Sunday, June 21, 2020

The History of the L&N Railroad: Part 2

This information comes from an article in the L&N Railroad's Employee Magazine. It tells the history of the railroad through troubled times, as well as its acquisition of the Pontchartrain Railroad, a legendary New Orleans train that played a part in the history of St. Tammany Parish development. 

Another article published in 1930 told some of the railroad's history, but this second history article was published in 1939.


 Here is the headline:

In Spite of Yellow Jack and Teredo Rot—
The L. & N. Doubles Its Size Almost Overnight and Reaches the Cherished Gulf Ports of Pensacola, Mobile and New Orleans.

By K. A. H.

Other troubles beset the L. & N. in the half-a-decade end­ing with 1875. Epidemics of cholera and yellow fever plagued the Southland in the summer and fall of 1873, leaving a wake of death and destruction and seriously interfering with the operation of trains. 

All in all it was a time that was all thumbs. Everything went wrong. The cotton crop was short in 1874 and in the Spring of that year floods and storms played havoc with the Company's property, especially on the Memphis Line.

To aggravate matters, the Ohio and Mississippi rivers during 1873 were navigable the whole year, a con­dition that was most unusual in those days. This had the effect of divert­ing from the railroad a certain amount of traffic that it otherwise would have had. 

The firm hand of President H. D. Newcomb was re­moved from the Road's helm by death on August 18, 1874, and the depots and engines were draped in mourn­ing for a period of 30 days. He was succeeded by Thomas J. Martin, who in turn was succeeded by E. D. Standiford on October 6, 1875.

In the meantime, on July 1, 1875, Albert Fink resigned and the L. & N. suffered a severe loss. It is said that Mr. Fink severed his connection with the L. & N. because of the until ­then disappointing results from the acquisition of the N. & D. and the S. & N. A. ; steps -he had fathered. Fortunately for the L. & N. it had in its employ at that time, one who was to more than duplicate the monu­mental achievements of the Teutonic giant.

Milton H. Smith's first connection with the Louisville & Nashville was as local agent at Louisville in 1866. Less than three years later he was made general freight agent and as  such was an eye-witness to the excit­ing events incident to the L. & N.'s entrance into Alabama. He was firmly sold on that state's possibilities and was to do much that was to lift it to the position of eminence which it now enjoys.

In the previous chapter we concen­trated on the Old Reliable's acquisition of the_N. & D. and S. & N.A.. 'and relevant events, because of the importance which they were later to assume, but it is a fact that moment­ous things were happening almost simultaneously elsewhere on the-System.

A constant process of change was going on and the railroad was pour­ing out a steady stream of money for new depots, passing tracks, shop facilities, .round houses, freight plat­forms, stock pens and the like. It was also keeping an open mind about the latest innovations in railroading and at the beginning of the '70's had not only ordered 15 of the latest type locomotives from Baird & Company, of Philadelphia, but was building five in its own shops from the designs evolved by its 'superintendent of machinery, Thatcher Perkins.

Coal Better Than Wood

All of these were to be coal burners and a number of its old engines had been converted so that coal could be used as fuel.. The Company was firmly convinced as to the superiority of coal over wood and it was estimated that when the L. & N. could utilize coal exclusively, its.fuel bill would be reduced 25 per cent, or about $45,000 per year.

Along about this time a gentleman by the name of George Westinghouse invented the air brake, admittedly crude when set side by side with the complicated apparatus of toddy, but the Old Reliable wads impressed with its possibilities that in 1871 it purchased 24 sets of straight air brake equipment for its locomotives and 94 sets for its cars.

At the beginning of the '70's, steel rail was just beginning to be incorporated in the trackage of American railroads, replacing the less durable iron, and the Annual Report for the year ending June 30, 1873, shows that at that time the Company had some 55 miles of steel rail sandwiched  in between the more plebian metal on the Main Stem and Memphis Line. 

