Copper Train

Copper train/secret music box
Copper train/secret music box

My grandfather came to the United States from the former Yugoslavia in the late 1920s as a young boy. The Iron Range, in northeastern Minnesota, attracted tens of thousands of diverse immigrants with the promise of steady work in the iron mines. After World War II my grandfather worked on the railroad until his retirement. To me, a child of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the railroad seemed like a remnant of a distant, black and white past. But it was central to my grandfather's identity, his mystique even. He was a friendly but solitary man, who spent most of his days in his armchair, with his hearing aides down, reading Harlequin romances. And when his hearing aides were up it was usually not for conversation, but to watch Gulf War news coverage on CNN. He used words sparingly but carefully, and when he spoke it was often to tell a story of bygone days, his railroad days. I had always been infatuated with my grandfather's copper train, which sat among my grandmother's trinkets on a shelf that was too high for me to reach. I would look forward to my grandfather passing it, taking it from the self, and smiling slyly as he wound its front wheel at my request. With each turn of the wheel he unlocked the secret that behind the hard, tarnished exterior it was no ordinary train, but a music box that played "I've Been Working on the Railroad," which it still does to this day. 

Place(s): Iron Range; Minnesota; Yugoslavia
Year: 1925

– Steven Hall

Relationship:  Grandchild of im/migrant Grandchild of im/migrant