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RAILROAD CAMP CARS

---Lois Barefoot Mays

Source: Interview with Mr. Eddie Lambert, November 2004

Living near the railroad tracks for years, many in Folkston are familiar with the camp cars parked on a pass track. These were a “home away from home” for many railroad men who lived there during the week, going home for the weekend.

Mr. Eddie Lambert was the cook for this group of men and was employed by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. He prepared three meals a day for the crews who replaced worn crossties, repaired washouts after storms and who usually worked for the Roadmaster. Many folks remember Roadmasters Mr. V.A. Hodges and Mr. R.L. Guy and their co-worker Mr. Buck Pollock who operated the little cart that took them up and down the tracks. But how many remember what the inside of the camp cars looked like? Not many, but when Mr. Lambert was asked to tell about them, this is what he recalls:

There were two kinds of cars, the kitchen car and the sleeping cars. Mr. Lambert’s railroad kitchen car was divided into three sections. An outside door opened into his bedroom, this then opened into the kitchen and that opened into the dining room, which had another outside door. He prepared three meals a day, five days a week and like the rest of the workers, he went home for the weekend. The men worked a half day on Fridays so big thick sandwiches were fixed for the workers at that time.

He didn’t keep a big supply of food in the refrigerator and shopped each morning for vegetables, fruit and meat such as roasts or chicken. Using fresh food for each meal, he bought, cooked and served this each day. He knew how many men he had to feed and bought just enough for each day with almost nothing left over. When his kitchen car was parked on the pass track in Folkston, early each morning Mr. Lambert walked down West Main Street to Gowen’s Folkston Grain and Grocery, where Mayor McGurn’s store is now. That’s where he bought the food he planned to cook. Unlike most cook stoves at that time, Mr. Lambert’s big iron range was fueled with chunks of coal instead of wood. The trains’ locomotives used coal so there was always plenty of materials for burning nearby. Favorite meals for the men were roast beef and mashed potatoes; for dessert if he prepared jelly cake or banana pudding he was sure to please them.

The workers used the camp cars for their bedrooms during the week. Two rows of single beds, with a walkway down the middle, filled the car and sometimes there would be a bunk bed near one end. A bathroom was at the other end of the car. These camp cars were kept neat and clean and some even had pretty wallpaper. The workers made their beds before they went to work each day.

Since the kitchen car and sleeping cars were parked on sidings, they were very, very close to the many trains that came and went during the night when they slept. New employees soon got used to the noise and would sleep right through it. Long freight trains would actually make the cars, full of sleeping men, rock with their vibrations.

Mr. Lambert’s kitchen car was parked for months at a time in Georgia and South Carolina, and at 91 years old, he still remembers the many friends he made in each town.

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