Do not send your children out on railroad tracks to pick coal!

BB reader William Grewe-Mullins says,

I found these grisly 1920's posters while riding on an historic train through Georgia and Tennessee. They don't make 'em like that anymore.

Update: BB reader Cathy Resmer says,

And this is what happens when kids pick coal on the railroad tracks. Mary McCormick's father used to do just that. One winter day he was on a bridge with his friend and his friend's kid brother when a train came. He tells the story to his daughter in this fantastic interview excerpt from the StoryCorps oral history project. I get chills every time I listen to it. Link.


  1. You’re right, they don’t make them like that anymore. Of course, a modern campaign with the same look might get some attention. At the very least, Britney Spears could benefit from it…

  2. Does anyone remember the posters that were placed in freeway rest stops in the Southwest in the 1980s that had similarly graphic artwork and lettering saying things like, ‘por el amor de Dios, no crucer las autopistas’ ? (Even better, are they on line?
    They were produced by the US Govt, so they’re likely out of copyright.)

  3. My great-grandfather worked for the railroad and my grandfather always tells us stories about him and his brothers and his cousins going down the train yard to play. They chased trains and picked up coal and jumped out of boxcars, and, amazingly, none of them ever got seriously injured.

  4. I grew up hearing stories about my grandfather and his siblings having to scrounge coal from the railroad track yards in order for their destitute Lithuanian immigrant family in New York to heat their apartment and cook. This would have been in the 1910s – 1920s.

  5. re: Mary McCormick’s father

    a very similar incident happens in the Stephen King short story – “Stand By Me”

  6. Actually I would say they still do make them like that. Although this was maybe 7-10 years ago, when I was a child they played a public service announcement on CNN in which 3 children went to play on some train tracks. As the train approaches, The first child gets his foot caught between some boards and is quickly mowed down. The second spent a little to much time trying to help the first get free and though she made a good effort, gets hit just a few feet from safety. The third child, who thought the whole endeavor was a bad idea in the first place, stands by and watches in horror. All in the span of 30 to 60 seconds.

    That commercial still haunts me to this day. Maybe it haunted a lot of other kids as well, because I only ever saw it one time.

  7. A kid at my high school killed himself in a novel way. He was stealing a RR sign- an old, heavy cast iron one. When he unscrewed one bolt- the other 50+ year old bolt couldn’t bear the weight and snapped. His head wasn’t cut off (that would be a better story)- but almost-

  8. It’s only been a few years since three kids went out on a half-mile long wooden railroad trestle a couple miles east of Houston. They thought it was a great place to fish. Of course a train came through. One of them couldn’t swim, was afraid of the water, and apparently did not jump.

    His body was never found.

  9. My grandfather grew up outside Wilkes Barre, PA. His family was extremely poor growing up and he told me he “helped” the family by picking coal off the tracks. His brother was 9 and he was 7 when they started doing this. He later went to work for a gunpowder factory when there were no other jobs, he was a tough SOB and I loved that about him.

  10. When I was a kid the warnings were all about blasting caps. The TV PSAs showed kids settbbbing them off with a dry cell battery in case you didn’t know how.

  11. When I was a kid the warnings were all about blasting caps. The TV PSAs showed kids settbbbing them off with a dry cell battery in case you didn’t know how.

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