Gents, I grew up on Chicago’s south side. My dad was a rail fan and passed it to me.
when I was a kid;
We would leave home after dad got off of work and head to the Illinois/ Indiana State Line road. Just before the tracks was a restaurant; Phil Schmidt’s . We would stop there. After the tracks was the lake and rocky beach off Lake Michigan where the street ended. If early we would skip rocks across the calm water. Across from the restaurant was, I believe, the Lever Bros plant. I can still remember the pungent soap aroma. Now a Schmidt’s was a fine restaurant and “watering hole”. I would sit at the bar with dad and his railfan cronies while they juiced up and I 7-upped. At train time we left the bar and walked over to the tracks. There was a gateman’s shanty between both railroads where a gateman stayed and protected the crossing. Inside was a small desk, coal stove and old timey extendable wall phone that would accordion out when in use. A single overhead hood- light hung from the ceiling by cord and illuminated the shack. Two windows faced oncoming and going directions. That’s where they would put me. I could see the action while being safe from flying debris as trains rushed by.
The men would get a call from Englewood that the trains had departed. The gateman, a crusty ole guy, would tell me to go in there, AND STAY. Dad saved his nickels and dimes for this event. These friends, who were well lubed, would start betting as headlights came into view. Their banter grew louder and I could hear a cuss word now and then as the race neared. The lamp in the shack would start swaying, the phone hand piece rattled, and the pencil, stuck in the sharpener on the desk, fell to floor as the thunder of the diesels reached into that building. I got scared and got yelled at for trying to leave and get to my father by the gateman. The horns and engines were deafening as both trains came upon us. The boys outside were now screaming at each other and their respective bets. Wonder replaced fear as the race passed my secure vantage point shaking all inside. Then tail lights and all was over. The gateman came back shaking his head at the folly of these grown men kicking me back to my dad while picking up his phone. Going home was somber as we both reran what we had witnessed. I always hoped Dad would tell me if he made or lost money on his gamble. He never did.
When my dad died, we celebrated his life at his post burial at Phil Schmidt’s. Both the race and Father are long gone. But my memories are not. So they both live on for me and now you.