The School Party
By James E. McEldowney
Was It Scary? Stories - Table of Contents Barbara Tells of India

You might think I am going to tell you about a big party the children had at school, but the party I have in mind is something different. This party is a trip to school by train. Many missionary "kids" live far from Woodstock school and have to go by train to and from school. They speak of it as a "school party." They leave home at the end of February to begin their school year and return right after Thanksgiving.

We lived in Jabalpur, a city at the very center of India. Betty Ann, Philip and Barbara attended Woodstock School up in the Himalaya mountains. That was 700 miles from our home. They had two nights and a day on the train. At Woodstock they had the same classes and the same textbooks that are used in American schools. That was important because when our family came to America on furlough the children could fit into the same classes they left in India. They liked Woodstock because there were many Indian children in their classes and the teachers were from different countries. That gave them a chance to know about people from different lands while they were getting their education.

The school party was fun for the children but not as much fun for the parents. Ruth always arranged with the railway for a special coach for the children. It would be attached to a train in Jabalpur and the children would travel all the way to Dehra Dun in the same coach. Along the way it would be switched over and attached to four different trains. No other passengers were allowed to ride in the school coach. Dehra Dun was as far as the train went. From there the children had to go by bus and after that they walked the last five miles.

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After they left Jabalpur the first stop was Katni. There the coach was taken off the first train and put on a side-track. Our children and the other missionary children who lived in or near Jabalpur would have to wait there in the coach until a train came from Raipur. On it were some 40 children who lived in the Raipur area.

An Indian coach is not like an American train passenger car but it is more like the cars on European trains. In it were a number of compartments, little rooms, each with four to six seats or bunks. The older boys and the older girls had separate compartments and all the rest of the compartments were for the smaller children and the mothers.

As soon as the train arrived from Raipur all those children brought their tin trunks and bedding rolls (bedding for the trip) and put them in the Jabalpur coach. Usually there were two or three mothers along who would assign places for the children to sit during the day and sleep at night. The mothers brought pillow- cases full of bread and other good things to eat and a large supply of drinking water. No one was supposed to drink any other water along the way. The school party water had been boiled to kill disease germs, and other water might make them sick.

Although it was late at night when the Raipur party got to Katni, you should have heard the wild excitement as children met their friends after a three month's vacation. It was difficult to get the children quieted and to sleep. About two o'clock in the morning an engine came and put the school coach onto another train. Some older students were still talking to their friends but soon after the train started they quieted down.

Ruth was one of the mothers on several trips. When Betty Ann was leaving her home in Jabalpur for the last time to begin her senior year, Ruth was one of the mothers. Ruth wanted everything to go just right so Betty Ann would have pleasant memories of the last time she left home. Then after the train started Ruth discovered that she had left the tickets for the whole party on the tea table where she and the children had tea just before they went to the station. At Katni she called back to the college. Gil Galloway, who was a member of my Department staff, was coming to Katni later that night on another train and said he would bring the tickets. When he arrived and gave Ruth the tickets she breathed a sigh of relief.

Philip did not tell us until some years later but when the train stopped at one of the stations he went to the engine driver and asked if he could ride in the engine. The driver told him, "Come along." In the meantime, after the train started and Philip was not in the coach everyone wondered what had become of him. At the next stop he came back to the coach with a big grin on his face.

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Feeding the 40 Raipur children and the ten from Jabalpur on such a long trip was quite a job. For the noon meal the next day Ruth telegraphed ahead to have the station restaurant at one of the stops bring Indian food to the coach for all the party. What a lot of fun the children had eating their favorite foods.

They reached Dehra Dun early the next morning. The railway officials permitted the children to stay in the coach until they were fully dressed. Then they went into the railway restaurant and had breakfast before they began the trip up the mountain.

The school knew they were coming so it had arranged for two busses to take the school party up the mountain. Each child had to take his or her luggage over to the bus. When it was put on top of the bus the bus looked top-heavy. It was a 26 mile climb from Dehra Dun up the side of the mountain to where the road ended at a place called Kin Craig. The road twisted and turned, sometimes doubling back on itself, as it climbed almost a mile higher than Dehra Dun. Some of the children got car-sick and lost their food. Most of the time there was a constant chatter as the children laughed and talked in their excitement.

At Kin Craig when the busses came to a stop they were surrounded by coolies, each holding out a little tag to show he was permitted to carry luggage for travellers. It was still five miles - five difficult miles - to the school. They would be climbing higher up the mountain. Finally coolies were selected and given loads to take to the different school dormitories. Once that was done the party began the steep climb up toward Mussoorie bazaar, which was on the way to the school. By the time they reached the bazaar some of the little children were very tired. One of the mothers arranged for a rickshaw to take them on to the school.

Those rickshaws were very special. The two wheels were about as large as buggy wheels. Three or four sat on the broad seat. Others sat on the floor. Two coolies pulled the rickshaw and two pushed it. Part of the road was very steep. Some of the big boys tried to keep up with the rickshaw coolies but they soon got winded and had to slow down. At last all of the party got to Woodstock. They had quite a celebration when they met other students who had arrived earlier. As soon as the coolies arrived with the luggage the students made their way to the various dormitories. I dare say many of them stretched out on their beds right away to rest.
So that is what is called a school party. It really wasn't [++Page 102] the kind of party everyone fully enjoyed. Neither the school children nor their parents were completely happy. I was a parent who lived so far from the school I didn't get to see my children during the school year except for a short time during my summer vacation. Then when I got to the mountains I took my children out of boarding. We would live in a small cottage near the school for a few weeks. I regretted that I did not have the chance to be with my children more. So for us parents a school party wasn't always fun.

Nor did some of the small children think it was much fun because they missed their fathers and mothers very much. Some became homesick. One time Barbara, when she was very small, wrote Ruth saying, "Please, oh please come up soon." She had been sick in the hospital. Betty Ann had gone every day to see her. "I want to see Philip or somebody," she wrote. She needed her family. Though it was fun to travel on the train to school it really wasn't fun to be so far away from one's parents.

Now that my children have grown up and have children of their own they remember those trips to Woodstock and back on the train as among the grandest experiences of their lives in India. It made school a time of fun as well as a time for hard study.

Your school may be very different but you can have fun at your school. I am 90 years old now. In some ways I am still going to school, learning something new every day. Moreover it is still exciting to learn. I hope you will have the time of your lives - a real party - all the years of your lives - as you continue to learn. [by James E. McEldowney, Spring 1997]

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