The Management was eyeing Cumberland Gap hopefully as a point of connection with roads serving the 'Atlantic Seaboard and a survey was made of possible routes from that spot to Livingston, Ky., the Lebanon Branch's jumping-off place. A con­servative estimate set the cost at $2,180,000 and it was thought that the expense would probably run much greater because of the rugged nature of the country.

Steamboats Purchased

In the early part of 1872, the L. & N. had purchased a steam-boat, "The Dick Johnson," which plied leisurely back and forth on the Tennessee River between Danville, Tenn., and Florence, Ala. Barges were also pur­chased and a wharf-boat was placed in position at Danville for the ex­change of freight, it being thought that the "Dick Johnson" would serve as a feeder to the railroad. 

This supplementary service was operated with indifferent success and the L. & N.'s one-boat merchant marine service was finally discontinued on July 1, 1874.

Construction of a new general office building at Second & Main streets in Louisville was commenced in 1875, but the work proceeded rather slowly, not to say unenthu­siastically, the panic of 1873 and as­sorted misfortunes having not only greatly decimated the wherewithal, but, additionally, having largely elim­inated the once crying need for in­creased space, due to reduced forces.

Knocked groggy, so to speak, by its acquisitions of the N. & D., and the S. & N. A. in 1871, as well as by other misfortunes, the Old Reli­able moved very circumspectly for the next several years. It still felt, however, that its expansion south­ward was a timely one and that the
years would prove the wisdom of its policy. Its contemporary directorate was liberal-minded and hence when the opportunity arose in January 1877 to.purchase the Cecilian Branch of what was formerly the Louisville, Paducah and Southwestern Railroad, they did not hesitate.

It was snapped up instanter and the Road thereby secured trackage from Louisville to  Cecilian Junction (near Elizabeth­town, Ky.) some 46 miles long, which largely paralleled its Main Stem out of Louisville and which obviated, for the time being, the necessity of con­structing a double track south of Louisville.

The Cecilian Branch 

The Cecilian Branch did not re­main in the family long, it having been later leased to the Chesapeake, Ohio -and Southwestern- Railway Company and eventually sold to the
Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railway (Illinois Central Railroad) on December 19, 1901. 

The pertinent Annual Report (1877) referred to the Cecilian Branch as a "constant disturber of rates," and implied that its purchase was a self-protective measure. This same Annual Report grew somewhat lyrical over the pos­sibilities of this branch, speaking of the rapid growth of the City of Louis­ville into the region traversed by the Cecilian Branch "as it meanders along the Ohio."

Encouraged by a sizeable net profit in the fiscal year ending with 1877, the L. & N. paid a small dividend, but the majority of the "edge" was applied to the reduction of the bonded and floating debt. Encouraged by favorable signs and portents, the Company at this time also felt em­boldened to construct a line of road from Columbia, Tenn., to Lewisburg, Tenn. (now a part of the N. C. & St. L. Ry.), a distance of 20 miles, and to build the Wetumpka Branch, some seven miles long extending from Elmore to Wetumpka, Ala.

It also entered into negotiations which had as their ultimate aim the construction of the Southern Division—so-called —of the Cumberland & Ohio Rail­road between Lebanon, Ky., and Greensburg, Ky. (31 miles), with a subsequent leasing and operation of the line.

Some $1,600,000 had already been sunk into this venture and its backers, who originally had the idea of linking Louisville and Cincinnati, on the north, with Nashville and Chatta­nooga, on the south, were bankrupt in the year 1878. 

It was estimated that it would cost but $180,000 to complete the line and accordingly the L. & N. commenced construction in October 1878. Such work was  largely one of filling in the gaps and the road was completed to Camp­bellsville in August 1879 and to Greensburg in October of the same year. 

The total cost of constructing this branch—to the L. & N.—was around $255,000 and it was operated by the L. & N. under contract until October 2, 1903, when the property was purchased outright.

