Of trains and rummage sales

Published 7:05 pm Monday, July 8, 2019

Riding through Washington on any given Saturday, you will find people having yard sales. Goods can be bought at reasonable prices, and families do this to try to clean out closets or before a move. Do you think the predecessor of the yard sale may have been the rummage sale held every Saturday morning on the corner of Respass and Third streets in Washington? This was at the old fertilizer depot across from Johnson’s Yard Supply, and at that time, there was a train track that ran down the middle of Third Street.

This was a traditional sale held every Saturday morning where people could buy everything from clothes to jewelry and even home supplies. People flocked to the rummage sale to buy their clothing and also, on occasion, fresh vegetables in the summer months. The rummage sale was held every Saturday regardless of the month.

I can remember Mama always told me it was called a rummage sale because people just rummaged through and priced everything on sale. Once they were finished shopping, they would head directly to Bill’s Hot Dog Stand and Amman’s bakery for lunch.

Also running down the middle of Third Street at that time was the railroad track trains used to bring fertilizer and other farm materials to our town. These tracks have caused many of us who tried to jump them on bikes to suffer bruises and abrasions trying to show off. That is why they were called train tracks, according to Dad. Knowing these tracks were for trains and not bikes never slowed many of us down from trying it.

With the train coming into town on Third Street, it provided a time that we just jumped into an open boxcar to catch a ride through town. I remember a couple of times jumping into a boxcar, and the conductor just waved and blew the train’s whistle to let us know it was OK to hitch a ride. The sad part was that we had to jump off after it got to Hackney Avenue and then walk all the way back to get our bikes. Still, it was fun, and we sometimes followed the people at the rummage sale to Mr. Bill’s for a hot dog if we had enough money between us.

My dad would tell me about the times he and Zeno Edwards, while attending the old Washington High School on Bridge Street, would put grease on the track before school. When they heard the train whistle, they would run to the window to see if the train was stuck in the grease and spinning its wheels. Other times they would jump on an open boxcar and ride it out of town to skip school until the principal, Mr. Frank Ruble, found out and called Dr. Zeno and Daddy Ray and that ended skipping school!

Yes, as I ride through Washington on Saturday morning and see people in their yards having yard sales, it reminds me of the days of the rummage sales and the train track running down the middle of the street. I think back, seeing that conductor waving his big arm and blowing the whistle in approval. He always knew!

That is why they were the best of times with the best of friends and in the best of places, Washington, NC!

— Harold Jr.

Harold Robinson Jr. is a native of Washington.