The Best School I Ever Attended, By Michael Gillespie

The below reading is an overview of Michael Gillespie's book The Best School I Ever Attended, written by the author, which details his youth watching trains of the Southern Railway in a small town in northeastern Kentucky during the 1960s.

Railroad Depot Saves Teens Life...

...and provided him with a complimentary first class education at the same time. At least that's how Mike Gillespie remembers and reveres his experiences "hanging around" the Southern Railway's Georgetown, Kentucky depot in the decades of the 1960s.

Southern F7A #6714, FP7 #6133 along with F3As #4129 and #6703 rest at the Ivy City engine terminal in Washington, D.C. on August 21, 1969. Note the classic B&O CPL in the foreground and Penn Central GG1 #4933 in the background.

Situated at the junction of the Southern and shortline Frankfort & Cincinnati, this now long-gone small town railroad station differed little from hundreds of other junction points that used to dot the American railroad map - except that for the author, it equated to The Best School I Ever Attended. And that's the title of Mike's little book about the depot that "saved his life."

This 113-page volume describes the author's "discovery" of the Georgetown depot in the fall of 1960, on a day when he "skipped school." Fueled by his boyhood love of trains and wishing to escape the bewilderment that came from his parents' divorce; a third new school in two years and the general turbulence that accompanied becoming a teenager, Mike soon maneuvered himself into lifelong friendships with depot agent Glen Storey and local railroad historian Flem D. Smith II. He also discovered other teenagers shared his interests in trains and railroads, and additional lifelong friendships were born.

Southern GP35 #2671 and a trio of GP30s, all sporting hi-hoods as was common on the railroad, shuffle through Potomac Yard in Arlington, Virginia with a mixed freight and past NW2 #2244 switching cars on December 17, 1968.

One might think that the conduct of business around a train station would be, well, "all business." To a great degree, that was true of the Georgetown depot, as Agent Storey directed its operation. Mike observed and even participated in these events on a daily basis, and describes them in some detail. But he also gives place to some of the zany and off-beat events and activities that "just happened" and gave a "deep weave" to the fabric of life around the station, and in the broader community as well. Examples of such happenings include "The Citizen's Postal Service", "The Lightening Fried Trainmaster", "The Maiden Flight of Brakeman Orndorff", The Bluest Air I Ever Saw - or Heard", "Dead On the Mainline", and "Multiple Misdemeanors."

Mike's time as a student The Best School I Ever Attended drew to a close in late 1969. As he moved on into marriage and career, the Georgetown depot went the way of most smalltown American train stations. The last passenger train made it's final call on January 28, 1970: Agent Storey moved on later that year and the station itself was closed a year or so later. After community celebrations of the National Bicentennial in 1976, the buildings unceremoniously fell to the wrecking crews in 1977. The Frankfort & Cincinnati shortline also had been abandoned into Georgetown by that time.  All that's left of the railroad depot that saved a teen's life is a graveled-over lot next to the still-busy now-Norfolk Southern mainline that the author "holds a deed for in his heart," and memories of life lessons that could not have been learned in any other school.

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A Southern bay-window caboose brings up the end of a mixed freight as it rolls past the depot in Orange, Virginia on March 13, 1972.

Having read this book myself I highly recommend picking up a copy; it provides an entertaining, historical, and charming look at a bygone era of not only the railroad industry but also America in general.  In particular, if you enjoy the history of the Southern Railway and short line Frankfort & Cincinnati you will certainly enjoy Mr. Gillespie's commentary regarding both system's operations around the Frankfort area; it's a stark contrast seeing Class I railroading at the time in comparison to a local short line.  If you may be interested in purchasing a copy of Mr. Gillespie's book The Best School I Ever Attended please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.  


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