Railroads


by Cecil Pierce

In the early 1800's a few experiments were taking place in America in the building of railroads, but it as in 1828 before the first common carrier railroad was built in this country. After this, several railroads were built between cities in the East and later in the West. After the Civil War, railroad building speeded up with two Pacific railroads -- the Union Pacific in the West and the Southern Pacific building east from California -- to promote National unity. They were joined at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869, to complete the first railroad connection across the United States. By 1910 the railroad network in this country was about completed with almost 253,000 miles of track. By 1950 this had declined to about 225,000 miles; however, railroad traffic had more than doubled during this period.

The Iron Mountain Railroad was built through Marion County in 1903. Later it was acquired by the Missouri Pacific Lines and became known as the White River Division of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. There were three depots in Marion County-Flippin, Yellville and Pyatt -- with flag stops at Turkey and Comal which were only a mile apart but both had post offices.

The early locomotives had small water tanks that had to be filled along the line; therefore, water tanks were built about 15 or 20 miles apart. One of these tanks, located at Comal, was filled from a spring on the bluff above the tank. Since it was up-grade from Cotter to Yellville, nearly all of the northbound freights would stop at Comal for water. Several young men from this vicinity would make the Kansas wheat harvest each summer. They would meet at the Comal water tank, wait until a freight train stopped for water, find an empty box car, and burn their way to the harvest.

Coal chutes were also constructed along the line but they were 50 or 60 miles apart. There were two tunnels in Marion County, one between Comal and Pyatt and the other just across white River from Cotter.

Mail cranes were erected at flag stops and when there were no passengers to get on or off the train, the Postmaster would hang the mail sack on the crane and the train would not have to stop. The US Mail cars were equipped with a device at the door to catch the mail sack on the run. Mail clerks were notified by whistle signal from the engineer when approaching a mail crane.

In addition to passengers, the passenger trains handled US Mail, express and baggage. These trains consisted of two passenger cars, one was called "The Smoker". Most passengers in this car were men as very few women smoked and, in the winter when the windows could not be opened, this car would be filled with smoke. In addition to these two cars the trains carried one baggage car for express and baggage and a US Mail car. Later they added an observation, or parlor, car which was also a dining car.

A passenger train crew consisted of the engineer, fireman, two US Mail clerks, one baggage man, a conductor, brakeman, porter, and a news butch. The news butch would sell papers, magazines, candy, and many other articles on the train and at the station stops. On Saturdays and Sundays you would just about see the entire population of the smaller towns gathered at the depots to see the passenger trains.

In 1920 and 1930 almost all farmers shipped cream, usually in five or ten gallon cans. This was handled in the baggage car of the passenger train for ten to thirty cents per can, with the empty can returned free. Most agents would leave the empty cans at the depot to be picked up later by the farmers after work hours. Most of the cream was shipped to Springfield, Carthage, and Kansas City. Farmers would keep the cream in a cool place until their cans were ready for shipment, and they would go through in good shape; others that did not have spring houses or cellars to keep the cream cool would haul it to the depot in a wagon. This shaking would start the cream to boil. Some cans would boil over, some would blow the lid off with half the cream but cream was a good price and any amount of money was a big help to many people.

The freight trains handled both car-load and less than car-load freight: the less than car-load freight was handled in merchandize cars, which might contain anything from plow handles, wagon spokes, plow points, to buckets of candy, or sacks of coffee. In other words, anything sold in a general store was shipped in these cars.

Before the railroad, the merchants in Marion County received their goods by freight wagon, mostly from Springfield, Missouri. These wagons would take produce to Springfield and bring all kinds of freight back. It would take several days to make the round-trip so they had certain camp grounds along the road where they would camp at night. Many men with good teams and wagons followed this business for a living.

In addition to the US Mail contract, the railroads had contracts with the Express Companies, especially Wells Fargo. When the Yellville station was closed July 1, 1969, some express equipment that originally belonged to Wells Fargo was still in use.

After the Pony Express which started operation April 3, 1860, and operated for 18 months between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California, several express companies started operating in this county. Some of the leading ones were: Wells Fargo, Adams, American, and the Southern Express Companies.

On December 28,1917, William Gibbs McAdoo, Secretary of Treasury, announced that the Government was taking over the railroads to co-ordinate them with the war effort. When this was done, all contracts between the railroads and the express companies were cancelled. On July 1, 1918, the four leading express companies merged and became the American Railway Express Company, Inc. and on March 1, 1929, it was changed to the Railway Express Agency.

The early railroad agent had many duties. They had to be able to check freight rates, ticket rates, express rates and Western Union rates in addition to the operation of the telegraph. Each station had its own set of rate tariffs and some were quite complicated. The agent was ticket agent, telegraph operator, freight hustler and janitor -- though the janitor work was done very seldom at some stations.

