Once upon a time in a jerkwater town …

Published 12:05 am Saturday, June 11, 2016

Now I know: I lived in a “jerkwater town” during my growing up years. OK, it was not even a town. It was a small, rural, mining camp community located on a Southern Railroad Company line. Sources say that original jerkwater towns were small, insignificant places where trains stopped to take on water.

Well, I have to admit that Littleton, Ala., qualified, except the locomotive did not stop at a wayside stream to replenish the engine’s supply of water. The method of using wayside stream stops to take on water was called jerking water because it was carried to the locomotives in leather buckets. However, Littleton was more up to date. It had a wooden water tank.

I always think of Littleton as a mining camp although no working mine existed when we lived there. A coal mining company owned the camp and numerous houses in Littleton where their employees lived. Every day the miners rode a company bus to the coalmine in another community where they worked. They returned home by bus every evening.

The mining company also owned a sawmill, which was another source of jobs for Littleton residents.

Southern Railroad Co. had a depot in Littleton. It also maintained a work crew who took care of the rails. The railroad provided a few houses for their employees. Littleton was on a daily passenger route from Birmingham to Columbus. The Columbus train came through around 10 a.m. en route to Birmingham. The return Birmingham-to-Columbus train reached Littleton at 5 p.m. When I attended high school in Birmingham, I boarded that train after school for a ride home.

My parents and I lived in a new mining company house across the road from the recently constructed company commissary during World War II. Daddy, who had learned to cut meat as a boy standing on wooden Coca-Cola crates to reach the meat block, was store manager and butcher. Mother was a clerk in the store until the company transferred Daddy to a store in another community. Then she took over as store manager.

The most exciting event of the day in Littleton was the arrival of the passenger trains. The postmaster, Mrs. Blanche, or Bear, a helper, met the trains to receive the mailbag. I was among those who followed them to the post office, next door to the commissary, to wait while she put up the mail. During summer vacation, I was often first in line at her window to call for mail. I remember how excited I was the day the train mail clerk handed down the boxes of new Americana Encyclopedias my parents ordered for me.

Today, Littleton in Jefferson County, Ala., cannot be found on an Alabama map. Everything is gone. My mother and I attended a Littleton reunion in the 1990s in a field someone had bush hogged for the occasion. Our “jerkwater town” exists only in the memory of those of us who are still around.


Nina Keenam is retired from the newspaper business. Her column appears on Saturdays.