Sanford Williams was born June 15, 1903, in Wilkesboro, N.C., and lived there with his dad, James Nathan Williams, and later moved to Harlan County. Sanford began working on steam engines on the L&N Railroad that ran from Pineville to Cumberland, Whitesburg and Jenkins. He was a "car knocker" or car man, who inspects and repairs rail cars.
Jack Burns also worked as a car man with L&N at the Neon rail yards. The Williams children often visited their Uncle Jack and their grandparents' home about 60 miles away. The Williams family took the 1 p.m. train, traveled up Pine Mountain, headed to Corbin and had a five-hour layover at Winchester for a passenger train to take them to Neon. Families of railroaders got free travel passes for railroad trips.
When the Williams children reached Neon, Uncle Jack was there to meet them and take them to Grandpa and Grandma Bentley's house, which was near the tracks. The train ran up one side of the mountain and near a creek. The house was on the other side. The Williams kids usually stayed a week with their grandparents and Jack.
Roy recalls the good meals his grandmother cooked, especially Sunday dinner that included fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and biscuits, and honey from Grandpa Bentley's bees.
It was a treat for the Williams children to visit with their grandparents two or three times a year.
In 1942, the Williamses moved to Oakdale, Tenn., where Sanford worked with Southern Railway. Work on the L&N in eastern Kentucky had slowed down during World War II. The L&N only carried coal and freight after the war began, so Sanford got the job in August 1942 with Southern.
They lived in Oakdale about six months, then moved to Danville after Sanford heard about an opening in the Danville yards.
"It was the job to have," said Roy, who was 14 at the time.
The railroad paid a good salary, had excellent benefits and steady work. The workers liked to live close to their jobs and bought homes in West Danville, West Walnut Street or Beatty Avenue.
The Williams family lived on Beatty Avenue. Roy recalls the neighbors were the Jeff Burton family on one side of their house and a Rankin family on the other side.
Roy attended the old Danville High School and worked part time at Lane's restaurant after school. He dropped out of school at the end of the 11th grade and took a job with Southern Railway.
He began the new job May 15, 1944, as an apprentice car man. He made 50 cents per hour. He recalls working with W.R. "Pappy" Sinkhorn, W.H. Ponder, Carl Westerfield, Charlie Robinson, S.P. Loveless, Fred Loveless, R.A. "Red Eye" Jones, M.C. Hall, Marshal Fugate, Danny Chambers, Felix Ross, Charles Preston, Jake Wilkerson, John Newby R.O. "Bo-Pig" Ball, C.E. Singleton and the Selby brothers, Bill, Jim Ed, Lee, Jess, Dennie, Fred and Virgil. Arthur Eastham was the boss.
Roy talked about one of his jobs inspecting all the trains that had cast iron wheels. The inspectors would knock on the wheels with a certain type of rod. If it made a certain noise, they knew it was defective.
The job lasted a year and a half. Roy went into the Air Force on Jan. 1, 1946. He was at Camp Atterbery in Indiana and Kessler Field in Biloxi, Miss., for basic training. He moved on to Spokane, Wash., at Geiger Field where he ran into an old friend, Jack Jones of Danville.
Roy attended engineering school and trained as a crane operator. He went to Camp Kearns in Salt Lake City, then to Hamilton Field in San Francisco to prepare for an overseas trip. His ship took him to Nagoya, Japan, where he was a crane operator with the Signal Corps, and a truck driver. He returned to the United States in May 1947.
He was ready to return to Danville and get back to his old job with Southern.
"I can't imagine working anywhere but on the railroad," Roy said. "Many times the work was hard. There was lots of heavy lifting and long hours, but all in all, most of the bosses were fair, and the pay and benefits were good."
He made a lot of friends.
During his stint in the military, he kept in touch with his hometown girlfriend, Reva Shewmaker, daughter of railroader Glenn Shewmaker and his wife, Ada.
The young couple married in June 1949. Their son, Terry, was born Sept. 9, 1954, and now the Williamses have six grandchildren.
Roy retired in 1989 after more than 45 years of service with Southern Railroad.
He still listens "for the sound of that little train puffing up the side of the mountain," where his love for the rails began.