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The Tracks: A Poem For My Great Grandfather

Updated on July 22, 2013

The Tracks

These are the tracks...

That drew the line.

Did you hear about the break man?

Did you hear about the break man?


His story must be told.

These are the tracks that drew the line...

What line?

The line between the smiling man.

The smiling man and the frowning child.

Left alone.

Not in the box car, just the back seat.

The Roaring 20's

Roaring like a locomotive...

Bootleg, speakeasies and parties...

Then left again,

For good this time.

Tender 15.

Out of the shadows and into the night...

Pimped out and left to carry his own water.

We will not speak easy about this!

For whom the bell tolls or

For whom the whistle blows?

The secret is out.

The cat is out of the bag...

These tracks are haunted...


The family was switched, derailed, re-routed.




We will not talk about this.

We will not grieve,

we will not morn.

We will bury it next to the little boy

and that grief can have some company now...

Everyone gets to carry the water now, fuel the fire, shovel the coal.

But we will not speak of it.

We will not speak of it.

Did you hear about the brake man?

These are the tracks that drew the line

For whom the whistle blows...

About the words and the pics

Who is this guy?

Vernon Claire Bradley. My Great Grandfather. Son of Harry Alonzo Bradley and father of Harry Robert Bradley. Vernon was born on August 7th 1894 in Audubon, Iowa. His mother was Harriet Jane Spencer. She was from England and his father, Harry Alonzo was born and raised in Iowa. He had two sisters, Hazel and Nellie.

In 1890 Vernon and his family lived in Otoe, Nebraska where his father Harry worked quite literally as a cowboy until they moved to California where Harry began working on the railroads... all the live long day! Yes, that's right! Sorry, couldn't help myself!

By 1910, Vernon has moved with the family to Kern County, CA. where Harry has taken a job with the railroad as a car repair man and Vernon, now 15 is working as a car checker.

Another term for car checker is break man or break inspector. What a massive responsibility for a 15 year old kid!

Vernon marries in 1914 at the age of 19 to Cathrine Simpson from Galesberg, IL. January 3rd was the date.

Vernon worked on the railroads through out the 20's until his untimely death in 1929. My Grandfather was just 15 when he lost his father. It was an accident. Crushed between two cars.

Left with his mother, alone to fend for themselves until Catherine remarried in 1932.

Every family experiences loss, has secrets, and experiences tragedy. What's interesting and compelling is how the pain from one generation can bleed into another and effect the lives of those never involved in the actual event that shapes the future.

The challenge for the modern and contemporary family is to understand the value of knowing it's history and be able to insert as much love into the equation as possible so we are not doomed to repeat it.

Recently, I went to the spot where the accident happened and took some of these pictures. I came home from this trip to central California with a very strong feeling and sense of loss. It was almost as if the area held the imprint of the tragedy. I spent almost two weeks with that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach right before you're about to cry. This got my creative juices flowing courtesy of my father's suggestion to express the emotion and enter a contest on Hub Pages. Little did I realize that I'd be killing two birds with one poem.

So, thanks for tuning in. Enjoy the poem, enjoy the pictures, thanks for reading. Leave a comment below. What's your story?


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    • rebekahELLE profile image

      rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Simply beautiful! I love the title, the form, the images, the poem itself and your commentary, which is as poetic as your poem. I like the flow of the entire hub, and love the ancestral linkage by way of 'tracks', which can also be understood metaphorically.

      I think it's so important also to understand or, at least, grasp to understand our roots. It is part of who we are.

      Very well done!

    • profile image

      candy27 6 years ago

      So beautiful. Family history does indeed shape us. Losing a parent too soon, secrets, abuse. Glad to know some of my past that has helped me heal. Glad your experience and putting fingers to the keyboard has contributed to your healing.

    • profile image

      djb2 6 years ago

      Loved it, get flow on the poem, it a nice cadence? Anyway, thank you for continuing to put our families history to paper and I'm glad you and I got to experience that together

    • vrbmft profile image

      Vernon Bradley 6 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      Well, I had to backtrack and come back once again to reread and listen to the rhythm of your words as they traveled those "tracks that drew the line." What a wonderful line. And the haunting chant, "Did you hear about the break man? Did you hear about the break man?" Interesting spelling given that the word is brakeman, and the fact is That all the men before and after the terrible incident are broken--braked, as in stuck and "breaked" as in broked.

      So I hear the whistle blowing. Will stop my meandering through my train yard brain, a billion tracks up there, at least. Spurs left and right.

    • Marianne Byers profile image

      Marianne Byers 6 years ago from Central California

      Love you, David. Thanks for helping us get off that train, and on to another.

    • David R Bradley profile image

      David R Bradley 6 years ago from The Active Side of Infinity

      Sage, sweetie1, and Vern, thank you for reading and your kind words. I'm glad each of you took something unique away from this poem and it has been quite the work of catharsis for me!

    • Sage Williams profile image

      Sage Williams 6 years ago

      Your poem alone was amazing and painted a pretty clear picture. Your narrative, brought it home. What clearly stood out for me in your narrative was this extremely insightful and profound statement.

      "What's interesting and compelling is how the pain from one generation can bleed into another and effect the lives of those never involved in the actual event that shapes the future."

      Very well said, for what you don't heal you pass on. Great Job!


    • sweetie1 profile image

      sweetie1 6 years ago from India

      It is a very good poem david and i loved it. I also liked the pics of the train and dome.

    • vrbmft profile image

      Vernon Bradley 6 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      Hi David,

      Thanks for a rhythmic poem, perhaps in tune to those train cars clicking over the tracks. The poem and commentary obviously touch my heart and my soul. I like the line, "pimped out and left to carry his own water." Indeed he was. THANK YOU for all you do to bring our family history from out of the shadowy past, even going back to the late 1500's, and bringing it ALL right into our laps here in the 21st century.

      Post more poetry, my poet friend and dear son.