THE OLD DAYS: Corporal punishment

I was going through the family archives, and found all manner of interesting artifacts, photos, and letters. The photographs from the early 20th century showed unfamiliar clothes, dandy old cars, dirt roads running through my home town, Montclair, New Jersey.

A 1944 article about my great uncle Bob tickled me. It was about his long history riding the Erie railroad, which ran from Montclair to New York. He bought his first ticket just after the Blizzard of ’88. In the article he remembers the diminutive locomotives, and the tiny passenger cars with a pot stove at one end and a water cooler at the other.

But what tickled me most was the way the railroad conductor handled a mischievous young whippersnapper more than a hundred years ago.

“When quite a youngster, I tried to steal a ride from Park Street station to Upper Montclair. I was hiding on the lowest step of the last car when the conductor, Mr. Boxall, caught me and I was dragged inside. Said Boxall, ‘You know the fare is five cents.’ ‘I have only a three-cent piece, and I can ride half fare, I can.’ ‘No, you don’t, young feller. There’s no half fare for anybody between one station and the very next one.’

“Soooo, Boxall ordered the brakeman to hand him the small coal shovel from the pot stove, and with me across his knee, proceeded to make me feel much worse than two cents behind.”

Ha! It’s hard to even imagine what would happen if someone took a shovel to a young man’s backside these days. Yet Uncle Bob seems to have thought nothing of it. I didn’t know my great uncle very well; he died in 1952, but he didn’t seem traumatized by corporal punishment; in fact, he seems to consider it amusing.

A hundred years from now, what will people think of the way we behave? I wonder.