Flagged Train Down with Lantern

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, March 7, 1914:  Nothing doing. Saw Mistress Ruth off on the train tonight. It was late, so I took the lantern down to act for a signal.


Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Where was Grandma’s sister Ruth going?

Tracks for the Susquehanna, Bloomsburg, and Berwick Railroad  crossed the Muffly farm. There was a flag stop at a feed mill called Truckenmiller’s Mill which bordered the farm. The route went from Watsontown to McEwensville and Turbotville and then continued east to Washingtonville, Bloomsburg, and Berwick.


Recent photo of the railroad tracks that crossed the Muffly farm.

Sometimes the diary entries give me powerful visual images. In my mind,  I see two young women, standing beside a dark mill on a cold, cloudy moonless night waiting for the train.

And, then the train lights appear in the distance.  As the train approaches, Grandma wildly swings the lantern, while Ruth frets that the train might not stop. . . .but it slowly rolls to a stop and Ruth vanishes into the train. . . . and Grandma slowly walks home with the lantern lighting the way.


18 Responses

  1. Good description, I can see them together on the platform waiting in the cold as the train comes puffing into the station.

  2. Some of what Helena writes is so easy to relate to but this is SO different from what we experience today. It sounds dangerous and scary!

  3. Wow….so different from what we can even imagine in today’s world. Does it sound as though Grandma is “perturbed” that her sister is going somewhere: she called her “Mistress Ruth”!!!

  4. I can visualize it. Trains would stop almost anywhere. Quite different today.

  5. When you read this, you really get the feeling for what a different world it was back then. Interesting use of the ‘mistress’ word :)

  6. Such a different time…just stand by the train tracks and wave a lamp to make it stop. Wow.

  7. This diary entry and your interpretation are wonderful for creating a vivid visual image. This post has brought me back in time more than any so far. “Go figure.”

  8. Oh for the days of the locals. When I was in grad school in Boston I was able to take the train all the way home to my little town of Forestvile, Connecticut (with stops along the way, of course.) I think that RR station is now a paint store.

    • It sounds wonderful how there used to be passenger service to all the small towns. . . . sometimes I think that we’ve lost a really good form of transportation over the years.

  9. I love your visualization of this small moment. It really brings things to life to know the ordinary details of our ancestors lives.

  10. I love that she shared about flagging down the train with the lantern.

  11. I like your visual. I picture it that way too. I never realized you had to flag down your own train at some stops.

  12. […] Diary entry for March 7, 1914 […]

  13. Dear Sheryl, I love your wrting–it takes me right there! I too can just see them swinging the lantern and feel the fear that the train wouldn’t see them! And thanks so much for reading my blog posts and commenting, I know I recently called you Amy, as I was thinking of Amy who runs the 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge–sorry, I think that challenge is monopolizing my thoughts lately! It wasn’t until much later that I realized I had called your wonderful comments as the work of Amy! I know it was you! Please know I am sorry and please come again! Just recently I was writing about my own grandfather and his activities 100 years ago–I recognize the cars! Thanks for this wonderful story you are weaving from Helena’s diary! Helen Holshouser

    • Thanks for the nice note. It’s always wonderful to hear when someone enjoys this blog. . . And not need to apologize. I do the same thing all the time, and am honored that you mixed me up with Amy.

  14. You have a way of putting us there with grandma!

  15. […] example, several days ago I went through my pictures to find one illustrate the recent post about Ruth taking the train.  And, I was surprised to discover that the pictures of the tracks that I took in 2010 differed […]

  16. The community is like a little time capsule. It just amazes me that you can walk to places in your grandma’s diary and using your imagination paint a picture of the event. I totally was right there with you.

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