Rockland's youngest soda jerk

By Terry Economy | Mar 08, 2014
Source: File photo A Maine Central Railroad steam locomotive, circa 1950 in Rockland.

The Maine Central Railroad station in Rockland is a historic site where it still stands today, but for my generation, it is a rail station with memories.

Aside from all the incoming and outgoing passengers, youngsters that lived nearby usually visited the railroad station on their way to school or just passing through heading to the gumball machines or using the restrooms. The "regulars" knew most of the rail station personnel and train workers. Some would sit in the waiting area for a few moments observing arrivals and departees. I used to live on Prescott Street, and on my way to the family store on Park Street, or just heading downtown, the station, when opened, was always a place to stop and pass through just for the pleasure. The station had a certain smell to it that one cannot forget.

I got to know many of the station employees when I was working at Economy's Fruit. Jeff Mealy, an engineer, was one of my favorites. I enjoyed Jeff's tales of the railroad. During the summer months, 1946-1950, the 2:30 p.m. arrival train from Boston-Portland to Rockland featured at least two Pullman cars. These Pullman cars originated in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and became part of the Boston and Maine's "Flying Yankee" train, Boston to Bangor. While at a stop in Portland, the Pullman cars were disconnected from the Flying Yankee and installed on the end of the MCCR train from Portland to Rockland, which meant they were the last cars on the train. Sometimes there were as many as four or five Pullmans on the Rockland branch. Each Pullman car had a porter assigned to it to help the passengers' comfort on the train.

Then the 2:30 p.m. arrival of the Maine Central train from Portland to Rockland was turned around, and at 4:30 p.m. it headed back to Portland and Boston. Again, the last cars were Pullmans and connected to the Bangor to Boston train in Portland. During the two-hour break between trains, some personnel, conductor, engineers and porters, visited Economy's Fruit for sundries, newspapers, cigars, a cold drink at the fountain, a bag of fruit or a box of candy.

It was on one of these breaks where I met Elmore, one of the porters. Elmore was introduced to me by Jeff Mealy as Rockland's youngest soda jerk. Elmore, with his face-wide smile, greeted me like a long lost friend, shaking my hand and said "can you make me a good strawberry ice cream soda?" I guess I did and after that every time Elmore visited the store he always wanted a strawberry ice cream soda. To Elmore, I became "Mr. Terry."

The next week when Elmore came in the store, I sensed Elmore had had a trying train run when he commented how he was looking forward to the best ice cream soda from Rockland to Philadelphia, his hometown. He was commenting how much luggage he was carrying and said to me, "Mr. Terry, do you have any young friends who would like to help carry passenger luggage from the station ramp to their taxi cabs or their own vehicles?" I said I thought I could find some friends to help earn some tip money.

The next day, I rounded up about a dozen friends who were able to meet the 2:30 p.m. train and help lug luggage for tips. The most common tip was a dime, sometimes a quarter. You could almost count on earning at least $1.

During the next three or four summers, I got to know Elmore quite well. He told me a lot about his life and family and how much he enjoyed his train trips.

Labor Day weekend 1950 was the last time I saw Elmore. He as going to retire from the railroad at the end of that year. As I made his last strawberry ice cream soda, I felt sad that probably I will never see Elmore again. Upon leaving the store, we shook hands and he gave me a big hug and said, "you be good Mr. Terry." Then he slipped a piece of paper in my hand with a telephone number written on it. Elmore said it was his home number and if I was ever in Philly to give him a call. During my youthful years I had several nicknames, but Elmore was the only and last person to call me "Mr. Terry."

Comments (2)
Posted by: DANA LEAR | Mar 11, 2014 17:41

I also remember stopping by the train station when going to grammer and high school.  I usede to go in almost every morning to warm up and use the men's room.  I also rode the train to Portland when the 703rd National guard was federalized in August, 1950 and I was a member.  We rode to Portland and changed onto another train for our ride to Camp Gordon, Augusta Ga., a three day ride. 

Posted by: William Pease | Mar 08, 2014 11:48

Well done, Terry. You made the Maine Central Railroad Station in Rockland come alive again in my memory vividly.

I particularly remember taking the train from there with my buddy Billy McLoon to be off to the U.S. Army in 1953 and then returning on it in June of 1955 with my father, Palmer Pease, a Rockland mailman, waiting to greet me, with obvious pride on his face, at the station.

And I'm so glad to see that the station still remains.

Good memories. Many thanks, Terry.

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