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OLD NEWS: Kids ride train rods from Hot Springs to Little Rock in perilous journey

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Revolutionaries grabbed fate with their own hands in early November 100 years ago.

Banner headlines on the front of the Nov. 9, 1917, Arkansas Gazette told of violent revolt in Russia. Would it hurt the provisional government led by Alexander Kerensky?

After the surprising ouster of the Tsar in February, the Allied nations had been relieved to find they could still rely on Kerensky's Russia in their fight against the German kaiser. Having to cope with an eastern enemy was a main reason the kaiser had not already trounced them.

By chance, a small delegation from the Kerensky government passed through Little Rock on the day word of the new revolt broke. They assured Arkansans the "extreme radicals" did not have wide support. These "Bolshevikis" and "Maximalists" were only active in Petrograd.

And their leader, "Nikolai Lenine" (Vladimir Lenin), was said to wear working man's clothes. Loyal Cossacks would deal with him. No big deal.

But in the week after the delegation left, the Bolshevikis took Moscow, too. Bigger deal. Worse, Lenine wanted peace with the kaiser -- "a separate peace."

Meanwhile, closer to home, smaller hands grabbed hold of fate, too.

Girl, 12, and Boy, 7, Ride Bumpers From Hot Springs

Two little children, Bessie Beaty, aged 12, and her little brother, Paul Beaty, aged seven, rode on the bumpers of a train from Hot Springs to Little Rock yesterday. They were in an indescribably drubby condition when the police matron at the Rock Island station picked them up soon after their arrival.

"Is this Memphis?" Paul asked the matron when she inquired where the children were going. They told her they were on their way to St. Louis, where their 13-year-old brother lives.

"I told mamma," the little girl said, "that we were going on the train, but she didn't pay any attention, so we got a board and we put it on the bumpers and we held on to the rods."

Readers who saw this story in the Gazette Nov. 9, 1917, would have understood that description and been horrified. The "bumper-riding kiddies," as the newspaper dubbed them, had ridden below the train, hobo-style.

Steel bracing rods on the underside of some train cars hung just low enough it was possible to rest your body along a rod and hang on while the speeding car jolted over the tracks, flinging up debris. Slightly safer was the custom of spanning two rods with a long board, and lying on that.

Which is what the Beaty kids did for their 3 ½-hour trip to Little Rock.

"No, we were not afraid," they stoutly maintain when asked concerning their Thursday night ride. Paul at once seeks to explain how easy it was. "We got a big board," he says and stretches his hands wide, "and we put it on the rods. It had nails on the end of it, which held it on. The train went awful fast and we only stopped twice. I didn't go to sleep," he adds proudly.

"Of course I knew how to ride the bumpers," Bessie interrupts. "Cecil ran away last January to St. Louis and he rode the bumpers. He is now in an office there."

Their 9-year-old sister was still at home with their mother, Irene Beaty. Their father was T.J. Beaty, a carpenter at Camp Pike. But the kids had not come looking for him. They were on their way to St. Louis to see Cecil.

Cecil is only 13, according to Bessie. Tommy, who is 16, also rode the rods out of Hot Springs when he ran away from home. He is now at Camp Zachary Taylor, having joined the army after being a bellboy for a time in St. Louis. Charlie, who is 17, had enough money to ride on the train when he came to Little Rock and joined the army here. He left Little Rock last week for Louisiana.

Pulaski County's probation officer, Mrs. Jennie Erickson, took charge of the kids. One of Arkansas' pioneering social workers, Erickson had been probation officer 10 months. She was appointed to succeed another trailblazer, Miss Erle Chambers, who resigned to be field secretary for the Arkansas Public Health Association.

From accounts in the Gazette and the 1910 U.S. Census, we know Erickson was born in Michigan in 1878 and had married a Swede named Emil Erickson. He was a building foreman in Little Rock. Jennie taught in Little Rock's white grammar schools beginning in 1910. She taught in the city's first experiment with summer school in April 1912.

In 1914, she was living with her mother in Fort Smith when her home was burglarized.

The 1920 census described her as 42, divorced and living with her daughters, two servants and an "inmate" at 414 W. Markham St. -- an address similar to that of the county Detention Home in the Fleming Building -- 414 W. Second St. (The old red brick building just west of the Pulaski County Courthouse was razed in 1953.)

The children were taken to the Detention Home and were given a good scrubbing, after which they had their suppers and were put to bed. They were very different looking children when they issued forth from their bath ...

Irene Beaty told the paper she had assumed her children were at a movie when they didn't come home after school. Bessie wanted to be an actress, she said. Mrs. Beaty had mounted a search in Hot Springs. Someone at the train station there showed her the Gazette.

"It just seems in the blood for the children to run away," said Mrs. Beaty. "Hot Springs is rather a small town," she said yesterday afternoon in explaining the children's desire to get away from it. The family lives on a farm near Hot Springs and the children don't like the farm, she said.

"We are going to move to St. Louis soon," she said. "We talked about how nice it would be to live there and I guess the children just felt they couldn't wait." ...

Bessie says she has hopped on and off trains since she was seven. She was out of the room when her mother was asked at the Detention Home yesterday afternoon about her ability to hop off and on trains.

"Why, I never heard of such a thing," said her mother.

"You bet she has," interrupted Paul, with a knowing air.

Mr. and Mrs. Beaty and their kids "rode the rails" home -- inside a train.

A founding member of the Arkansas League of Women Voters in 1919 and an advocate of women's suffrage, Erickson was especially concerned about the dangerous neglect suffered by rural children on farms where poverty and heavy workloads combined to grind their mothers down. Read one of her essays here: bit.ly/2yDyGSd.

Bessie told the Gazette reporter she wanted to stay at the Detention Home.

"There are such nice little white beds here," she said.

cstorey@arkansasonline.com

This is how hobos could “ride the rods” of a rail car.

ActiveStyle on 11/13/2017

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