Pearl and Nellie

ca. 1909 - Nellie (left) and Pearl, shown here in their Sunday dresses with black button-up shoes and black stockings.

Pearl and Nellie Ride The Peavine Railroad

In the early 1900ís, rural school children in East Tennessee usually lived about 2 miles from their one room school houses. Nellie and Pearl McCarty of Gethsemane Community were no exception.

Their place of learning, named Sentelle School, was located in the wooded knobs at the foot hills of the Greystone Mountains in Greene County. There were no school buses to transport the children to school. Their black leather button-up shoes had to carry them.

Loaded with their books and lard can lunch pails, the girls started out on their Monday through Friday trek to school. As usual, Pearl lead the way, she was the oldest by two years. The front hem of her home-made calico dress which fell midway between her shoe tops and knees, flew up a little as she stepped long, revealing her white petticoat. But Pearl paid no mind, because she was going over her multiplication facts in her head. She would be called upon to recite the "9ís" before the whole school and she wanted to get them all correct. Pearl hadnít noticed Nellie falling behind on the partially grown up, wagon trail, road until Nellie called to her "Hold up Pearl." Pearl didn't stop but urged her sister to get a move on or "Weíll be late", she said over her shoulder.

Nellie adjusted her spelling book and lunch pail and picked up the pace not only because Pearl said so, but because she heard the train whistle. It was the steam engine, Shay pulling the empty flat cars back up the mountains to pick up more timber to haul into Greeneville. If they timed it just right, they could jump on the slow moving cars and ride part of the way to school on the Peavine Railroad.

At their favorite hopping on place, the girls stood very close to the narrow guage tracks while the engine passed. Both waved to the engineer. Black soot blew down as it slumbered by.

Pearl turned her back side to the first flat car and positioned herself just right and bent her knees and jumped back wards to land seated on the car.

Nellie who was positioned for her jump, tightened her grip on her little blue speller and then she hopped. Her red pig tails leaped as her feet left the ground, as Pearlís black ones had. Luckily, she landed seated too.

The train kept chugging on, on log cross ties laid on a bed of crushed sand stones. It curved at times, making the cars lean this way and that and then straightening again, traveling at a speed of no greater then eight miles an hour. The steam engine pulled the flat cars across streams on wooden bridges, around knobs and between small valleys on railing laid by the lumber company men. It happily blew its whistle and rang its bell at crossings scaring wild life as well as tame. As the girls rode by a few cleared farms and then wooded places, their feet dangled over the edge of the flat car. Nellie noticed dust on the tip of her shoes. She would take her handkerchief when she got off the train, wet part with her tongue and wipe them clean before going on to school. Dust on their shoes wasnít all the girls worries, the train's engine soot from the burning coal had dropped tiny black cinders on their bonnets and white penifores as well.

When the train got close to their getting off place, Nellie said to Pearl, "Get ready to jump, Pearl." Then the girls put both hands, still looped by their lunch pail handles, holding to their books on the outer edge of the car and heaved themselves up and off in one quick move to land well away from the tracks. They waited for the little red caboose to pass before dusting themselves off.

After straightening their bonnets, the girls continued on. They strolled down the grassy road bed speaking to other children coming into view from the forest embrace of the Hemlock trees and other species, all heading for the clap board school's, front door.

Pearl and Nellie would have to walk all the way home to their little log house, because the train cars would be piled up high with fresh cut timber and there would be no place for them to sit for the trip home. They would only be able to wave to the train as it puffed steam and tooted its whistle, out of sight on its way to market.