Lamar “Boots” Pitts didn’t know his friend’s given name. He just called him Po Boy.
So did everybody else on the Norfolk Southern Railroad, where Po Boy conducted freight trains that made short runs, mostly in Georgia.
“He was a prince of a man, in my opinion,” Pitts said as he talked about a gaggle of retired railroad men who gather at the Corner Cafe in Lula, Ga., the first Tuesday of every month to eat breakfast and reminisce.
One of them is Johnny “Peanut” Sheridan, who got a job on the railroad partly because Po Boy put in a good word for him with the trainmaster. That was 1959.
“You’re sort of light for heavy work,” the trainmaster told him during an interview, but he hired him anyway. Nearly 44 years later, Sheridan retired from the railroad.
He loved working with Po Boy, who he said would come to work every day looking like he was supposed to report to the president of the railroad. “He’d have his pants starched, his hat starched, and he’d work as hard as anybody,” Sheridan said. “And whenever we got off…, he still had a crease down the leg.”
Tommy “Big Foot” Pitchford remembered that Po Boy liked to have fun while he worked. “He sang these little jingles,” he said: “‘Water boy, set your bucket down,’ and ‘They’re burning down the house I was brung up in.’
“He was a good guy to work with. He kept you feeling good.”
Charlie Phillips remembered, too. “He was always joking and carrying on all the time,” he said of Po Boy. “I don’t remember seeing the man ever get upset and mad. He was an easygoing fellow.”
No doubt Po Boy wasn’t always jovial and carrying on, always making sure everybody felt good about working on the railroad. It wasn’t always fun. But time has a way of fading bad memories, like the sun fades a pair of overalls hung out on the line week after week. Old railroad men like to recall the good times, the funny times, the jingles sung by a lanky conductor who shined his work shoes every day. They forget so they can remember a little better.
But Po Boy really was a nice guy. He took his work seriously; he provided for his wife and three kids; he voted in every election.
Not sure, though, that he would join the 20 or so railroad men who gather every month to talk about old times. He loved the railroad and his fellow laborers, but he wouldn’t tell you. He just wanted to stay at home, eat at his own kitchen table and drink from his own coffee cup.
I knew Po Boy pretty well. And I’m remembering him now because 25 years ago on Nov. 30, he drew his last labored breath. His name was Joseph Edwin Hudgins. Everybody on the railroad called him Po Boy.
I called him Daddy. And I miss him.
— Hudgins, a former community newspaper editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.