Hard Cole, Soft Cole, and Widow Cole

This story was written and sent to me by my father, John Rogers. I look forward to posting more of his stories in the future! Read on…


There are two kinds of coal mined in the US, Bituminous and Anthracite. The first is hard coal, the second soft coal–if I remember correctly.
Most hard coal was burned in home furnaces, soft coal was used in power plants to generate electricity and in industrial boilers everywhere.

But, just to confuse everyone, we burned soft coal (Pocohontis Pea Coal) in our house on Pierce St. when I grew up: Why I don’t know!

When I went to work on the RR in the ’60s, there were two Cole brothers working as engineers. One was old and grumpy–everybody called him “Hard” Cole–I never knew his real first name. The other brother, George, was kind and gentle. They called him “Soft” Cole.

Hard Cole was the older brother, so seniority wise he always got the best job, and the best job out of Framingham was the local train that ran up behind our house in Northboro, through Berlin, Clinton, Lancaster, Sterling and on to Leominster and Fitchburg.

Many years later, when I had enough seniority, I worked on this same job for my last 10 working years.

Long before my time on the RR, “Hard” Cole was running his train up the steep hill just north of Clinton, and near the top of the hill, at the “4 ponds” area of Lancaster on the right hand side was a cute little old style white cottage, with a clothes line behind it beside the RR tracks.

Late every Monday morning (back then, Monday was wash day–everywhere) a young lady and her Mom would be outside hanging out their wet clothes on the clothes line. Hard Cole always read the Boston Globe, and by the time his train had slowly gotten to the top of the hill north of Clinton, he had finished reading it, so one day he tossed his paper out the window to the then young lady at the clothes line. The next Monday he did the same, and then tossing off his paper at the “little white cottage” became a daily ritual. One Monday the young lady at the clothes line brought out a hand written sign. It said “STOP Here tomorrow.” The next day, Hard Cole stopped his train at the white cottage and the young lady and her Mom brought out an Apple Pie. Romance blossomed and after a while Hard Cole married the young lady in the “little white cottage.”

Unfortunately, Hard Cole died shortly after he retired–which was just about the time I started on the RR (1967).
“Soft” Cole then became the engineer on this same train, and everybody on the train always waved to the “Widow Cole” when the train went by the little white cottage.

End of story? Nope!

3 or 4 years later George “Soft” Cole married his brother’s “Widow Cole.” So then when the train went by everybody waved to the well liked “Soft” Cole and his “Widow Cole.”

I wish this tale had a storybook happy ending, but for me it doesn’t. Soft Cole himself died about 1990, leaving the “Widow Cole” alone once again. I waved to her for years after this, but then one day she was no longer at her window–she must have been well into her ’80s then.

Shortly after a new young family moved into the neat little white cottage at 4 Ponds–and took down the clothesline.

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About John Rogers

John spent most of his adult life working in the railroad industry. He is now retired and enjoys road trips, watching trains, and writing.

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