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Growing up in a Railroad Town

Two readers shared part of their life stories with me recently. Both were born in other Pee Dee towns and moved to Florence as young boys. The first was in a letter I received from T. C. Simmons who lives in Wildwood, Florida and reads the News Journal by way of his friend Joe Webb.

"My family moved to Florence from Conway in 1943. I attended grammar school at Park (Harlee) School on East Pine Street and junior high at Poynor on South Dargan. In 1952 I graduated from McClenaghan High School.

"During my school years I worked several places. My first job was as a bag boy for the J&P Grocery in the 100 block of North Dargan Street. My pay was $3.00 per day. I left the grocery store and began selling shoes on Saturdays at McCown-Smith Company on Evans Street for $7.00 per day. I also worked for other people during high school, for instance Massey-Hite Wholesale Grocery at forty cents an hour and then seventy-five cents an hour, and Tommy Medlin Roofing Company on East Cedar Street for seventy-five cents an hour. I joined the National Guard as a private and the pay was $1.60 per drill.

"Upon graduation from high school I was fortunate to get a job with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad as a laborer on the section gang at Florence. The pay was $1.38 per hour. I was happy with this because it was more money than I ever expected to make. I stayed with the railroad and was promoted and transferred to Wildwood, Florida in 1971. I retired in 1987, taking advantage of the railroad's early retirement program.

"Young people in this day and time have no idea how hard it was for a young person to work and make money during the 1940's and 50's. At my present age of 72 I have outlived many of the close friends that I knew in my early years, which sometimes makes me sad. One of my friends still living is Joe Webb of Florence who writes me often and always attaches your column. I am an avid fan of your column and look forward to reading it. It reminds me of days that are no more and of fine people long gone. This makes me grateful that I lived in that wonderful town with such good friends."

He adds -- "Always remember, there are people in places you probably never heard of that enjoy your efforts." Thank you so very much for writing, Mr. Simmons. I hope you'll write again and share more memories of growing up in our area.

Lawrence Bryant shared the following story with me last week: "We moved to Florence from Latta in 1949 and I started the second grade at Harlee. My daddy was a section foreman for the Atlantic Coastline and he stood for a job in the Florence yard. We lived in a railroad house right next to the Florence yard on Jarrott Street. These houses were provided by the railroad for their section foreman. Later on we moved to another railroad house over by the railroad station on Griffin Street.

"During the summer when school was out, my friends and I rode our bikes. Roney's Cafe was right down the street. Roney's was in its heyday at that time and was always full of people at lunch time. I remember that us kids would lay our bikes right in front of the door at lunch time and people had to step over them to get in. We would go to a booth and order a glass of water (it was free). They were always nice to us and never said anything about our bicycles, because we didn't have a clue we were causing any problems by leaving them there.

"When I was small and my grandmother was ill, we used to ride the train over to Marion to see her. We boarded the train in Florence at 8:00 AM and it took about thirty minutes to get to Marion. Mother had a railroad pass and she rode free. Sometimes my sister and I were charged thirty-five cents unless we knew the conductor and then we could ride free. The train went through Marion on to Wilmington and arrived back in Marion about 7:30 PM. We rode it back to Florence and walked home as we lived very close to the depot.

"Some nights I would go over to the train station, sit in the window and watch the people coming and going. It was a beehive of activity. The people were all dressed up. I very seldom saw any men who didn't have on a coat and tie. People today might think that suitcases with handles and rollers are something new, but I remember seeing them way back then."

Mr. Bryant brought his collection of photograph clippings from the News Journal going back for many years for me to peruse. I found several that relate to my own family that I'd never seen before, and I truly appreciate his enthusiasm for the history of our area. Many thanks to both these gentlemen for sharing parts of their life stories with our readers.

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