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Off the rails

Cardboard trains and automobiles

EVERY TIME I DRIVE down Somerset Street into the Lincoln County seat of Stanford and make the 90 degree turn onto Main, I recall an old friend’s story about a local character of long ago who bet his buddy that he could make that turn going 45 miles an hour. 

He did make the turn, but took out a couple of gas pumps at a new car dealership on down the street. 

It all happened before my time, as they say, or I might have been standing around the soft drink machine at Willy Burton’s service station on the opposite corner, emptying part of a bag of peanuts into one of those small bottles of Coca-Cola. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. 

I loafed a little at Willy’s, but grew up on a farm a few miles out of town and went through school at Stanford. It always looked nice on a resume—when I left out that my Stanford was a high school, not the prestigious university. 

If all this sounds like a bunch of discordant rambling to you, then welcome to my world. And try to stay with me for two more blocks, until we reach the Christian church, where another memorable accident occurred. 

During a Cub Scout skit on an evening in the mid-1950s, I was one of the Scouts who’d painted several large appliance boxes to resemble cardboard train cars, which we wrapped around us as we shuffled along. Wearing those pinstriped railroad caps, and all smiling and waving from our cardboard train cars, we were to come in one door on the second floor of the church, pass in front of a gathering of our families in a small classroom, then exit at another door into a cramped hallway near the top of a steep, narrow staircase. 

It sounded simple, but after his exit, the train engineer had stepped down the stairs a few feet to give the rest of the train room to come out the door, and some of us in the cars behind him didn’t stop in time. 

No one had to guess what the calamity was when a few of the cars in front went tumbling down the stairs. The Cub Scout manual didn’t cover how to handle cardboard train wrecks on a staircase. 

Not long after that I drifted away from the Scouts. I was way behind in my dues—10 or 20 cents a meeting—which, unbeknownst to my parents, I had been spending on delicious chewy caramel Sugar Babies at the school candy store on Scout meeting days. 

I still have a picture of that Cub Scout pack, all wearing our railroad caps, taken just before the train wreck. As far as I know, none of them suffered serious injury and all went on to successful careers; in aviation, the military, science and business among others. One became a real train engineer. 

As for me, Sugar Babies still whisper my name when I pass a candy store.

BYRON CRAWFORD is Kentucky’s storyteller—a veteran television and newspaper journalist known for his colorful essays about life in Kentucky. 

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