Sunday, October 27, 2002
Some Good News
Railroad tales keep children enthralled
The 90-year-old man told a lot of wild tales as he kept a group of kids spellbound. His sideburns displayed a perfect symmetry as they ran down his round cheeks and connected with his gray beard.
Percy Marshall, who says he has 140 grandchildren, has become a self-made storyteller to his offspring and to any other kids who will listen.
He likes to wear a conductor's cap and overalls because much of his storytelling is about his fascination with trains and a country-western lifestyle.
"You can call it storytelling if you want to, I just like to talk to kids and give them some history I have lived through," Mr. Marshall said.
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A conductor's cap, buttons - all kinds of buttons - overalls and golf clubs are his tools.
"I once drove a train 15 feet," he says as he raises an eyebrow and cocks his head to one side. Not a great feat, he admits, but the idea is to create curiosity.
"How come only 15 feet?" a child asks.
And then the story starts. "Well, you see my job was washing the wheels of the trains at Union Terminal. Oh, I didn't care what I had to do as long as I was around a train. And then one day this conductor let me drive the train," he says.
It wasn't much of a task for him, because he worked as an inside truck driver for General Motors in Norwood for 33 years.
His next sentence likely reveals how he fell in love with a train 88 years ago.
He chuckles. "Yeah, I can remember when my uncle Twitty Mitchell put me on a train when I was 2 years old to go from Ardmore, Tenn., to Athens, Ala., to join my mom and dad. Boy, that was something. It was only 18 miles. I had 15 cents in my pocket, and I had on a pair of overalls, just like these. Aah, what a great sound to hear the old train choo-chooing down the tracks, the wheels screeching. It looked like you were passing the whole world by," he said.
Of course, he spices up his trip to the train station with a story that left the kids wondering if it was the truth, or just Marshall folklore.
"Yeah, my old uncle Mitchell drove me to the station in a buggy, pulled by a horse that was blind," he says.
And while his listeners are still spellbound, he switches to golf stories. The lead-in is when he shot two holes-in-one, 75 days apart, at Avon Field Golf Course in North Avondale at age 79. He lets them know this can be checked at the Avon Field Club House.
Then he opens a bag of golf clubs and passes them out to each kid.
And with all the confidence in the world, he says, "If you learn how to play, you can beat Tiger Woods, no kidding. But I want you to hit a golf ball with the clubs, don't hit anybody," he said.
Mr. Marshall collects used golf clubs and passes them out to kids through area churches.
"I think I have given away about 2,500 clubs to kids," he said.
He was one of the first African-Americans to play at Avon Field back in the 1940s, along with Wilbur Stone, one of his golf mates.
Mr. Marshall and Mr. Stone are being nominated for induction into the National Black Golfers Hall Fame next year.
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