Joe was riding the train to visit his parents with his friend Sam. It was the Great Depression and people would hop aboard box cars to ride across the country for free. It was a great way to travel if no one caught on. On this particular night, the train stopped in the small town of Blair, Iowa, about 300 miles from their destination of Raintree, MI. The train stopped because of a broken track, and so it was going to be two to three days before the train would be moving. People began to move off of the train, and to try and figure out where they were going to stay for the few days that they would be stopped. Those who were lucky to have the money went to hotels in the town. For those, like Joe and Sam, who had little money and no belongings, they had to become creative about where they were going to spend the time.
Joe and his friend Sam hopped off of the train as soon as it was dark. They always tried to ride and get off in the cloak of darkness whenever they could. This would help ensure that they did not get caught. It was not illegal to ride the train’s box cars, but the rail companies did not like it because it cost them money. If they were caught, they would spend the night in the local jail and then have to be careful when they re-boarded so that they were not caught again. Getting caught twice might result in fines and more jail time.
As they got off the train, they were trying to decide what to do about a place to sleep. Sometimes, people in the towns would allow people to sleep in their barns and offer them food. Those were the days when people were hospitable, and took people into their homes. How far they were allowed in, depended on how comfortable the families were with strangers and especially ones that had no visible means. As they were contemplating what they could do, an elderly lady, stopped and asked them if they needed help. They explained their predicament and the lady asked them to come and have supper with her. She served them a dinner of ham and beans and sweet corn bread. They ate their fill and then they had cherry pie for dessert. The food was good and the company was fine. They expected to be sent to the barn to sleep, but she led them to two bedrooms in the attic, where they could sleep and they had their own bath where they could get cleaned up. They stayed with Mrs. Black for the duration of the days that the train was stopped.
They learned that Mrs. Black was a widow with no children and that she often hung out at the train station to take in people who were hard up and needed a place to stay. As they got ready to get back on the train on the evening of the third day. Mrs. Black invited them to come again when they were through town. They left with the promise to do just that. They boarded the train, again under cover of darkness and slept most of the way to Raintree. Once there, they got off the train and went to their respective parents’ homes. When Joe opened the door to his parents’ house, he knew that something was not right. His parents had been expecting him, yet they were not at home. He found a sheet of half baked cookies on the stove and a half a pot of cold coffee. He was curious, yet afraid of what he might find out. He looked all over the house, and did not find his mom and dad, nor did he find a hint as to where they might be. He was very tired from his trip, but he had to figure out what happened to his folks. He went next door to the neighbors and knocked on the door. He asked Mr. Jones if he had seen his mom and dad. Mr. Jones said that an ambulance had taken them to the hospital the night before but he was not sure which one was sick or what the problem was. Since there was only one hospital in town, Joe headed there. He waited in line at the reception desk and asked the volunteer if he could see his parents. Come to find out, it was his dad who had a stroke in the night and was in the intensive care. He had lost control of his left side and could not eat or drink. He could not talk, only mumble. His mom was very glad to see him and she said they had no way to call him, as they had heard the train was stopped in Blair and they did not know where he was staying.
This family was simple folk and they did not have money for treatment for more than a few days. They could not afford the only nursing facility available in Raintree and so it was decided that they would have to let dad go rather than keep him alive. In a matter of days he had passed and Joe and his mom left the hospital and headed for home. As they begin contemplating what they should do, an idea came to Joe. He was very blessed by the elderly Mrs. Black in Blair who took he and Sam in as boarders from the train. Joe and his mom did not have much, but he shared with her about Mrs. Black and together they decided that a rescue mission in Raintree was something they both felt called to provide. This would not be a regular rescue mission for homeless, but a rescue mission for people who got off the train in Raintree. It could be because the train was stopped for repairs, or because people were coming to Raintree to start over in their lives. People from the dust and wind swept land of the plains who were looking for a new life. As they began to unfold their plan, they knew they could not do it alone. They knew that they were going to need the help of others in town who were like minded and wanted to give people a chance either at a place to stop and rest or a place to start over. They enlisted the help of Sam and his family, and several other families from their church. Their home became the place for food and rest and others provided entertainment, and preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This was the one thing that was important to Joe because he knew that without the Lord, people would not suffer well. If people were ill, they prayed. If they were hungry they provided food and prayer. If they needed money, they prayed for provision. If they needed the gospel, they got that as well.
These were important days for this mother and son who had lost so much with the death of a husband and father. They decided to reach out instead of thinking of themselves and in doing this, they worked through their grief and shared what they had with others. During the Great Depression, no one had a lot, but if people were willing to share, all would survive and be better citizens and better people for having gone through the struggle.