In the meantime its new general office building at 2nd and Main streets, in Louisville, had been com­pleted (in 1877) and some of the space was rented to outsiders.

These slight skirmishings for ad­vantageous position in the rail struc­ture of the nation were  taking place in an atmosphere surcharged with woe and on other fronts potent monkey-wrenches were being tossed into the whirring wheels. 

A severe train wreck in 1878 killed several employees and marred an impressive safety record. In the latter part of July 1877, serious labor disturbances rocked the country and the L. & N. was caught in a damaging cross-fire of conflicting views and opinions. There were especially violent up­heavals at Louisville and the other larger cities, with some subsequent damage to property.

Emerging from this man-made storm, the L. & N. soon encountered a fiercer one engendered by nature working through the medium of the yellow fever mosquito (stegomyia fasciata) and the yellow fever virus.

The Yellow Fever Onslaught

This disease made its appearance at New Orleans (where it took a toll of 4,056 lives) in the summer of 1878 and swept rapidly northward through Mississippi. It soon reached Mem­phis, in which place it was declared epidemic in August 1878. 

Other points upon our lines, which at that time extended only as far south as Montgomery, were somewhat hard hit, but it was at Memphis and else­where on the Memphis Line that the death toll was greatest.

A panic-laden flood of citizens poured forth from the stricken city for several days, severely taxing the facilities of the L. &. N., whose forces were also greatly decimated by the disease. Trains left the station with skeleton crews, the coaches crowded  to suffocation, the engines straining to pull loads that were almost beyond their capacities. 

No attempt was made to collect fares and as the refu­gee trains with their melancholy car­goes rolled north they passed on the sidings all along the route other trains loaded with medicine, supplies, food, doctors and nurses, hurrying to the aid of Memphis and nearby towns.

At that time it was not known that the disease was transmitted by the mosquito before mentioned and infected persons were generally shunned. Most of the towns north of Memphis and other infected areas had established rigid quarantines against these fear-inspired migrations and Bowling Green was the first point on our lines at which passengers were allowed to alight. 

At other points, shot-guns or similar potent items in the hands of a determined citizenry discouraged the usual inal­ienable right of a citizen to disembark from a train at whatever point it might stop. Smoke—and lots of it—was considered an excellent prophy­laxis against the disease and as a consequence, huge bon-fires blazed on the principal down-town streets of Bowling Green and elsewhere.

Too much credit cannot be given to the L. & N. and its employees for their conduct during the dark days of the epidemic. Employees remained at their posts of duty, seemingly exposing themselves to infection, and of 145 employees stricken with the disease, 71 lost their lives. 

The Annual Report for the year ending 1879 pays especial tribute to a heroic couple, husband and wife, of Paris, Tenn., who had charge of the Company's hotel at that point. This couple, Mr. and Mrs. G. W. Ernest, re­mained at their posts, nursing those infected with the disease impartially, whether they be of high or low estate, until they in turn were stricken, their deaths occurring within a few days of each other. 

In grateful recognition of the services of these employees, the Company erected above their graves, in Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, a handsome memorial, suitably in­scribed.

Plague Losses

The Management estimated that the visitation of the plague had caused it to suffer a loss of $300,000, as a result of the interruption of traffic. It had carried free of charge 150,000 pounds of freight and had handled free or at reduced rates the transpor­tation of sufferers to the amount of $50,000. 

Some 500 employees had been thrown out of work, due to the chaotic conditions imposed by the epidemic, and the railroad had run some 1,550 miles of special trains for physicians, nurses, supplies, refugees, etc.

The Annual Report for the year ending June 30, 1880, contains this sentence : "The year under review has probably been the most eventful and stirring in the history of your company." This was no mere idle-word-making ; the statement is no doubt as true today as it was then .and since 1880, 59 additional years may be said to have entered the com­petitive lists to strive for this distinc­tion.

