Billy Smith was six years old when he started school in Kansas City. He walked to and from school with his friend and next door neighbor, Bobby Jones. Bobby was a year older and taller than Billy and a lot of kids at school called Bobby his bodyguard. They were very close friends and constant companions. They almost considered themselves brothers because Bobby's mother, Helen, was a midwife and flame red-haired beauty who delivered Billy six years ago. Billy's mother was an ex model and had kept her beauty. His dad was a brakeman for the railroad whose job was to slow or stop the train when necessary. Atop each rail car was a wheel which had to be turned to set the brakes to slow or stop the train. Sometimes on a fifteen or twenty car train it was an arduous task climbing to the top of each rail car, turning the brake wheel, then going on to the next car and repeating the process. Sometimes if the weather was not raining, snowing, or icing, the more experienced brakeman learned to jump from car top to car top to eliminate the ascent and descent on each car. Even using this maneuver it would take the better part of an hour to get the train stopped, starting at the caboose at the rear and advancing car to car until one reached the wood or coal car and could relax.
The other big difference in their jobs was Bobby's dad was home every night, while Billy's dad father \\\\\\was gone for three or four days at a time depending on the length of the route. After working a ten-hour shift, they would change crew and layover for a day or so, then they would pick up another train either heading home or farther from home depending on their schedule.
Both families lived in Kansas City owned houses for which they paid rent of 10% of their wages, which was deducted from their weekly pay. Despite the many similarities, there were many differences in the boys. Bobby was outgoing, loved the outdoors and sports and had a baby sister, Ginny, who was two years old. One day the two boys were sharing secrets, as they did often, Bobby told Billy he probably would never have a baby brother or sister. Bobby said his mother told him after she delivered Billy that Evelyn had said, "I will never, ever go through that again."
Billy did not enjoy sports and spent most of his spare time reading. The only books in his house were the bible and the McGuffey reader. Billy had read both of these from cover to cover at least tWice. He also had borrowed books from his teacher and read every book he could get his hands on. If he had trouble understanding words in the books, he would write them down and ask his teacher about them the next day.
Billy hated it when his dad wasn't home, and his mother disliked it too. She did not like to read, but she busied herself knitting and canning fruits and vegetables. When his dad was home for his three day breaks they would go on picnics and pick blackberries and gather nuts. Billy hated gathering walnuts because he knew he would have to get the outer hull off the shell and spread them to dry, and the stains he got on his hands would last for weeks, even after scouring with lye soap. Billy celebrated his eleventh birthday at home with his mother, but his dad was on the road again. He would go without a present, unless his dad returned with one when he got home.
Two days later Bill came home and he had indeed brought Billy a gift: a book. Billy grinned from ear to ear when he unwrapped his present and saw the title of the book: Riders of the Purple Sage. "Oh boy," Billy uttered, "a cowboy book! I love cowboys!" His mother and dad both grinned, looking at each other. "Thank you dad. How did you know I like cowboys?"
"All boys like cowboys," his dad answered. After giving his mother and dad a kiss and a hug, Billy took his book and some of the cookies Bobby's mother had baked for him and went to his room to read his book. A year later, Bill was home for Billy's birthday, but his mother wasn't. He had not seen her since she sent him off for school that morning.
Bill tried to reassure Billy by saying "I'm sure she is OK and will be home soon." But by eight o'clock Evelyn was still not home, so Bill made some biscuits, scrambled some eggs and he and Billy ate supper and followed it with a piece of birthday cake brought over by their next door neighbor, Helen. Bill asked her, "Helen, do you know where Evelyn could be?"
"No, sorry, I don't Bill, but I'm sure she will be home soon."
With all of the excitement, Bill finally got around to giving his son the present he had brought home for him. "Oh boy Dad. Thank you!" he said when he examined his new book Ghost Riders. "Thanks dad, another cowboy book!"
"Yes son, and you enjoy it."
"I will sir, and thank you so much. You know how much I love