(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The writer is greatly indebted to Mr. L. S. Loving for
information on the Nortonville Interurban.