Compiled by David L. Dwiggins
Three freight cars and one Lake Erie & Western locomotive derailed in a frightening collision at the crossing of the Big Four Railroad crossing in West Alexandria at 2:00 p.m. There was no watchman employed at the site and the L.E. & W. was an extra train for the day and was westbound when it ran into a cut of eight cars that were being pushed south to the Alexandria paper mill. Engineer Donovan and Fireman Fink were on the L.E. & W. extra and saw that the collision was inevitable and jumped at the last second to save themselves.
Two cars were loaded with pulp bound for the Alexandria Paper Company and Conductor Sheppleman and Engineer Schmeyers were in charge of the Big Four and were in the smash up. The engine was in the rear of eight cars being pushed across the crossing and helped the crew escape injury. The crossing was completely blocked as a result of the collision and it was necessary to detour the 2:10 east bound to avoid another mishap. The passenger train was quickly approaching Orestes but communication was made and the train was stopped and parked on the local siding until the debris could be removed in nearby Alexandria.
In today's society which is so fragmented, it is good to look back on a time when the people in this country were united as never before. Orestes during the years of World War II was a community that was very much united behind the war effort. And nowhere was this community solidarity more in evidence than in the participation of a custom that is largely forgotten today. This custom was known as "waiting for the mail train."
During the war years, my aunt, Bernice (Gardner) Knotts was postmistress in Orestes and her routine went something like this. Twice a day, the train would pass through town and drop off the mail sack. It would be taken to the post office by some designated person and then my Aunt Bernice would put the mail into the boxes. She had a rule that no one could get their mail until she had finished putting all the mail up.
People would usually hear the mail train and start out for the post office (located at that time on the southeast corner of the main intersection. in town) and congregate in that rather large lobby while the mail was being sorted. We were all anxious to hear from our men who were off fighting the war. My family was most concerned about my two older brothers, John and Harrell Lane, who were Marines (the only two Marines from Orestes). Other families with men in the Army or the Navy included the Trices, Davises, Cooks, Johnsons, Groses, Ludlows, and Gosnells. I know that there were many other families represented. In all, I believe there were about 30 men from Orestes who fought in the war.
While we were waiting for the mail to be placed in the boxes, we would talk with each other and ask about various men, where they were located, how they were, etc. People would ask each other questions like "What have you heard from Jack?" of "Where's Johnny stationed now?" It was always a big moment when a letter was received from one of the men who had not been heard from for some time. I remember some very anxious times when we failed to hear from my brother John, who had enlisted at age 16. In November of 1943 he was in one of the worst battles in the South Pacific, the Battle of Tarawa. Although we didn't know at the time of the battle that he was there (the military kept many secrets in those days) we knew that something was wrong or he would have written us.
When the letter finally did arrive from him, the people waiting at the post office gave a mighty cheer because they all knew how anxiously the family had been awaiting any news of him. We were all concerned for each other and did our best to keep everybody's spirits up when those long periods without any word would go by. I don't believe that Orestes lost one man in the war (a small miracle) but I know that Wendell Ferguson was captured by the Germans.
At that time, Orestes had two stores, one operated by Iva Walker and the other by Raymond Davis. We had two churches, the Baptist and the Christian. There was no common place for everyone to meet except for the post office. That was the one place where most of us got together twice a day to exchange information and bolster each other's spirits. It was a time and a place of patriotism and community solidarity that I have never known again. I'm glad that I was allowed to be a part of it.
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