Railroads made good neighbors. Oh sure, maybe not that long 2 a.m. freight that rattled on forever, especially if you were a light sleeper. Yes, there were also those old coal-burning engines that left the white sheets hanging on the clotheslines sprinkled with a black pepper seasoning.
Nonetheless, the railroad was an unofficial timepiece, no stem to wind but always telling us exactly what time it was, once we'd memorized the schedule.
But there was one train in particular that brought the neighborhood kids great pleasure. This was the northbound passenger train that stopped at the Thompsonville station just about supper time. It came through New York and the last stop was Springfield, Mass.
Since it was a long-distance train, it carried a dining car, which was a touch of elegance in those days. The chef and waiters were dressed in pristine, starched white coats and looked like surgeons about to operate in their galley kitchen. Immaculate!
Springfield was the final stop, "All Change," and that meant the dining car had to be emptied before the cleaning crews came aboard.
One evening as the train slowed to a stop in T'ville, the head conductor noticed a couple of kids standing on the railroad bank. He tossed out a few fresh dinner rolls. They were delicious!
Word soon got around the neighborhood about this marvelous treat. In a matter of days, there were a few more kids waiting to greet the train, chanting, "Mister, can we have some rolls?" The conductor was more than accommodating. It began to look like a baseball game with dinner rolls being tossed here and there.
Soon the train had a nightly reception committee. We quickly learned which conductor and waiters would be the most generous.
The one-sided generosity lasted for a while until one night the head conductor said, "No more rolls until I get a bouquet of lilacs." You see, the backyards bordering the railroad property were lined with lilac bushes marking the boundaries.
The next night the lilac bushes were raided and you never saw so many armfuls of flowers. It was like opening night at a Broadway show. The conductor smiled and accepted our offering.
Soon the novelty of rolls wore off. It wasn't a case of being hungry, because we all had homes where a good meal was waiting. Perhaps it was the adventure, or maybe because they were free, but never did dinner rolls taste so good.