family with his happy antics.

Many a time, just before we knew a train to pass, we would lay pennies and nickels on the tracks to be flattened by the trains. We had quite a collection of these. Often, when the freight trains were either dropping off or delivering coal cars, or grain cars for the local store, we would climb aboard the caboose and ride while they were jockeying the cars from the main rails to the sidetracks.

I remember boarding the train at Winnisquam, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, riding to Boston. The conductor would take me from the train in Boston and put me on another train to Malden where my grandmother would be waiting for my visit. Both my Dad and Grandfather were employed by the Railway Express Agency working on the Boston - Montreal runs. I also remember riding on the train from Concord to St. Albans, Vermont, to visit my Dad for a few days.

Every August the railway men and their families would gather at my Grandparents cottage at Tucker Shore on Lake Winnisquam for their annual picnic. Another gathering spot was on Lake Waukewan in Meredith. There we had to park the car on the dirt road and walk several yards down the tracks to the beach, carrying our lunches, chairs and beach toys. This was a beautiful place with tall pines and lots of white sandy beach.
Yes, growing up in Winnisquam, we had it all - swimming and boating in the summer and ice skating and sliding in the cold months; the camaraderie of neighborhood children gathering at our house. There was never a dull moment.


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