Editor’s Note: This is part six of a series by Richard Hayes, a former member of the Lee County Board of Education and the Lee County Board of Commissioners.

Editor’s Note: This is part six of a series by Richard Hayes, a former member of the Lee County Board of Education and the Lee County Board of Commissioners.

Coming from the outside fresh air, blue skies and white puffy clouds into the humid, dark, smoke-filled air inside the Atlantic and Western train shed (circa 1948) located just off Hickory Avenue in east Sanford, was an adventure every young lad or lassie should have ... once!

Recall, this scribe of de ja vu played around such environs as a child in the 40’s in search of, perhaps, a play-friend to join in a new adventure. The scene was set just across the tracks from where my parents operated a coal business during World War II. Inevitably, from time to time, solo as it turned out with only an “imaginary friend,” I managed to get off the leash and go in search of big game. I wandered over the nearby barrier railroad tracks into the mysterious, uncharted ground zero of big, live trains. During the daytime they looked and felt like big black rumbling behemoths with angry, hissing steam pistons and sharp deafening whistles, loud squealing brakes and crunching/locking couplers. Standing trackside, they rushed by at close range intentionally designed to scare little folks … but it was the kind of fright that was oh so compelling and habit-forming!

It was like only yesterday. I recall crossing over the tracks and dashing 25 yards to the A&W engine equipment yard and the bottomless turntable pit (only about 6 feet deep). I routinely stared over and into the pit with trepidation and fear of falling into the abyss and never returning … yet some way I survived. The turntable was 100-foot (approximately) round with a railroad track down the middle. It was used to rotate incoming and outgoing locomotives from the train shed to the main line and had to be aligned just so with the tracks leading into the shed.

So, passing around and beyond “the pit” and to relative safety outside, out of sight of my mother’s usual watchfulness, out of the blinding sunlight into a dark, tomb-like chamber, the train shed was like a walk in the deep forest where the beast lived. There between, beneath and beside sat three, maybe four black leviathans. Now inside they murmured and they groaned as they grew increasingly defeated and lifeless where they dropped their burned-up cinders into a cinder pit below each engine. Cooling down these creatures from the Id became quiet and finally at peaceful rest. They had had a hard day’s work over the rails and were entitled and content to relax, sleep and perhaps to dream.

Looking back, I wonder how a young squirt made it unscathed into and out of that spooky, cavernous chamber where these giant, fuel-spent beasts slumbered. Perhaps those were just “the good old days,” or call it luck, and afterward to run back across the tracks without being caught, otherwise my parents would have raised cane with me and the A&W manager would have had conniptions with my parents and me.

Inside the train “barn” some would have called it, was housed from time to time locomotives No. 8, No. 9, No. 10, and Old No. 12 which was restored in the early 70’s and now on permanent display beside the Railroad House Historic Museum at Depot Part. Thanks to Jimmy Haire’s Herald archive of historic photos, we have the pictures to prove it while we still search for the image of No. 11 if it ever existed. Old No. 12 to be sure was built in 1911 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Baltimore, Maryland. The others were likely made there as well.

As for “the Dinky,” (which also rested at night nearby the train shed) which still commands equal weight among passenger alumni and fans, we recall our little Dinky with fond recollections and profess that she was “poetry in motion” … excuse the rose-colored glasses. Webster says the word dinky means “small and insignificant” with the exception being, of course, the A&W Dinky spelled with a capital “D” meaning a classy little gasoline-powered motorcar that carried passengers to and from such distant ports of call as Lillington, gliding nearby Broadway, all for the princely sum of 25 cents roundtrip for adults and children free. Undoubtedly, our Dinky was in a class all by herself. For nowadays folks under 39, she reminded me of the little red trolley that ran the tracks in “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood,” still one of my favorite TV shows though I was well grown and down the tracks by the time it was serialized and made popular for kids (of all ages) in the late 60’s and 70’s. That is another “A Look Back” for another time.

Our little Dinky was dark green or grimy black and seated about 12 to 15 passengers. It had a bell and an air horn and made you feel like reliving the trolley scene from the movie with Judy Garland, “Meet Me in St. Louis,” only ours was enclosed for the protection of passengers as it bumped and swayed along the tracks at the terrifying speed of 20 mph. It was necessary for the motor car driver to watch out for stray cows on the tracks in Harnett County. The Dinky was boarded at a little Dinky station on Chatham Street where the A&W office is located now. It could be stopped and boarded elsewhere if necessary along the way. Many of us took that exciting trip to the far-off land of Lillington with our parents. It was simply the best of good times and good memories. We wish the same for you.

Richard Hayes was elected to the Lee County Board of Education from 2000-2004 — serving as vice chairman for two years. He was elected to the Lee County Board of Commissioners from 2008-2012, serving as Chairman from 2008-2010.