Couple met, fell in love on railroad with help from Union Station
By Anessa Myers
Published in News on July 27, 2008 10:34 AM
Earl and Nancy Justice's love story of 61 years is filled with railroad tracks and train whistles.
Now in their 80s, they remember the day when the railroad brought them together and how Goldsboro's Union Station was part of their early years as a couple.
Their love was not a smooth track, however, the couple said.
Earl and Nancy Justice spent much of their lives working with the railroad in North Carolina, spending part of their careers at Union Station in Goldsboro.
It took time to get started.
When Earl was a young man, he wanted to serve his country, to join the Navy.
"Well, it turns out I didn't weigh enough," he said.
So, instead, he learned how to telegraph and tried to get a job with the railroad.
But the company wasn't hiring.
"No one was hiring really," Earl said.
He found a job with a construction company building Camp Davis, and after a few years, he came back to try to gain employment with the railroad again.
"They put you at the bottom of the list, and you had to work your way up," Earl said.
When Earl began his work at Union Station, it was a busy place.
"Servicemen were coming and going, and it took a lot of employees to run the station," he said.
Nancy Reaves Justice headed for the railroad right after high school, too.
She started working in the ticket office, where she would listen to and deliver messages that came over the telegraph wire.
"I just loved the telegraph and sitting at the typewriter," she said.
Union Station wasn't as busy a place when she started.
She wasn't a full-time employee at the time. She only worked when they needed someone to fill in, during vacations and when someone got sick.
After a few deferrments, Earl decided he wanted to take a break from working with the railroad.
"I said, 'I don't want any more deferrments. I want to fight,'" he said.
So he went off with troops to fight in World War II.
When he came back from the war, Nancy was working with the railroad, but not at Union Station.
He met his future bride over the telegraph.
"I met Earl when he returned from the Army," Nancy said. "He was working in New Bern, and I was working in Jacksonville. We were both working second trick or evenings, and we did a lot of talking on the wire before we started going out together."
Nancy said Earl would always ask her if she wanted dinner because he said he could bring food by for her.
"We weren't that far apart in Jacksonville and New Bern," she said.
She would always say that she was fine and didn't need anything.
But one night, Earl asked if she wanted anything, and she told him she would like to have a Coca-Cola.
"The next thing I knew, he was at the door," she said.
Then, the two started "going steady."
After about 10 months, the two were married.
Now, in their living room in Kinston, the couple think back to the years they had on the tracks -- and how important the railroad was to a small town.
"This was in the '40s and '50s before we had television and computers, and people liked to go to the station when the train came in," Nancy said. "Sometimes, they came to meet someone or put someone on the train. You could even bring your mail down and put it on the mail car. Sometimes they just watched the train come in and leave."
"It was a busy place night and day," Earl said about the station.
"Used to, at night when the 42 came, a couple dozen people would be out there, just to see the train come in," Nancy said.
"People don't understand trains today," Earl said. "When I was a kid, it was a big event in town."
He said he remembers all of his different jobs and all of the places he worked as he built his railroad career.
"I probably worked at just about every station," he said. "You never knew where you were going to work. One day was always different from the next. They would let you know the day before that you needed to report to another station."
One of the best days was when he got an unexpected call from the chief dispatcher's office, a pretty important person in the railroad industry, he said.
"I was a lowly telegraph operator in New Bern. I worked from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m., and you couldn't get off," he said. "After work one day, I went by the hotel to eat breakfast, went home, took a shower and was ready to get into bed, when a call came in for me."
The dispatcher wanted him to come work as a freight distributor in the Wilmington district at 8 a.m. the next day.
"He told me that there was a bus at 5 a.m., and he said, 'Earl, you better be on that bus, regardless.'"
So when he got there, he sat across the table from the dispatcher, and all the orders for that district went through them.
Nancy also remembered the first time she handed up an order to a train.
"You really have to stand close to a speeding train to get it close enough for the man on the train to get his arm through the hoop with the message on it. There was this clamp that had the hoop attached to it. They would have a hoop they would throw off, and you would have to hold out this pole with the hoop on it so they could get it.
"Well, one time I missed it. So I rode my bicycle about three or four blocks to catch up to them to give them the hoop. When I got to the train, the man just said, 'put me by at a certain time,' because he didn't want to get me in trouble for missing it."
She can also remember, she said, when she was good enough at copying a telegram from the telegraph wire on the typewriter.
"A lot of your work on the railroad was on the telephone or telegraph wire, and it was quite interesting when you would meet someone in person for the first time. They may not look a thing like you expected," she said.
Earl was mesmerized by the railroad.
He loved how it worked. He loved everything about it.
"We met all kind of people," Earl said. "Everybody rode the railroad back then. There were airlines, but they were in Raleigh, and it was expensive. People preferred the train to the buses. It was convenient, clean and comfortable. They would have you a sleeper if you wanted it. Breakfast if you wanted it. It was just better riding on a train."
He recalls when workers from the Dupont factory in Kinston would call in for reservations.
"People who worked at Dupont would have to go to their headquarters in Delaware, and Dupont would call and reserve beds on the 42 going north at 10:20 a.m. -- that way, they could rest before they had to report," Earl said. "The porter would wake them up at about 8 a.m. the next day, and they'd eat breakfast on the train and be ready to go."
Amtrak passenger trains now aren't the same.
"They can't make money," Earl said, because they have to have something else beside passenger tickets to make it. You've got to have contract with the government for the mail."
Once the government took the mail from the railroad and started giving it to commercial airlines, the railroad went downhill, he said.
What he can't believe even now is how much it cost then to ride the railroad.
"People could ride from Goldsboro to (Washington) D.C. for, well, it seemed like it was in the (dollar) teens," Nancy said. "From Goldsboro to Mount Olive, it was change. From Goldsboro to New York, it was probably about $10-$12.
"Railroading gets in your blood," Nancy said. "Back then, we worked six days a week, and always stopped by the station on our day off."
"It was exciting life, working the railroad. It was a good life," Earl said.
And if you asked him what he would change if he could, he would tell you that he probably wouldn't change working by the track.
"If I had to do it over again, I'd probably be a railroad man right on," he said.
Of course, there is one thing he still wishes he could have done.
"I always wanted to be an engineer and drive the trains," he said. "I drove a few of the trains a little bit, but not with all the cargo on it. That's a lot of weight on the track. If I could do it over, I would try to do that."
And they always had fond memories of Union Station.
"It was a really nice building," Nancy said. "I remember it was always cool in there, too, even on the hottest days. I was happy to hear that they were restoring Union Station. It was such a beautiful building and held so much history."
"I always loved Union Station," Earl said.
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