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Following Louisiana's & Mississippi's Historic Railroads

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Finding the Lumber Mill Railroads

Following the Historic Rails of Mississippi

No Particular Place to Go p.3

Before leaving the "cotton gin", I looked Al square in the eyes and with a straight face, told him, "Al, I want to look around Washington for an old railroad right of way and the location of the depot". I saw him draw a deep breath as if his last. Then he gave me one of his silent nods. He understands that I'm his ticket home.

We continued on into Washington on La.103. I took the first street west and then looked for a street that went south, the believed location of the right of way. I've combed Washington before and was denied by this blocked bridge.

We came to the same blocked bridge.
We dismounted. Neighborhood houses were on either side of the street. I envisioned people peering from the curtains. The blocked bridge lay ahead. I've gotten a little tentative about trespassing lately. The clock runs down on good luck and Mike says that they only have collected 10 bucks in my bail money account.

Then I thought for a moment. This was a public bridge that was merely blocked, albeit with menacing signs. It did not belong to anyone but the town. I was still a little nervous about prowling around it as I know Washington has an aggressive police force, just try speeding near the Washington exit on I-49.

A woman was working in her yard, far off the street.
Al said to ask her. I waved my hands explaining that I was an old train nut and was this the location of the railroad that went through Washington. That approach has rarely had a positive conclusion. But, She smiled and said, "Yes, this is it".

I think I went, "huh?", not believing our good fortune. I asked her where the depot was. She said, "the section house depot was right here, let me show you the stairs the men would use to go down to the trains".

I was reeling, morphing into a happy puppy as we followed along.

Stop the presses, it is show and tell time.

Some explanation is in order.

"Section house" is the first. Scanning the web, I found one I could use from Texas that even had a little definition with it. Don't pay any attention to the "toll booth" mentioned.

Here's another version:

Here's my favorite, the section crew. I guess these guys kept the rails right.

And, this is the very rare picture of the Washington Depot. She said it had been down by the bayou near La.103. I had guessed that. It was near where the rock hauling business is today. Being close to the bayou, it could have been a transfer spot. Also, it would have been on flat land with no need of steps to descend to get to the platform. The picture was taken in the early 1900's. That is a Southern Pacific train. It would have come from Alexandria by way of Cheneyville or as far away as Avery Island and beyoud. Actually, you know it could have come from a number of places in southwest Louisiana. Could that be a Conductor standing on the platform getting ready to board?

The layout was this. I'm not showing the location of the overpass as our host and her husband, 5 Rottweiler dogs and male twins, age 2, do not invite visitors. The dogs were friendly, but well trained. The children were neither.

The rail bed overpass was needed because the Southern Pacific had to dig its way through Washington. The incline coming from the two bayous it crosses, Bayou Caron and Bayou Courtableau, is too great for those trains to scale, thus the sunken right of way.

The hurricane had dropped trees into the dig and I was unable to get down there. Actually I could have but feared the embarrassment of not being able to return to the surface with our host looking on. She made the point that she could get down there a couple of times which did no good to my manly pride. I told her I would, but not in my new jeans. I know, that was pretty lame. I settled for these unmanly pictures.

Here's the aforementioned steps from the section house to the rails.

Pictured is the surface of the bridge. I cannot believe this is all I have. Notice the heavy iron piece just outside the railing. What is that all about? Did it have a railroad function? I have to go back. Al, you coming? Yes, you can tell her that your Grandma was a Fontenot while I climb down into the trench. I'm so glad you saved that story.

Seen is only half of the bridge. It was quite a span. The iron might be a support pan for the unsupported stretch over the rails. I'm not satisfied with that guess. To keep the wooden bridge from igniting, an iron underbelly might have been required. Now there's a far out guess. I just talked to Everett, he verified that my guess was far out. But, to make me feel better, he did say that a mine had caught fire. I may have the story mixed up.

While talking, Everett sent this drawing of the LeCompte section house seeing I didn't have a local one.

