The Railroad Trail Ghost – A Short Story


By William O’Neil


The Railroad Trail Ghost

The Montclair Railroad trail runs about 1.5 miles behind The Village . Easily accessed from the dead-end of LaSalle Avenue. The southern part ends at Saroni Avenue and Shepard Canyon Road. This trail was reclaimed from the now defunct Sacramento Northern Railway which ran to and from SF through Oakland going up through Shepard Canyon. Service began in 1928 and continued until its demise in 1941.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, hobos would camp along the railroad tracks here and elsewhere throughout the country.

They were that generation’s homeless, out of work and out of luck with nowhere to else to go. The homeless camps where sometimes called Hooverville for deceased President Hoover. Thought to be responsible for that depression.

During the Fall of 1934, James Carver was just such a homeless person and camped along the Sacramento Northern tracks where it widens and  turns up Sheppard Canyon. It was one of those foggy, drippy Fall evenings.

Now Jimmy, as he was called, despite his bad luck and current circumstances was generally a happy soul. He loved 2 things in life, playing his penny whistle and drinking. Despite there being a prohibition on the sale of alcohol, there was always someplace he could get find some.

His camp was a neat and tidy affair. A canvas tent, sleeping bag, and simple cooking kit plus a small kerosene lantern.

One fall evening just before dusk, Jimmy was enjoying a drink while playing an old folk tune on his penny whistle. Now the illegal hooch in those days was very strong and not very good. Jimmy got up to answer the call of nature, not realizing just how unsteady he had become. He headed over across the track away from his camp. He was in something of a hurry and crossing the track tripped and fell. He must have dozed off for a minute or so because when he came to, he could feel a deep rumble through the tracks. The train was coming around the bend to begin its ascent up Sheppard Canyon. The fog hid it from view and absorbed the sound.

He was slow, groggy and a little dazed. He staggered to his feet just a moment too slow. The Sacramento Northern trains were not big. They were more akin to street cars. But they were big enough to send James Carver to his eternal reward.

Only that’s not where he went.

Most, when the time comes to depart this mortal world, move on to the next stage. Some however linger. Some to find something lost or seek revenge. Not so with Jimmy Carver.  Jimmy still camps along the Railroad trail for the simple reason that he loved his live in spite of its hardships.

So on a foggy evening if you walk along the Railroad Trail, listen carefully where it turns up Shepard Canyon. You will hear a penny whistle playing a sweet folk tune and you might see a faint glow from a lantern up ahead.

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