My father, Stokely Black Gribble, worked as a dispatcher on the
NC&StL at the time of my birth. He was in that job until 1930
or 31 when the depression cost him his position. That, at least,
is my understanding of what happened. Neither of my parents is living,
so the many questions I didn’t ask hen they were still alive
now go begging.
My recollection of those years is quite vivid, but lacks narrative
coherence. Since the railroad was such a commonplace in my life,
when my cousins visited me and were excited by the trains that ran
right through the middle of town, I felt quite superior and affected
a bored attitude that was completely false. I, too, was enthralled
by the romance of the machines and their magnificence and their
power (and still am when I see and hear them) but wouldn’t
admit it in their presence.
My Aunt worked at the Smotherman/Wommack (sp?) warehouse in Tullahoma
and a track spur ran right along the side of the structure’s
loading dock. On occasion I was allowed to play in the vast, shadowy
interior of the black-floored warehouse and I still remember the
crates, boxes and bags stacked up in towering peaks of mysterious
stuff, some of it still being unloaded from boxcars pulled up along
side of the dock. When the unloading was done and I was allowed
to peek into the now empty boxcars, it was like looking into the
maws of a giant: huge and able to hurt me but exciting and essentially
benevolent. The marvelous musty smell of grain and oil and flour
and God know what else that permeated the warehouse and the cars
In those years I had a bulldog named Sister. In about 1927 or 27
she following my father to work one day and lost her right leg to
a moving freight. My mother nursed her though the ordeal and she
lived until 1943 when Sister got too old and I had to put her away.
I remember, too, sitting on my father’s shoulders watching
the circus (perhaps it was Ringling Bros. – I don’t
remember) unloading all its exotic paraphernalia and animals and
performers from the train that brought it to town.
I was too young to share directly in any of my father’s work
on the railroad, but I remember my mother telling me years later
how he used to get up in the middle of the night and return to his
office to be sure that dispatches he sent out governing the movement
of trains were without error. At the time I had no idea how much
was riding on the accuracy of his work. He dies in 1941, long before
I had a change to talk to him about it.
Forgive me for rambling, but at my age – 78 – memories
sometimes run with all the awesome might of those magnificent steam
engines that filled the early years of my life.