The Seaboard Specials
by Russ Lancaster
There were two kinds of Seaboard Specials, the State Fair type and the Football type. Seaboard Specials (both kinds) were special trains that went out and back from Hamlet carrying the people to whichever special there was for the day and each type ran once a year.
The State Fair special ran from Hamlet to the State Fair Grounds in Raleigh and back in October carrying mostly students from around the fifth grade through High School. Since most of the kids in Hamlet had a Dad that worked for the Seaboard Air Line Railroad which ran "Through the Heart of the South", the trip was free. Each class was allotted free admission tickets to the Fair and you only needed a couple of dollars to get yourself something to eat. If your parents did not sign your permission slip to go, you were left at home to attend classes as usual but you found yourself with only three to five other unlucky classmates.
The train would leave the station in Hamlet around 8:30AM and go non-stop to Raleigh, drop you off within walking distance of the fair grounds, and be back to pick you up around 5:30PM. The outbound trip was always filled with anticipation and great expectation and gave the riders plenty of food for thought. Boys and girls generally stayed with their own buddies for the outbound trip but coming home was something else.
If you were around or above age 14, one mandatory thing to buy at the fair was a cigar so you could impress the girls on the homeward bound trip. It didn't matter that they tasted nasty or left a fuzzy feeling in your mouth, it was expected of you and you did it. After a few puffs of the cigar it was time for the kid with the most guts to find the light switches and darken the cars for the ride home. You may have left without a girlfriend that morning, but you had better have one to sit with on the return trip or be ridiculed by your buddies the next day. Mostly it was holding hands and looking into each others eyes for the two hour trip home but some of the older and braver kids weren't to shy to kiss. They were the envy of us all.
The Football Specials started around 1952 when Hamlet High School was undefeated going into late November with an away game at Sanford before ending the regular season with arch rival Rockingham. The Seaboard envisioned thousands of Red Ram faithful taking the special train the 50 miles or so northward to play the Yellow Jackets. It was so special that Life Magazine even sent a photographer and writer down to Hamlet to cover the event.
The train left around 5:00pm filled to capacity with adults, teenagers and a few kids as lucky as I was (11 years old). It was a rambunctious ride complete with cheerleaders, the HHS Band and even a red-painted Ram as the mascot. I was too young that first trip to even think about girls but was caught up in the enormity of the event and became a football and train fan forever.
As the years passed and I became High School age, I found that once again, when you rode the football special to Sanford, or Lumberton, in sequential years, you used the outbound trip to peg your girl for the trip home and whether you won or lost, you better be with her in those darkened passenger cars on the way back. There were even times when you left with one girl and came back with another (she either dumped you for one of those football players, or you dumped her for the heck of it).
The train would pull into Sanford or Lumberton and all the fans, young and old, would line up and march to the football field being led by the cheerleaders in songs and cheers much to the wonder of the fans of our opponents. The Seaboard was very much involved in the community of Hamlet and those of us who enjoyed those trips will remember those days fondly.
My last Football Special was in 1960 while I was home on leave from the Air Force and waiting to ship out to Germany. I had an Air Force buddy from California with me and he was totally amazed at the fanfare and fun. And who says that Californians are the crazy ones? That particular November evening, I left the terminal at Hamlet with my eyes on Pat Howie (my girlfriend for nearly four years), but came home with one of her friends instead. My pal from California even nabbed a gal for himself and we had another great two weeks at home before leaving for Germany to date them every night. Nothing came from either short-lived romance. His girl ended up marrying another, and mine dumped me within a month of my arrival in Germany. Not to worry, we both found wives later in life and those girls are just memories of a younger time.
I hope that those of you who took time to read this particular memory of Hamlet, were lucky enough to ride one of the Seaboard Specials and if you weren't or are from another similar small town, I hope you had some specials of your own to compare with ours. I remain grateful to this day for the Seaboard Railroad for providing me with such unique and good memories of times long gone.
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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