January 27, 2021

Richard Underwood (seated) and two coworkers 


Railroads were a big deal in the early 1900s—my father Arley and his father Jasper worked several years on railroads (repair crews, probably).  For Uncle Richard, it was his life’s work. I think he mostly worked with the baggage carts—loading and unloading train cargo.  Based in Atlanta, he would head out for a week at a time traveling throughout the Southeast handling the baggage.

He was a much more interesting person than I realized.  Mother said her mother was opposed to his marriage to her daughter Della.  He had been married before—and there seemed to be some mystery attached to that. As a child, I rode the train to Atlanta for a week’s visit every summer.  When he was home, he was loud and constantly smoking cigars.  Aunt Della and Juanita seemed to be pleased when he left for work!

In doing genealogical research on the Underwood and Cate families after Juanita’s death in 2005, some interesting details came to light about Uncle Richard.  His first wife had tuberculosis and died after giving birth to their son.  Since he traveled so much with his job, Uncle Richard sent his infant son to live with his maternal grandparents in Chattanooga.  The boy also suffered from tuberculosis and died when he was a teenager.  

Uncle Richard loved to talk about the places he went on the train and the people he met. He always seemed happiest when he left his house carrying his bag to start another week on the rails. He was an active member of a union for railway workers and received recognition for his years of service when he retired. 

He would come to our house alone to go to his family’s country cemetery in Tennessee for “decoration day” every year.  I always loved hearing his loud gruff voice as he talked and laughed, occasionally breaking down into paroxysms of coughing.  And I even liked the smell of his endless cigars. 

 He drove his car like it was a train!  It was always overheating or breaking down on the way.  He gunned his engine for several minutes when he started the car—making a dramatic exit. An  automobile was no substitute for a train.

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