This was the section car house, the "car" was used for railroad work. I'll get him to elaborate later, which he will, in lenght. You will know more about a section car than you though possible.

These were Red River and Gulf buildings in LeCompte. They were part of the railroad which was based at Longleaf where the Southern Forest Heritage Museum is now located. You might want to check out the Great Depot Adventure for a look at where this stuff was probably located.

That's it until I can return. This one is NOT OVER.

No Particular Place to Go p.2

Coming from the south on La.103, then crossing under I-49 going into Washington, there is a public park to the right. There in lies an old, what we were told could have been, cotton gin. The operation was steam driven. We explored all that was not locked up, hung jawed at the museum this place was. Al lamented, with great sadness, that this place had not been preserved as a jewel in the crown of Washington's history.

Since I have domestic duties to attend to this morning, I'm not going into much explanation or speculation below, but merely exhibit what we saw. I'll insert a few pictures from a previous visit I made when I first discovered what was then a total mystery to me. Reviewing my old pictures, I am saddened to say, the place is slipping away at an amazing rate. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the overall area.

There are now 5 buildings/locations left. The weigh house, a homestead, the boiler area, a shed, and a locked warehouse. Missing is a work shed and an old honkytonk which was down by the bayou on the original road into Washington, which, I suspect, the cotton gin was on, also. First, here is what Al determined was the weigh house after he saw the hook for the counter weight inside the window. First the outside, then the inside.

Notice the wood shingled exterior walls and the hole in the wall for the pot belly stove, no doubt. We had seen a cow bell mounted on the front of the building. I don't see it in these pictures? Here's the drive on scales and the underground lever channel to the inside.

Inside, all I have is this old picture of the safe. The present scene is one of deterioration. That was 4 years ago.

There was a plumbing shed. On this visit, I felt something was gone. It was. I only have a few pictures of the contents.

Next is the boiler area. My pictures, again, are too close up for you to see the overall scene. I'll have to go back. This is a reoccurring tradition to be redundant in the light of these redundancies.

The gauge.

The door. Each part was stamped with its part number for easy reordering if it broke. You will not find that today. You can't fix anything anymore.

Combustion Engineering Company Inc.
Al said that they are still in business.

Below were the fire boxes.

With this inscription. Click to enlarge. I read it as "The Walsh & Weidner Boiler Co"

Below the boiler was this steam driven pump which delivered water to the boilers from Bayou Courtableau. Notice the cap is cracked, probably due to a hard freeze.

We could have spent the afternoon exploring just this facet of the mill. But, there was more. Here's the shed four years ago and yesterday when Al couldn't wait to go in. He's got to trim that "Afro" before he comes along again. After going into these places he complains of itching. I wonder why?

Next is the inside. Again, hours could have been spent investigating in here. There was a work area, the tool was steam driven.

Notice the Caterpillar tractor. The serial number began with "TT???". We can't remember the rest. Lucky we remembered that, our ages totaling over 120 years. See the large flywheel on that piece of machinery in the back. What was it? A lathe?

It reads, "A. Baldwin and Co. L... Agents, New Orleans, LA
There was a Baldwin Company that built steam locomotives. A connection? Possibly.

Next was the home. These are all early pictures. I failed miserably on this expedition to shoot much. The outside steps are gone. They were probably removed to keep people, like myself, and, especially Al, from killing ourselves going up to explore.

There was more I think I should not mention. No, nothing weird or bad.
The next picture was taken yesterday. Al really liked the curved corners of the porch roof line. They seemed unique to me, also. That's it, 3 hours is up and I have vacuuming to do. The railroad and section house, later.

Oops, almost forgot the honkytonk which is very sadly gone. Though not grand, it was a picture into the past that has been thrown away.

An old Falstaff sign remained as a reminder of good times here on the banks of the Courtableu, at the city limits. Rising above the location of the old bar is the I-49 overpass with its modern hustle and bustle traffic flying by. A poignant moment was had. I could have used a beer and a game of pool, good thing it's gone.