All communication on the early railroads was by telegraph. On this railroad, the stations had three telegraph lines -- one for the train dispatcher, one for company messages and business and the other one for Western Union telegrams. All three were busy most of the time. The average telegrapher would send and receive about 30 words per minute. Some operators secured "Bugs" which enabled them to send much faster and with more ease, but some of the older operators never did learn this "art" and had enough telegraph work to develop 'operator's paralysis' in their hand and arm. All train orders were sent by the dispatcher to the operator; then the operator would repeat to the dispatcher before he could deliver the orders to the train.

In the early 1830's the telegraph with the Morse Code, which consisted of dots and dashes, was invented by Samuel F. B. Morse. He applied for a patent in 1837 but was turned down and his invention was branded "a wild scheme" and impractical. Finally in 1843 he was successful in persuading the US Congress to appropriate $30,000 to build a telegraph line from Washington, D. C. to Baltimore. In May 1844 the first message was flashed over this line, the text was: "What Hath God Wrought". Seven years later the Western Union Telegraph Company was organized.

In the early 1950's the railroad put their own telephone system in and most of the rail business, including train orders, was handled on the telephone but the Western Union for the small towns was still handled by teIegraph. At the close of business June 30,1967, the Western Union discontinued all business at the depots and transferred this to their own offices. Yellville, Flippin, and Pyatt were served by the office at Harrison or Mountain Home. At that time, the telegraph instruments were taken out of the depots and, most of them, junked. Some sets were kept by the operators.

At present a railroad agent on this line does not sell tickets, handle express, Western Unions, does not have to be a telegraph operator, or check freight as a rate office in Little Rock is provided for these services.

In the mid-1930's the railroad through Marion County operated two through "Red Ball" freights each way daily, one local freight each way and two passenger trains each way. One of the passenger trains was a fast train, making only four stops between Newport, Arkansas, and Carthage, Missouri, a distance of 275 miles. The local passengers were later discontinued and the fast trains re-scheduled to stop at all stations, handling all the passenger business which was extremely heavy during World War 11.

In the early 1950's the old steam engines gave way to the diesel which, no doubt, was a proper move, but it certainly took away some of the romance of the railroad.

Late in 1959 the US Mail was taken off the passenger trains and put on buses and trucks. A few months later on March 21, 1960, the passenger trains were discontinued on this -- the White River Division. The railroad then handled less car-load freight and express by truck until March 1969 when the Express Company began operating their own trucks. The railroad then turned their less than car-load shipments over to the truck lines and started handling only car-load freight in Marion County.

The depot at Pyatt was closed when Uncle Gus Pierce retired in 1959. It was sold to Roy Danuser, moved to Bull Shoals, and now stands at the entrance of the 1890 Village and Bull Shoals Caverns in Bull Shoals, Arkansas. The depots at Yellville and Flippin were closed July 1, 1969, and a mobile office was established to take care of the business. This agent would leave Cotter at 8 A.M., work Flippin, Yellville, Pyatt, Harrison and Bergman, and return to Cotter.

The depot at Flippin was sold to a church and tom down. The depot at Yellville was sold and moved a few blocks away and is now being used as a dwelling.

The depots had two POT BELLY stoves -- one in the office and one in the waiting room. About 1950 these were scrapped and Warm Morning stoves were installed. After the diesels came and the railroad quit using coal, the Warm Morning stoves were replaced with oil stoves'

In the early years of the railroads, each station had one or two section gangs consisting of a foreman and four to six men. They would take care of about four miles of track, with pick and shovel as better tools were not accessible. When the better tools were invented and put into use, the miles per gang were increased so the gangs were reduced in men and number. Now, most of the track work is done by "extra" gangs and machinery.

Earlier there were also "scaling gangs" who would move, in bunk cars, anywhere along the railroad where work -- scaling tunnels, taking loose rock from the tunnels and bluffs long the railroad -- needed to be done. There were "bridge gangs" that took care of the bridge work along the line. These men, also, lived in bunk cars -- a cook car, water car and tool car -- which became their home as they worked six days per week and the only way they had of getting home was by train. They would spend most of their time on these cars. Usually a man and wife took care of the cook car and fed the men well for $0.35 per meal, less if they were regular boarders.

About three and one-half miles west of Yellville is the Georges Creek under-pass where Highway 62 passes under the railroad bridge. When the railroad was built, a wooden trestle spanned the Georges Creek Valley, starting at the hill east of Georges Creek and running west for about three-quarters of a mile. About 1920 this trestle was filled with dirt, leaving the trestle timbers to hold the track until the dirt-fill settled enough to support the weight of the trains. This dirt was hauled in dump cars by the train load and dumped into this trestle until it was filled except for the bridge that spans.Georges Creek at the Highwav 62 under-pass. At that time, this was considered a tremendous undertaking. The job last several months as the dirt was dug from a hillside between Comal and Pyatt, loaded in dump cars by steam shovel, hauled to the site and dumped automatically from the track into the trestle.

