HAMLET — Ozie Felder knows what it means to be part of history.
Felder, a machinist for CSX who lives in Dobbins Heights, is one in a line of men who were part of the railroad history in Hamlet. His grandfather, Epsy Winfield, was one of the first African-Americans who worked for Seaboard as a fireman.
“My grandfather kind of started the tradition of working with the railroad,” Felder said. “My father worked for the railroad for 45 years, and I worked with them for 28 years.”
Winfield worked for Seaboard from the early 1930s until February 1950.
“I don’t remember much about my grandfather,” Felder said. “I was pretty young when he died, but I do know that he loved what he did, and I also know how important the Seaboard was to my family.”
Felder lifted up an old box that Winfield would carry with him on every trip he would take for Seaboard. In it are documents and trinkets that are over 60 years old — including the newspaper Winfield had on his last trip before his stroke.
World War II veteran Reese Maxey, 91, of Dobbins Heights, remembers Winfield very well. Maxey and Felder talked about Winfield during a gathering at the National Railroad Museum and Hall of Fame in Hamlet.
“My father worked for the Seaboard from 1906 until 1956,” Maxey said. “He and Mr. Winfield were good friends. Mr. Winfield lived right across the street from the school I went to. He used to have a shop outside his house. We would go there and buy a cola for a nickel.”
The main attraction outside Winfield’s home was a miniature steam engine.
“Kids would come from all over the town just to play on that engine,” Maxey said. “He built it himself. He just loved his work with the railroad.”
The miniature steam engine wasn’t the only thing Winfield worked on. He built scale models as a hobby when he wasn’t working as a fireman for Seaboard.
“The railroad was especially important to him and to this area,” Felder said. “It gave my family a job when there weren’t a lot of jobs around for blacks at the time.”
The job with the railroad afforded Felder, as well as Maxey, the opportunity to travel for free on the trains.
“Back then, all kids under the age of 15 were given a pass so they could ride for free on the trains,” Maxey said. “I got to go to all kinds of places while my dad worked for the Seaboard. Alabama, Florida and Raleigh. It let us go to places we wouldn’t have been able to go to without the pass.”
Felder used this pass as well to travel to New York to visit his family.
“The railroad paid good money,” Felder said. “My father, Ozie Felder Sr., was one of the first black men in the area to actually own a Model T Ford.”
Maxey smiled as he thought about the way the Hamlet area used to look.
“People were everywhere,” Maxey said. “Hotels and taxis were all around. There was a lot of traffic. It’s not the same as it used to be.”
Speaking on his family’s history, Felder and Maxey were very proud to say they were raised in this area and during that time.
“It was during a time where things were a lot different for blacks,” Felder said. “But the Seaboard was there to offer jobs, and I am honored that my grandfather was one of the first to be hired as a fireman for the railroad.”