I think Chuck Berry had this place in mind when he wrote these lines:

Climb into my machine so we can groove on out
I know some swinging little joint where we can jump and shout
It's not too far back on the highway, not so long a ride
You park the car out in the open you can walk inside
A little cutie takes your hat and you can thank her ma'am
'Cause every time you make the scene you find the joint is jammed.

My Reframe, Oh Carol, how could you take my heart away? Yep.
Sometimes you bang into some history that's your history.
Sometimes it produces a big grin, sometimes, not.

Page 1 Only With No Particular Place to Go (Washington w/Al)

I spun around in my front yard trying to see where the crease in the heavy dark clouds might be. I flipped on the weather channel and it was as vague as usual. I figured I'd done all that a mortal could do to prepare for motorcycle riding in Louisiana weather, it being nearly 80F with a forecast of 30F sometime, soon.

In the meantime, Alphonso was loading a handful of little shinny packets into his bike's trunk, a sure sign he'd been to the Stop and Run to satisfy his candy jones. I irreverently revved the little DL 650 in hopes it would snap him out of his sugar intoxication. I wanted to get in a few miles before the weather dropped on us, which I was sure it would.

I picked "north". We would head straight into the menacing blackness singing songs from The Sound of Music. That practice has been known to cut straight through adversity. Weather adversity. Adversity of any kind. Try it the next time you get hassled.

It seemed to have worked as we found ourselves on the banks of Bayou Fusiler, west of Arnaudville, still dry. I had wanted to show Alphonso, who's been away for a while, some of the less known wonders of the area. Of course, being Al, direct descendant of the French explorer, LaSalle, he immediately claimed the Bayou, the dam structure, and all lands draining to this point for France. I've never had the nerve to tell him that some of this stuff is already claimed.

I can hear it now, straight from the peanut gallery, "What kind of history hunt is this"?

As it turned out, it was a damn good one.

Grand Coteau is on one of my routes north. We stopped at the historic Catholic girl's school there for a few shots. I have a whole web page on Grand Coteau I'll link later. Al, said that he saw some cool cows but they weren't there when I went back to look. He gravitates to cows. I haven't figured that one out. Nor the others.

Next, out on Highway 31, I saw this old girl sitting back off the road. She was lovely, though a bit worse for ware, but nothing which rehabilitation couldn't render up. Al just sent me an email and mentioned seeing severe damage to the chimney area.

Meandering a bit, we, more or less, headed to Washington, I called a halt as I was overcome by the aura of our route.

I tell you how Al and I de-biked in Washington, explored a bunch of stuff and visited the spot where the Missouri Pacific Railroad had its section house. That was where Bidstrup St. crossed the rails on a historic overpass. To top it all, the home owner I interrupted from her yard'll have to wait.

Research: Mississippi River Railroad Ferries

Most of my "tracking the tracks" rides have been like this. I'd go out on a ride and see a bunch of dashes on my GPS that symbolize rail right of ways. I'd follow them and then find out what I was following. Slowly, I reversed that approach and researched what I was after, before the ride. The transition can be seen in the Torras Adventures. The last one was planned to the "T" and only needed carrying out to put the icing on the cake. I think this next one will be done that way. It will be a long hard ride to find one place, explore it if I can, and ride a long harder ride home.

What wasn't hard was getting the background on the subject of this next adventure, the Vidalia to Natchez train ferry, Mississippi River crossing. Sounds awesome, no? Here's the way it went. VH asked if I'd like to look at a couple of articles he had on the old Mississippi train ferries. I told him, "Why, sure". He cut them up the best he could and emailed them. I was so excited seeing these amazing shots I promised myself I'd post them for you.

If you don't know the river at Natchez, the picture above is not adequate.
The "Old Man" is sleeping in this one. Awakened, he can rock and roll.

First, this is where I want to be in Natchez.