T'he railroad was originally surveyed to build through Yellville, but a controversy between the city and the railroad management resulted in a new survey and the railroad was built through North Yellville (Summit). Some old-timers say that had the railroad been built on the original survey, the round-house would have been built at Yellville instead of Cotter.

Until the 40-hour work week went into effect, most of the employees in the operating department of the railroad worked seven days per week. The track and bridge men worked six days per week but sometime, in case of wrecks or wash-outs, they would have to work on Sundays. With the 40-hour week, most employees get two days off per week.

The railroads were built, mostly, by pick and shovel, teams and slips. The railroad through Marion County was built by Italians. They had camps along the line, one of which was located at Cotter and another at Flippin. Walter Bridges and his father butchered hogs and delivered them to these camps, driving across White River with team and wagon on the ice near where the Highway bridge is now located. The river was frozen over about all winter and people drove across on the ice at many different places.

Walter Bridges was one of many people who went to Cotter to see the first passenger train that came into Cotter. The trains came into Cotter for some time before the track was completed through Marion County.

This writer worked for the railroad from November 1924 until December, 1969 -- 45 years of service. Many changes were seen in the operation of the railroads. At first, jobs were scarce and I spent about five years on the extra board as relief operator. During this 45-year service, I have worked at every station on the White River Division except two and at three stations on the Springfield Branch.

All the names of the people of Marion County who have worked for the railroad cannot be recalled, but the first agent at the Yellville depot was J. W. Craig and Tobe Keeter was one of the first agents at Flippin.

G. W. (George) McVey started work at the Yellville depot in 1906 as a station clerk and was promoted to agent in 1908. He worked at the Yellville station until he retired in 1949. He had two brothers who were section foremen, Bert and Arthur. One brother, Grover, was a brakeman. Another brother, Raymond L. (Smokey), worked with George at Yellville for several years and then was transferred to Flippin as agent. He worked there many years until he was forced to retire because of ill health. His son, Jimmy McVey, relieved him as agent at Flippin and is still working as the agent in Branson, Missouri. Smokey's grandson, Steve, is also with the railroad. He worked as agent in several places but is now a specialist in the Data Computer field at the station in Springfield, Missouri.

George McVey had five sons and all five of them learned telegraphy and station work under their Dad at Yellville and all went to work for the railroad.

There have been many families with several members all working for the railroad but, just to name a few, these are: Magness of Pyatt, Burleson, Pierce and Gilley.

Prior to the building of the Missouri Pacific Railroad in Marion County as described by Cecil Pierre, Earl Berry wishes to tell of at least two ill-fated railroad ventures in the county. Duane Huddleston, in his article titled White River -- Gateway to Marion County, tells of a river convention and press assembly held in Batesville in May 1891 for the purpose of discussing ways to improve navigation on the river. He says that there were representatives from nine counties in Arkansas and from two counties in Missouri. He mentions that A. S. Layton, Dr. Wells, H. C. Hall, T. M. Rea, Virgie and Florn Layton and Mr. and Mrs. W. R. Jones and daughter Bertha were among those attending. In the article Mr. Huddleston says:

"Although the attempt to divert the upper river trade to Springfield was an obvious failure, another movement was started to accomplish the same purpose. Under the promotion of Willard E. Winner, a group formulated plans to build a railroad from the mouth of Buffalo River to Yellville, and then to Forsythe and Springfield, Missouri. W. R. Jones and C. E. Pond left Yellville for Springfield on November 5,1891, for conference with Edward H. Webster and F. O. Hadley of Kansas City, and other parties interested in the venture. After two days of meetings, the formation of the Springfield, Yellville and White River Railroad was announced. Webster was elected president and the directors were: E. W. Webster, Frand Hadley and Otis Hadley of Kansas City, C. E. Pong and W. R. Jones of Yellville, Dr. H. S. Dodd of Dodd City and E. W. Homan, formerly of Indianapolis."

Construction of this ill-fated railroad venture was actually begun and some seven miles of the road bed beginning at Minerva had been completed before a fund shortage in the company stopped all activity. Had this venture not failed, the history of Marion County might have been materially different.

The other ill-fated venture in railroads in Marion County was proposed to build a narrow gauge railroad from Yellville to the Zinc mines in the Rush Creek District. Several miles of this road bed were built. Traces of this old road bed can be seen near the Camp Ground Branch on Highway 14 South and again east of the Harry Morrow place where it crossed the Cowan Barrens road. Financial problems caused this venture to be dropped, also.

Lewis Collins was the first man to be killed while working on the building of the railroad. In 1903 he was killed at the west end of the railroad bridge that spans 'White River at Cotter. Lewis Collins was the first of a four-generation family of railroad workers. This information was given by his son, Sneed Collins, Cotter, Arkansas.


Reprinted with permission from History of Marion County edited by Earl Berry, copyright 1977.