Trackage was acquired right and left, either through purchase or lease, and a railroad extending from the Ohio River on the north to the Gulf of Mexico on the south, which only yesterday had seemed many to­morrows away, became, almost over­night, a full-fledged reality. 

The L. & N.'s iron horse entered the rich Gulf ports of Mobile, New Orleans and Pensacola, bustling centers of 'trade and commerce, laden with the wealth of America and magnets for the riches of the seven seas and the lands between.

The Old Reliable's further march through Dixieland was achieved by two closely-linked steps ; first, the purchase of the majority of the stock of the Mobile and Montgomery Rail­way, some 180 miles long, on January 15, 1880, and, second, through the leasing of the Mobile, New Orleans and Texas Railroad Company on May 8, 1880. (It was subsequently purchased outright by the L. & N. on October 5, 1881.) 

The Pontchartrain Railroad Secured

This latter road was some 141 miles long and ex­tended, as its name would imply, from Mobile to New Orleans. It also secured at this time, the Pontchar­train Railroad, a lilliputian carrier some five miles long, which serviced New Orleans and Milneburg, on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain.

 It was famous as the first railroad completed west of the Alleghenies, having been chartered on January 20, 1830, and opened for traffic on April 14, 1831. After having been operated continu­ously for over 100 years, it was aban­doned in 1935.

The histories of both the M. & M., and the M. N. 0. & T., are suffici­ently distinctive as to justify a men­tion which exceeds the mere listing of dates. The Mobile and Montgom­ery Railway Company was the result of two ventures : the Alabama and Florida Railroad and the Mobile and Great Northern Railroad. The A. & F., which had been chartered on February 11, 1850, completed a line of road from Montgomery to the state line (Alabama-Florida) via Pollard, Ala., on May 3, 1861.

The Mobile and Great Northern Railroad, on the other hand, was not chartered until February 5, 1856, but it finished a line from Pollard to a point on the Tensaw River, now known as Hurricane, Ala., a distance of about 45 miles, during the fall of 1861. 

At Hurricane passengers and freight were transferred to boats to make the 22-mile trip down the Ten­saw River to Mobile. It was, of course, the original intention to build straight on through to Mobile, but the Civil War, as well as the engi­neering difficulties that were encoun­tered made Hurricane the southern terminus for a decade or more. 

A huge pier was built out in the Ten­saw River at the latter point to con­summate the juncture of rail and river and this remained in position long after the line to Mobile was built. This last-mentioned event, which in­volved the building of some 15 miles of track over swamps, marshes and rivers, was completed; with the usual fanfare, on March 5, 1872, a previous consolidation of the A. & F. and the M. & G. N., having taken place on August 5, 1868. 

After the comple­tion of the line to Mobile, a feat which rapidly became a Pyrrhic victory in­sofar as the treasury was concerned, the line was sold and purchased by the trustees, the subsequent re­organization being known as the Mo­bile and Montgomery Railway Com­pany. As before stated, the L. & N. acquired a majority of the capital  stock of this road on January 15, 1880, with a subsequent leasing oc­curring on January 12, 1881.

Descriptions of the old M. & M., which have been left by eye-wit­nesses, are not very flattering. Shortly after completion, it locked horns with the Civil War and after much be­deviling emerged from this conflict as from a concrete mixer. 

The right-of-way and rolling stock were both greatly dilapidated, the former con­sisting, in part, of two parallel (and not always at that) streaks of rust, badly overgrown with bushes and grass. The operation of trains over this phantom of Southern Alabama was at a snail's pace, 20 miles per hour then being the maximum speed limit. 

Section crews "poled" their way to and from their work upon this decrepit line on crude contrivances, achieving their momentum in much the same manner as the gondoliers of Venice do theirs, and the meeting of trains was a social event, with train crews and passengers fraternizing, while the time-table impotently im­plored.

Life was leisurely on the M. & M., and as a consequence of all this, therefore, the L. & N. had to spend huge sums of money to remove this .quaintness and to place its newly ac­quired property in good condition.

