Cary’s Heritage: The Train Masters

Cary, NC – Three people remember the train operators in Cary back in the day.

Russell Booth

Mr. Massay ran the old train station. You’d go in and buy a ticket to Raleigh or Durham and he’d tell you when the train was coming. The trains then had steam engines. There was a roundhouse in Raleigh with a water tower. One passenger train ran from Greensboro to Goldsboro, stopping in Raleigh, Clayton, Garner and Selma.

Mr. Smith worked at Fetner in a little building. I was there one day when I was small, looking at all the switches. There were two tracks in Cary, and he’d switch the trains coming from Durham over to the south track, or one from Raleigh to Apex to the north track, all by hand.

Then he got a telegram and told me how it worked. The conductor on a Seaboard train got off in Raleigh, called a switch operator on Martin Street who telegrammed Mr. Smith in Cary, who wrote the message down, then put his note on a hook and hung it over the track. When the train came through, they had to slow down so a fellow could grab that note with his hand and give it to the engineer to read it. The note said they had a body in a casket on that train that they had to deliver in Apex. The engineer then knew where to stop in Apex and offload the casket.

Warren Williams

My daddy’s cousin worked at Fetner Tower, throwing switches on the train tracks from Raleigh to Hamlet. He could put a train on the sidetrack or the main track.

He watched the trains on a big board, and when one was getting close and he saw another train coming, he’s push the right buttons to put one train on the sidetrack to let the second train go by, all from 25 miles away. It was such a precise job, he had to be real careful because if it wasn’t done right, it could be a terrible catastrophe.

Fetner Tower had a switch operator there until 1965, when they tore down the old train station and the Fetner Tower and went to an automatic system which was worked in Raleigh.

Loise Massey Crow

My father was Mr. Massay, the Cary station master. If someone wanted to go to California, he would arrange the tickets from Cary.

If they had to change trains in Chicago, he would send a telegram to Chicago, so when they got there, the conductor would tell them when to get off and where to pick up the next ticket to California, so they knew exactly what to do. My father could fix it all the way, right from Cary.

He had brothers who were all station agents, one in Raleigh, and different places. It was a railroad family.

Story by Peggy Van Scoyoc. Much of Cary’s Heritage is taken from her book, “Just a Horse-Stopping Place, an Oral History of Cary, North Carolina,” published in August, 2006. The book is a collection of oral history interviews conducted between local citizens and Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel. The rest comes from later oral history interviews with local citizens.

Photos by Hal Goodtree.