Ruby and her two brothers, John Jr. and Mack, grew up in a two-bedroom, white-frame house. Fewer than twenty feet separated the back door from the back fence. At least a dozen chickens strutted about the yard, and three huge hogs lolled beside a weather-beaten feeding trough. The Blackland Prairie soil was always velvety and dusty, even minutes after a rain, and littered with weeds and chicken feed. Hoes, shovels, picks, rakes, pitchforks, and hatchets leaned against the house, the fence, and the trough. A railroad track stretched behind the back fence. Past the front porch, two rows of nearly identical homes, separated from each other by narrow strips of dry grass, flanked the dirt road.
Located less than a mile away from the colored neighborhood, Elgin Union Depot was a switching point for two railroad lines that crisscrossed and linked the southern states. The Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railway ran north and south and exchanged cars with the Southern Pacific line, running east and west. Yanking and pounding the heavy steel links and pins, the station crew uncoupled cars from one train and then, in a matter of minutes, coupled them to a different locomotive heading out. About twenty trains a day stopped at Elgin, and many of these switched cars. The little country town was truly an American crossroads.
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