I've done a little enhancement to VH's lines to further clarify the pictures.
Above, is the S.S. James Y. Lockwood and the Baysinger II, the train barge, ready to unload tank cars filled with Texas oil bound for Mobile via the Natchez Route. Ferry service at Natchez continued until 1982, though the steam powered stern wheeler gave way to a diesel towboat in 1961.

He then gave a little historical background on which railroads did what getting the trains to this momentous point, at least from the Louisiana side. Here the same railroad comes into play that crossed down at Naples and Torras Landing, though the Louisiana & Arakansas did not do the ferrying here. I'll have to reread Fair's book to get the exact association with this crossing, that later. To make it all juicier, the Texas and Pacific had a line that came from Torras to Vidalia. What connection did it have to the Natchez crossing? Here's VH's explanation which will take the trains from Big D to the Vidalia shore line.

The Natchez Route began at Dallas, Texas. The trains of the Louisiana & Arkansas RR carried the freight cars to Shreveport, La. That route was actually over the tracks of a subsidiary called the Louisiana, Arkansas & Texas. From Shreveport, The Louisiana and Arkansas trains, officially listed in the timetables as “Texas Fast Freights”, carried the tonnage to the banks of the Mississippi River at Vidalia, La.

At Vidalia, the steam tugs and transfer barges of the Natchez & Louisiana Transfer Co. (a subsidiary of the Missouri Pacific) ferried the cars across the river and handed them over to another MP family member, the Natchez & Southern Ry. The N&S carried the cars from the river’s edge up a 4 percent grade and two switchbacks to the top of the bluffs and its connection with the Natchez Route’s easternmost partner, the Mississippi Central.

The N< Co. and the N&S Ry. built the Natchez tracks and loading dock in 1900. For most of the Natchez Route years, the stern wheel towboat James Y. Lockwood pushed a nine-car capacity barge named Baysinger II. The operation was modernized in 1961, with a new diesel towboat, the Natchez, and in 1962 a higher capacity barge was purchased. These served until ferry service was discontinued in 1982.

The article mentioning the Natchez crossing had a stack of pictures of other ferries. I won't be adding much since I must save my dainty pinkies for for typing up the Natchez Ride Report which will be arduous. Let these psych up your imagination in preparation for that adventure.

This is the Pelican at Helena, AR. The other article he sent is solely about this boat and I might show more of it later. Here are a bunch of miscellaneous pictures.

The Ste.Genevieve 2 being loaded, Genevieve, Missouri. The original sank in 1918.

I'll have to show you a couple of cool pictures taken from the Pelican. Here is an engineer doing his job.

And a couple of guys bolting the thing together.

The Pelican being unloaded at Helena, 1958.

Train coming off Pelican at Helena, AR.


This one, above, is very interesting to me since I've been to Anchorage,La. Anchorage was the west side terminal for the Baton Rouge to Anchorage ferry. This is the Missouri Pacific ferry, George H.Walker. It steamed freight and passenger cars across the Mississippi until September 2, 1947, 7 year after the Huey P.Long train bridge had been opened. The crossing was one and one quarter miles across.

This is a "Russian" Decapod No.941 of the Missouri Pacific subsidiary, New Orleans, Texas, and Mexico, taking cars off the Walker at Baton Rouge, having arrived from Anchorage.

Below is a ferry bringing a Missouri Pacific train to Baton Rouge in 1907. Notice, the whole passenger train is on board.

I understand there were seven ferry operations along the Mississippi in Louisiana. The Vicksburg bridge was the first to replace a ferry across the Mississippi to Louisiana. The Huey P. Long in New Orleans was the second. When the Baton Rouge bridge opened in 1940, the Louisiana and Arkansas abandoned its ferry, but the Missouri Pacific continued using Anchorage until 1947. The last ferry operation to Louisiana was at Natchez, where I'm going. I'll show you what I found when I get back.

Rides that set the stage for my interest in Natchez: