I grew up with my grandparents, and my grandfather was a station master and telegrapher for the CB&Q. The house was right next to the railroad tracks, and the siding in that little town. (It was exactly midway between two cities with marshalling yards, and therefore the railroad had constructed quite an extensive siding there. Eastbound trains would drop cars for westbound trains to pick up, and vice-versa.)
This it the depot at which my grandfather worked, which has now been restored. I discovered online that the depot had been moved to the city park (a distance of about 200 yards from its original location) and restored in 1989.
This image, from about the time that my grandfather began to work for the railroad, is more reminiscent of the depot for me--this is how i always a saw it from the alley as i walked there from the house. The photographer in this photo would have been standing on the railroad crossing of the street which ran in front of our house, and would have been no more than 10 or 15 yards from the house.
On one of the rain forest threads long ago (years ago), i posted a picture i found of the railroad crossing right by my grandparents house, a picture from the 50s with an old coal burner just entering the crossing. You can't see the house, but i recognized the crossing. I couldn't find that picture today today.
There was a terrace between our lot and the tracks, and my grandfather once told me that the standard right-of-way had one rod of ground on either side of the track or tracks (a rod is 16 1/2 feet). We treated the terrace as a part of the property. My grandfather had seeded it with grass when Ronnie Reagn was a snot-nosed kid, and we mowed the terrace and painted the white picket fence that separated it from my grandmother's "Better Homes and Gardens" yard. The only time i ever heard my grandmother use profane language was in the 50s, when one of the coal-burners would come down the track, and she had laundry out on the line to dry. All the engineers knew her and my grandfather, and they would stop just to the west of the house, on the outskirts of town, and give serveral blasts on the shrill steam whistle, so she could come out and take her washing down off the line before they came into the siding, spewing soot and cinders. When they shoveled cinders from the trap under the fire box while they were in the siding, they would back the engine up by the terrace, and throw the cinders onto my grandfather's compost heap.
We grew up around the trains, and we would often walk on the tracks, but we knew we weren't supposed to do so. We got away with it keeping a look-out so we wouldn't get caught, and because we knew all the trains slowed down for the yard and siding in the stretch from the viaduct on the west side of town, and the viaduct on the east side of town. That gave us a half mile to the west, and somewhat over a mile on the east. We also had sense enough to get down off the tracks before the viaducts, and to stay off the tracks beyond the town. We did stand out by the picket fence (we were not allowed on the terrace when a train was coming through) and pump our arms up and down, so that the engineer would blow his whistle. The whistles of the coal-burners were quite different than the electric horns on the diesel engines. I wish i had found that other photo, because you would probably be appalled. At the railroad crossing by our house, the only one in town where the grade was flush with the street, there were no lights, there were no gates. People just knew to stop and look both ways. About the only time anybody would get any interest in hotrod drivers was when they blasted across the crossings without stopping to look. Then someone would call the constable to say something to the effect of: "You know Bobby Jones, the son of that bum Henry Jones? Well i just saw him tearing over the crossing by the park . . . that's right, that red Chevy, you know the one."
Literally generations of small children would stand at the dining room window, which overlooked the the terrace and the siding, and watch the trains breaking down and making up. The sounds of the shunts winding up, and the crash of the cars being rammed together, while the gandy-dancers went up and down with the breakman, hooking up the pneumatic couplings after the cars had been pushed together--it was a fantastic baby-sitter for toddlers, who would watch by the hour; it was better than television.
Mostly we learned to be careful by getting caught being foolish, and getting our backsides tanned.