The Crossing

1212_Feature_TheCrossingThe train that killed DeKai Amonrasi no longer exists. CSX Q612 out of New Orleans met its end at Tilford Rail Yard near Marietta Boulevard, a few miles west of Berkeley Heights on Atlanta’s west side. There its 120 cars—hauling refrigerators, automobiles, and sheet metal—were decoupled and classified by destination, 9,000 tons of metal and merchandise broken up and blended with that from dozens of other incoming rail cars. These new trains were bound for hubs like Charlotte, Chicago, and New York, where their payloads were delivered, the empty boxcars and hoppers eventually joining a new line. As you read this, the pieces of deceased donor Q612 are vital organs in dozens of trains across the continent.

Locomotive 9043, the blue-and-yellow, diesel-powered leader of Q612, re-fueled and moved on as well. Pulling its newest charge, 9043 is barely distinguishable from its fellow engines running along the 140,000 miles of rail sewn through U.S. cities and towns and the vast countryside that lies between them. Its shrill horn blasts through every crossing, briefly alerting the world to its presence and warning anything that might stand in its way.

Freight trains don’t run on tight schedules. The speeds of diesel locomotives like 9043 vary between 10 and 50 miles per hour, depending on track conditions and load weight. It is almost impossible to know exactly when the train is coming—at least in time to do anything about it. In Georgia, where there are more than 4,800 miles of active track, the sight of a train is commonplace. People busy on their own courses hardly take note. But the train is always coming. In ice, snow, wind, or rain. And by the time you hear the horn, it’s too late.

August 23

Herbert Sinkfield slides gingerly off the bed and into his slippers in the back bedroom of his house. The wooden cane he reaches for could be expected for an eighty-two-year-old retired bricklayer, especially one with bone cancer in his hip. But Herbert never needed it before the accident.

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Shipped Away

roswell-h-400x500On any given workday, the stretch of Georgia 9 that cuts north-south through Roswell is a four-lane wall of cars. Almost as old as the city itself, the thoroughfare was once little more than a dirt wagon path called the Atlanta Road, connecting this mill town to the burgeoning railroad hub some twenty miles south.

The road also serves as a dividing line. To its west sits the tree-canopied town square, its centerpiece an obelisk water fountain bearing the names of Roswell’s founding families. Repeated on nearby street signs—Bulloch, Pratt, King—these are the surnames of wealthy planters and industrialists who, in the 1830s, moved inland to escape Georgia’s muggy, mosquito-infested coast. At the southern end of the square, a squat stone monument commemorates their leader, Roswell King, a banker, politician, surveyor, and plantation manager, “a man of great energy, industry, and perseverance: of rigid integrity, truth, and justice.” And on the hilltop beyond looms Barrington Hall, a columned, whitewashed mansion built for Barrington King, Roswell King’s eldest heir. The antebellum manor, like Bulloch Hall due west, has been restored as a museum, a memorial to the romantic affluence that for some is synonymous with the Old South.

On the east side of Georgia 9, as the hill drops toward the creek bottom, the architecture changes. The structures are smaller and more tightly packed together. One storefront with broad single-pane windows is dated 1854; it provided goods for employees of the Roswell Manufacturing Company, the King family’s cotton mills that once drew power from Vickery Creek and the labor of hundreds of women, children, and men to make cloth and thread and candlewicks. Farther downhill, you will find a cluster of brick row homes that housed the millworkers. These buildings line places with no-nonsense names like Factory Hill and Mill Street, but they once were home to the Woods, Sumners, Kendleys—and countless other families whose names have since been lost to history.

For decades, the two halves of Roswell coexisted in relative harmony. Then, in the summer of 1864, war came, exposing a divide almost as deep as any clash between North and South and setting the families of Roswell on divergent paths.

The Kendley family story starts with a bit of luck.

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