Monday, June 30, 2008


My Nancy Hanks

If you ask anyone, “Who was Nancy Hanks?” you’re likely to get several answers. Some will tell you that Nancy Hanks was Abraham Lincoln’s mother, and they would be right. Some will tell you Nancy Hanks was a thoroughbred race horse in the 19th century, and they would be right. Some will tell you that Nancy Hanks was the chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts and they would also be correct! But if you’re from the great State of Georgia, and if you are of a certain age group, then “Nancy Hanks” can only mean one thing: a passenger train!

Actually, the train I’m going to tell you about was named for another train, also called “The Nancy Hanks”. That first train was a steam locomotive and I’m not certain where it operated. The second “Nancy Hanks” came into being in 1947 and ran daily, come hell or high water, from Savannah to Atlanta, Georgia and back to Savannah. Yes, every day of the year until 1971 when the Atlanta Terminal Station was demolished and Amtrak was born.

As a child I thought riding on the “Nancy” was the greatest adventure you could take. It left Savannah every morning at 7 am and snaked its way up through the middle of the red-clay state arriving in Atlanta at 1 pm. And it returned to Savannah leaving Atlanta at 6 pm sharp.

I was able to board the Nancy at Tennille at 10 am, just in time for the requisite morning Coca-Cola and pack of peanuts. Of course, you got an 8-oz bottle and you put your peanuts into that bottle and enjoyed the sweet/salty mixture until the train arrived in Macon. Macon was where you got up out of your seat and went to the “Club Car” for lunch. Macon because the train stopped long enough for you to get to lunch without falling over in the aisles.

Lunch on the train was a delight for me, a terror for others. I remember how unique it was because the waiter brought you a sheet of cardboard and a pencil with no erasure (unheard-of for a third grader in the 50’s!). And you filled out your order on the card and the waiter came and picked it up and your lunch was brought to you. I well remember ordering a “Club” sandwich. I thought that was what you were supposed to order in the “Club” car. They always toasted the three slices of bread and cut the sandwich into quarters. They then stuck toothpicks with frou-frou into each quarter to hold the pieces together. All this was wildly exotic to a child who was used to Merita Bread, homemade mayonnaise and sliced tomatoes. That was what I considered a sandwich. Little did I know. Then.

The train always careened around curves going through Barnesville. This created a floor show in the “Club”/”Dining” Car for the waiter did an amazingly combined balancing act and tap dance routine getting the meals to the customers without the food crashing to the floor. Of course, I thought the whole process was highly sophisticated. I didn't know until many years later that the reason the ride was so precarious was because the train cars had not been designed for the tracks on which it had to run.

When my mother and her friends traveled on The Nancy they took with them a folding board on which they played Canasta (or Bolivia) until Macon and lunch. How accommodating was porter to bring them their Cokes so as not to interrupt their card game!

Arriving in Atlanta we usually sped over on foot to Rich’s or by cab to Peachtree Street and Davison’s, then known as Davison-Paxon. Across the street were J. P. Allen’s, Regenstein’s and Leon Froshin’s – elegant dress shops. I usually was left at either Lowe’s Grand, the Paramount or the Roxy; all elegant and huge movie palaces. But we all had to watch our watches for 5 pm to get back to the Nancy for departure home.

And the return trip was equally exciting and fine, only dining was a little more elegant as it was the evening meal. It’s the first time I ever saw a waiter bring a sizzling steak gushing with steam to a table!

They used to put me alone on the Nancy as a child. I well remember them giving the porter $5 to “watch over” me until someone met me at the Terminal Station in Atlanta. As I grew up, I managed not to have to be watched much. Once, on a birthday trip to see “Holiday On Ice” I was coming home on the Nancy and sitting by an old gentleman. I told him that it was my birthday and showed him the Roy Rogers wallet I had been given by my cousin Charles as a gift. It had a $5 bill inside, too. I so well remember that old man kissed me on the cheek and somehow managed to steal my wallet. Because when I got home, it was gone.

Once when I was at the Fritz Orr Day Camp in Atlanta, staying with my Uncle and Aunt, I literally forgot what my parents looked like and asked to go home on the Nancy and see them. I was put on the train, arrived in Tennille, saw them and got back on the train the next morning at 10 and made it to tennis class by 2. All courtesy of The Nancy.

I have so many memories of the Nancy! My last one was the morning I left home for the last time. I had been ordered out of the house and given a rather large some of money not to return. I didn’t tell my father I was leaving. But I did tell one friend. And she gave me a silver dollar and told me not to spend it unless Bach came back as a pigeon and I didn’t have any money for peanuts! I went straight to Tennille and boarded my beloved train and went straight to Atlanta and got a cab and went straight to the airport and got a jet and went straight to New York City. And I never looked back once. Thank you, Nancy Hanks, for making my dream come true. I miss you, baby.

Oh, Bach never showed up, but I spent the dollar on a subway fare and a hot dog.

C. 2008 Richard C. Wall


CJ said...

Sounds like an adventure to me. I imediately became fearful when you mentioned the man and the kiss on the cheek thinking he was going to violate you and ruin this pleasant tale. Well you were violated weren't you but apparently not discouraged? Prepared you for your life in NYC no doubt.
Nice story.

Anonymous said...

The Nancy Hanks holds very fond memories for me. We use to go over to Tennille, get an ice cream and watch the train come in just to see who had been to Atlanta shopping and how much they'd bought. Thanks for the memory!