The New Orleans, Mobile and Texas Railroad Company, as a con­trast, was in good physical shape when it was taken over by the L. & N. It had originally been chartered on November 24, 1866, as the New Orleans, Mobile and Chattanooga Railroad Company, with an intention, among several others, of building a line of road from Mobile to New Orleans. 

Railroad Lines Re-arranged

Other aims included, as im­plied, a road to Chattanooga and a road to Houston, Texas. Following the granting of its charter, there en­sued a period of construction and high finance, with the line between New Orleans and Mobile, which is our principal concern, being com­pleted on October 29, 1870. 

It was this portion of the venture whose name on April 18, 1871, had been changed to the New Orleans, Mobile and Texas Railroad Company, which the L. & N. secured through lease on May 8, 1880, with subsequent out­right purchase a year or so later.

The building of the original line of the N. 0. M. & T. R. R. Company had presented a peculiar problem from an engineering standpoint and although the property was in good shape when acquired the status quo was difficult to retain, due to the in­sidious under-water activities of a pest known as the teredo navalis. The teredo is a worm native to salt waters, whose principal item of diet is untreated timber.

Teredo Ravages Wood Pilings

The construction of the railroad from Mobile to New Orleans had been manna from heaven to this ma­rine nuisance. It was known when the line was built that creosoted timbers would withstand the ravages of the teredo, and a plant was con­structed at Gautier, Miss., in 1869 for such treatment, but the work, at first, was imperfectly done. 

As a conse­quence, a goodly part of the piling which supported the road-bed for long distances between Mobile and New Orleans, and which had been driven into position in 1869 and 1870, was destroyed in nine months' time by the teredo, whose potentialities for damage are all out of proportion to his size, which is about that of a lead pencil, or somewhat larger, when fully grown. He, or she, works in much the same manner as the ter­mite, honeycombing the structure at­tacked and terminating its usefulness in short order.

The activities of the teredo were obviously of an expensive nature and further aggravated a situation which was badly frayed around the edges and wearing thin in the middle. In some places, in order to prepare a road-bed for the original line, a canal had been dredged through the marshes and watery waste-lands en­countered and the displaced material, with some admixture of foreign soil, was piled on the south side of the canal, forming an embankment for the road-bed.

This latter had a tendency to slip back into the canal, so more expensive piling had to be driven as a protec­tive check against such slides. The old N. 0. M. & T. also had the dis‑
tinction of being one of the few rail­roads, if not the only one, in the United States to have an anchored road-bed. 

Because of its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, as well as because  of the fact that in a good many places the road-bed was not very much above sea-level, high tides frequently washed over the tracks, sometimes returning to "home base" with booty in the shape of segments of the road­bed aforesaid. 

To prevent such dis­asters, posts were driven down at in­tervals between the rails and were then bolted to adjacent cross-ties, thus securely anchoring the track and discouraging any seagoing tendency.

After its first disastrous experience with the teredo, the management of the N. 0. M. & T. went into the matter of creosoting timber a little more closely and eventually emerged with a process of forcing the creosote oil into the timber under pressure - an importation from England. 

This proved to be quite successful, so much so that the L. & N., soon after its ac­quisition of the line, extended such treatment to all timbers used along its lines in trestles, etc., in order to balk decay. (As a matter of interest, it was not until 1912 that it was decided to give cross-ties the creosote treatment as well.)

The operation of trains on the N. 0. M. & T., like that of those on the old M. & N., was somewhat hap­hazard. Freight trains took about 12 hours to make the 141-mile trip be­tween Mobile and New Orleans and storms blowing in from the Gulf Coast played hob with the schedule. However, a gay speedster known as the Barrett Lightning Matinee Train, on February 3, 1874, ran from New Orleans to Mobile in two hours and 47 minutes ; returning in three hours and 11 minutes.

CLICK HERE to read Part 1 of the history of the L&N Railroad.

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