(This article catches the human side of train travel, especially for people living in small towns, as recently as 10 years ago. While it deals with names and numbers and schedules of trains, it captures the meaning of old time trains to the people who rode them and who gathered at the station to watch them arrive and depart. Trains of olden days were really basic to the Era of Steam which evokes fond memories.)
Many changes have been made by the railroads since World War II diesel power, centralized traffic control, welded rails and piggy-back trains but the public has fond memories of the passenger trains, both local and fast, which were abolished in the '50s and '60s.
Passenger trains were an essential mode of transportation until after World War II when autos, highways and later interstates, changed travel. Crack passenger trains of the L & N serving our area included the Dixie Flyer, Dixieland, Dixie Flagler, Dixie Limited, Hummingbird and the Georgian. The trains ran between Chicago and Jacksonville, Florida, with sleepers (pullmans), dining cars and day coaches.
Their stops were limited locally to Henderson, Madisonville, Earlington for water; Nortonville, a connection with the Illinois Central; Hopkinsville and Guthrie in Kentucky and Springfield and Nashville, Tennessee.
The trains that most people knew and appreciated were 51 and 52 'no names.' Number 51 ran the 158 miles from Evansville to Nashville in four hours and 55 minutes, from 1:40 p.m. to 6:35 p.m. with 19 regular stops, 12 flag stops (you could actually flag the train to stop for boarding, even if you had to use a flaming newspaper for a flare), two water stops and one coal stop with a hand-fired steam locomotive.
I was raised in the little village of Adams, Tennessee, and train time was always special to the community. Someone was always on hand to see those arriving and departing.
Large crowds met the trains on Saturdays and Sundays. Back in the Depression days, it wasn't only a past time, it was a way of life. Number 51 usually consisted of five to seven cars, mail storage car, (most mail went by train then) and RPO car (Rolling Post Office where mail picked up at a stop was processed for future stops). A letter mailed from Madisonville going south to Earlington was delivered from the Madisonville depot to the Earlington depot 10 minutes later.
A baggage coach for passengers' non-carry-on luggage, Railway Express shipments, baby chickens and cream cans and two passenger coaches completed the train.
Shortly before the arrival of the train the two-wheel mail cart was pushed from the post office, bulging with mail sacks. A quick glance at the depot bulletin board showed whether or not the train was 'on time'. The baggage wagon, loaded with a variety of items, was pulled to the platform spot where the baggage coach was to stop.
Eyes strained to see the first sign of smoke from the engine stack. The semaphore arm soon moved to indicate that the train was entering 'the block'. As the engine came into view, the whistle sounded for the street crossings.
The bell-ringing engine rolled by with a glove-hand wave from the engineer to a stop. The flagman swung from the passenger coach to aid departing and entering passengers. The conductor consulted his gold pocket watch before departure. Then the flagman's wave to the engineer and two pulls on the signal cord directed the engineer to start the train.
The engineer got four exhausts from the engine by the time the air signal sounded and the fast accelerating chuff, chuff, chuff pulled the cars away from the three to four minute stop.
While the train stood, you could walk right up to the cars. The most daring sightseers would venture off the platform to more closely examine the coal tender and the engine with its glowing fire box and soft hissing sound of steam.
Those platform minutes were hectic as travelers came forth to be welcomed by friends and family, and those departing received a last hug or handclasp before scrambling in response to the conductor's 'all aboard.'
The mail cart was quickly emptied with the help of the RPO people, and as quickly refilled. The baggage wagon was relieved of suitcases, trunks, cream cans and other items, with the assistance of the friendly baggage men and then promptly was filled with interesting items for businesses and families in the community.
Sometimes a long pine box was placed with careful respect on the baggage wagon as the assembled group murmured the name of one who had returned home for the last time.
Boarding 51, passengers found rows of seats on each side of the coach with an aisle comfortable for passing. Seat backs were reversible so that four persons or a family could enjoy the trip as a party.
Soon after passengers boarded the train, a 'butcher boy' often came through the coach selling newspapers, magazines, candy and snacks. Before the next stop, the conductor passed with practiced step through the swaying coach, gold watch chain on his black vest front, calling out the station name of the next stop.
A homemade 4-6-2 pacific-type hand fired engine was the motive power for 51 and 52. Adams was also served by the Hopkinsville and Paris accommodations that ran from Hopkinsville and Paris, Tennessee to Nashville and back.
Hopkins County was also served by 51 and 52, but the most prominent train in this area in the '20s was the Madisonville-Nortonville Interurban. It came out of Morganfield as 101, making all the local stops between Morganfield and Madisonville. It switched off the Morganfield branch at Como and came up the Reinecke Branch track to Madisonville, arriving at 5:59 a.m. Running as 101-103-105- 107 and 109, it departed Madisonville at 6:10 a.m.; 8:15 a.m.; 11:16 a.m.; 12:20 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. It arrive at Nortonville at 6:43 a.m.; 12:01 p.m.; 12:55 p.m. and 4:20 p.m.
Running north as 102-108 and 110, it left Nortonville at 7:40 a.m.; 1:40 p.m. and 4:50 p.m. arriving at Madisonville at 8:10 a.m.; 12:10 p.m.; 2:10 p.m. and 5:22 p.m.; going back to Morganfield where it tied up for the night.
On the Interurban trip south, it stopped at Victoria Mine, No. 9 Mine at the north end of Earlington, Earlington, Barnsley, Polk Shaw Crossing, Mortons Gap, Oak Hill and Nortonville. Leaving Nortonville on the first trip north, trainmen backed up to Earlington, turned the engine so that it would be headed north, and the rest of the day the crew would back up to Nortonville.
The engine would be cut off and put on the head of the train regardless of whether they were backing up or going ahead. The engines assigned to this train were little 4-4-0s numbered 7, 28 and 44.
Between trips at Madisonville, the train sat at the north end of the siding between Lake Street and Broadway at Madisonville with the engine close to Broadway. Among the engineers were Payton Boxley and Arthur Bonham. The firemen included Bailey Barnard, M. B. Burns, Ellis Jagoe, R. L. Grimes and Wallace Satterfield. The conductors were Harry and Will Bramble and one of the flagmen was Earl Jagoe.
Mr. Burns told me that one Sunday morning he was firing engine No.7 for Mr. Boxley on the trip from Morganfield to Madisonville and as they came in to Pride, they ran into a washout. It didn't derail them but it threw him off the seat box down in the deck of the engine. It shook the passengers up good.
After they stopped, one of the passengers walked to the engine and asked Burns if this incident had scared him. He answered 'Yes' and the passenger asked why he didn't jump off. Mr. Burns told him that he didn't have time, that before he knew what was happening, he was on the floor of the engine cab.
The stations between Morganfield and Madisonville were Hamner, Shrote, Arnold, Pride, Williams, Clay Upland, Providence, Luton Wye, Rose Creek Jet, Nebo, Manitou and Como.
A month's daily commutation tickets between Madisonville and Nortonville cost $9.50.
Hopkins County was also served by another local train, the Evansville and Elkton accommodation via Guthrie, No. 90 and No. 91 arriving at Madisonville at 9:41 a.m. and 6:38 p.m. It was known as 'The Whiskey Dick'.
As the trains passed through our communities, an era passed through our nation, but this train era will be long and fondly remembered.
The writer is greatly indebted to Mr. L. S. Loving for information on the Nortonville Interurban.