orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

March 12, 2014

Train ticket counter more than job for one woman

Dawn Burleigh
The Orange Leader

ORANGE — Juanita Timberlake recalls a time when the Southern Pacific Rail Road Depot in Orange was so busy all three windows for the ticket counter would be open, each with a line to the back of the waiting areas.

Timberlake not only issued tickets and wrote orders for the trains, but she also suggested vacation routes.

“I was always telling them places to go and stops to make along the way,” Timberlake said.

Timberlake recalled telling a gentleman who frequently traveled to Washington D.C. that if he wanted he could leave from there and ride to Chicago, onto California through Oregon, travel through Arizona before returning to Orange, Texas.

“One day he asked if I could really write up a ticket like that, so I worked up a schedule,” Timberlake said. “He made the trip and said everything worked out lovely.”

Timberlake’s husband also worked for the railroad at the Echo station. Due to working for the railroad, they had passes to travel via the train.

“Railroads were in my blood,” Timberlake said. “My daddy worked on a railroad gang before leaving for the service.”

Growing up as a farm girl, Timberlake was determined to help her parents rebuild their house.

“The Lord blessed me. I made overtime here in Orange which I used to help them,” Timberlake said. “I was able to add water, electricity to the house. I was also able to buy a car and furniture for them.”

When the station closed in 1975, Timberlake was given the option to transfer to Beaumont or Houston.

“I told them I would rather stay in Orange,” Timberlake said. “I worked 29 of my 45 years with the railroad here in Orange. This is my hometown.”

While Timberlake met many people through the years working at the station, including the Starks, a founding family of Orange, she also met many from the Navy and their families who traveled to the Orange Naval Base.

“Many times it would be 1-4 kids traveling with their mother. I would always leave my ticket window to help the mother get them on the train. One of the porters asked why I never accepted a tip from them. I told them someone higher was tipping me,” Timberlake said as she points up. “They needed all the money they had. You don’t take from them. After that, the porter was also helping them.”

Watching the passing scenery as one travels by train is not the only luxury people are missing by not traveling by train today.

“The best meals were on a train,” Timberlake said. “My children looked forward to ham and eggs for breakfast as well as seeing everyone in the Dining car.”

Timberlake looks forward to the Orange Depot restoration.

“Mrs. Stark would come in to buy tickets for her friends returning to California,” Timberlake said. “Each time, she would say it must always be the Gateway to Orange, painted white with orange trim with the name in orange on each end so people would know they arrived in Orange.”