The track was laid down in the teens. Nineteen-sixteen, -seventeen maybe, I don’t know. Papa Davey said he was glad when they took it up in the sixties though.
“Sumbitch would rattle pictures off the wall and wake us up at night,” he’d say. He was a grumpy old bastard, but we loved him, God rest his soul.
Anyway, it was used to carry raw cotton from Abbeville county up to the textile mills in Anderson and Greenville counties. When Abbeville stopped making cotton, they didn’t use the rails no more, so they took ’em up. Legend has it that before they did, an old black man was working and died back here on the tracks. Fella’s name was Harold. Born to a freed slave who worked in a rich white man’s house. Nobody knew who the daddy was, but everybody’s pretty sure it was the white man.
Story is he was working on the brakes or something, had the sumbitch let lose and roll over top of him. Engineer said it cut through him like a hot knife through butter. You know, them trains are heavy that if somebody gets run over, it immediately cauterizes the wound. Just slices you in two, what they say. Brakeman quit his job after that. Said with Harry gone, he’s gone have to work on the damned brakes next time, and he didn’t wanna get run over.
Hell. Who could blame him?
Now you might think, “what’s the son of rich white guy doing working for the railroad?” Well lemme tell you, ‘round here, they ain’t no such thing as half black, half white. Meaning you either all white, or you all black. Meaning when Harold’s momma got cholera and died, and the master’s wife found out about the affair, little Harold got kicked out on the street. Can you believe that? I mean colored or not, he wutn’t but a little boy. That’s what she done though. Issa shame.
So little Harry turned to vagrancy, traveled on the freighters all over. Getting work here and there, but mostly just freight hoppin’. Some say they even seen him all the way down in Savannah.
He got threw in jail a couple times for it. But most the time he got it worse than that. Harold says them old railroad bulls didn’t like hobos, especially not colored ones. Wasn’t too surprisin’ to hear bout some dead colored boy found outside a train station in them days, what they say. Issa shame.
Anyway, one day, after years of riding the rails, old Harold got a job laying track from Abbeville to Greenville. That’s how my papa Davey met him. When he’s a little boy, my papa, they was laying track on the back of the property here, just across the fence, and he went out to talk to ’em on their lunch break. He loved to hear their stories about riding trains and sleeping in boxcars.
Anyway they’s out there everyday for a week or so, and my papa would bring ’em out sweet tea and they’d give him cigarettes and whiskey. Til one day, he come home bout half tied and his sister, my great aunt Sallie, told on him.
After his momma, Georgie, whooped the shit outta him, she whooped the shit outta Sallie for telling on him. Then she went out and whooped the shit outta them colored boys that was laying the track! Ha ha! My uncle Will had to run out there and tear her off of ‘em! Hot damn, she was a pistol, what they say.
Old Georgie told him he cain’t be hanging around no coloreds. A’course, they used a different word back then. Said they was criminals and she wutn’t gone have her boy grow up to be like them. So Davey did as he was told, though he didn’t understand why. When you a kid, something your momma or daddy says is gospel truth like the Bible. When they teach you to hate folks cuz they look different, well that’s what you do. You don’t understand it, but that’s the way it is.
Anyway, my papa Davey was in the Army by the time old Harold died back here working on that train. ‘Course he got wounded and came back home and started drinkin’. Didn’t put the bottle down til it put him down. He’d get liquor’d up real good, and come out here on the tracks to talk to old Harold til he passed out. Almost got hisself run over a couple times, crazy old bastard. They all thought he was nuts, you know, out here talkin’ to ghosts. Hell, I did too, til one time I was out here well-oiled myself, and met Harold.
Scared the shit out of me, of course, but after talking to him for while, the fear subsided. He told me stories ‘bout my papa Davey when he’s little running out there to get drunk with ’em. He’s a funny old bastard, that Harold. I see why papa Davey liked him so much.
Anyhow, nowadays, folks ‘round here don’t venture into these parts after dark. Say the Blue Man is gonna getcha. Me and Harold’s what they mean. People report hearing chainsaws and hammering down in the woods, and when one of ‘em’s brave enough to go check it out, there ain’t nothing there. Not even saw dust.
Hell, there’s one boy says he’s riding his four wheeler back here one night. Looked back to see if his friend was coming, and when he turned to look ahead, saw an old black man standing right in front of him. Yes sir. Wearing a blue railroad uniform, holding a wrench in his hand. The boy swerved off so’s not to hit him, and run his machine into a tree. Broke his arm on impact. But when he looked back that old black man was gone. Not even foot prints was left in the mud. Harold still feels bad about that one.
That same boy, his little brother and him was playing in their daddy’s auto shop one night a couple years later. It ain’t far from the railroad bed, you see. And one of them big tool chests on wheels, you know, fulla wrenches and what not, fell over. Wrenches clacked and clanged all over the floor, and one of them boys pissed in his britches.
They looked out the window right then and saw that same black man, with his faded conductors cap and uniform on looking in at ’em. Even saw his breath on the window. The lights flickered, and he was gone, but he wrote BLUE MAN in the fog on the window ‘fore he left. We bout busted a gut laughing at that one.
Hell we’re out here now, ‘bout to scare these kids out of the hayfield next to mine. Except instead pushing over a top chest, this time I’m gone be holding my dim flashlight over here in the trees, as a distraction, while Harold goes over and opens up that boy’s truck box. He likes wrenches. And I told him that’s good seeing how it plays into the myth about him.
Boy I can’t wait to see their faces. We oughta get a damn kick outta this one. It’s always them ones that don’t believe in him that get the most afeared. The best part is to watch ’em realize the Blue Man is real, like, “Oh shit! It’s true!” Look like their head might explode. Might end up having one of ’em piss their britches. We surely will bust a gut then.
We don’t cause no harm though, jes’ like to scare people, I reckon. Other’n that boy that broke his arm. It’s all fun and games. We get bored. And the farm don’t make no money anymore, and hell I like old Harold. He’s a good friend. Even is he is a colored fella.
People spend too much time thinking about how differ’nt everybody is, but don’t nobody look at the things we got in common. All they see is what color somebody is, or what clothes they got on. But shit, when you dead, ain’t no such thing as “was colored” or “was white”. They’s just “was.” Nothing more than that.
Anyway, y’all watch this.
Originally published at https://www.aftr.blog on September 12, 2020.