A pot bellied stove, glowing and warm, awaited riders each morning at the Clifton train station in Marblehead, Massachusetts at the end of Rockaway Avenue. It was 1952, and the station was mostly full of men, mostly in fedoras, readying themselves for the B&M train to take them to Boston. At twelve, I was the youngest and most eager of the riders. The men all stood, reading The Boston Globe if they were liberal and considered themselves intellectual; the rest were satisfied with the tabs — the Herald American, the go-to rag for Boston’s underbelly of gore and gossip, and, of course, The Boston Post.
The choo choo trains rumbled in, smoke pouring from their engines’ stacks, the coal aromas and warning bell clangs familiar to the regulars. The ride into Beantown was exhilarating.
From time to time, my father and grandfather would allow me to accompany them to Barnard Print on Atlantic Avenue near South Station. That’s where they worked. My father was a typesetter, operating a linotype machine for fifteen years, and my grandfather was a compositor, the highest skill level in printing, for over twenty five years. It was the highlight of this part of my youth — to go where they spent the day and watch them create lines of type, forming from hot lead the paper we’d read the next day.
As Boston approached, the conductors would pass through the cars announcing the train’s arrival. I was captivated by the conductors’ uniforms, particularly the brass buttons securing their coats to protect them from the cold. Transfixed, I wondered how such beautiful adornments were possible.
About ten years ago, my son and daughter in-law surprised me with a B&M conductor’s jacket. To put it on was to be transported. I could smell the pot belly’s fumes and hear the engine bell clang. My grandfather was still alive and showing me how he arranged the lead and copper pictures to create a page of the paper. We were putting pennies on the tracks and watching the train’s wheels flatten them into copper quarters, listening to clear-channel radio: the Grand Ole Opry from Nashville on WWVA, and the Negro stations for unfiltered and raunchy songs. Good golly Miss Molly, sure like to ball.
Peter Cove is the founder of America Works, a 27-year-old for-profit business based in Manhattan with companies throughout the U.S. that helps disadvantaged people get jobs.