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Avoyelles Branch: Simmesport Turntable

First, here are some black birds in my back yard.

It was cold with 25 mile per hour gusts and a steady breeze of 24 miles per hour and it was cold, I said that.

I didn't want to go out on the plains as I'd be knocked over. [remember, I ride a bike] I chose to follow the bayou to Port Barre. I turned east which put the wind at my back, somewhat, as I sailed down US190 to US 71. On 71 I'd just ride up it into the wind. I didn't care as long as I wasn't getting knocked over. Why was I out in this? I'd gotten cabin fever and out is good no matter what out is, sometimes. I always enjoy 71. It's an old friend, a somewhat boring old friend, which may have led to the urge to ride on top of a levee.

I got a nice shot of the bike when I took a break. Remote levees are good for break and bike taking. There are other advantages but I couldn't think of any, so I did a U-turn.

I was on the official Atchafalaya Basin Floodway Levee. I went back to 71 as my urge had gone to mud and it was cold and very windy. What was I thinking? Once, I would have just kept going like a bird headed to South America.

Soon I was at Rideau Road. I decided that I'd go to Palmetto. Maybe I'd see a choo choo.

I took several shots of some old places in the Rideau community, ones I've taken 50 times before. The best one is the church. I've never been able to find the old graveyard since the last time I found it. The founder of the community is there and I'd like to say hi.

Sure enough, when I got to Palmetto, I saw a choo choo.

It had one of those Norfolk loaner engines pulling it. Maybe it was headed to LeCompte. The train was coming from Melville. Maybe there would be another one. I headed on down the line to Melville. I'll use any excuse to go to Melville.

At the intersection of 360, the Bayou Rouge Road, and La.10, the Palmetto to Melville Road, I decided to stop because I'm always thinking of you. I know some of you lay awake at night wondering how does a railroad get across a levee. Sometimes they don't go across, they go through. This is so interesting.

And then they take these things and slide them down in the slots.

I don't want to rain on anyone's high water abatement attempts, but I ain't seeing a real tight fit down there at rail level. Those rails are going to keep the shades from dropping in your window, Casey. BTW, for the disoriented, that picture is looking toward the wet side.

I got to Melville and rode around a little to see if I'd missed any Texas and Pacific RR memorabilia from my last history hunt through here.. I don't think I have a picture of a Melville "Railroad Ave." sign. Check that one, Louise.

I took RR Ave west until it stopped and turned north into the neighborhoods. There was an old church I'd missed, also.

Everything was underwater here in 1927. Anything from then and still around represents a miracle.

That's it for the "generic mini-ramble down familiar roads" part of this article. I decided to lean into the cold wind because I was feeling hot about my prospects in finding the location and further varifying the historical existance of the Simmesport Locomotive Turntable. As Keith had said, "I've heard the turntable mentioned numerous times around here, I just never paid much attention to it. I didn't know there was a debate over it's existence... ;)".

Keith is only 25 and has yet to learn what some debate or seek headed into the wind driven cold. But, he does want to get to Naples, so he must be aging.

To the thousands that don't care what a turntable is, besides something on which old people used to replicate music, you might want to get off now. You can find your way home, I left crumbs.

For you four that are still on board, I'm going to try to explain why there was that device, used to redirect a locomotive, and where it was located in Simmesport. I'm going to semi-quote some people who know a bunch about railroads in Louisiana. I want to pull it all together. Like I just told Keith, some one dropped the ball and didn't list this important piece of equipment and it's importance in why and how the railroad worked on the line that stopped at Simmesport. Young Keith knew about it, the lady I talk to today at the site knew about it. Of course, she's 74 years old and had a head start knowing about it being born 20 feet from the depot. Even the fella from out of town I talked to on the T&P history ride knew about it, why don't more? Shouldn't it be taught in our public schools?

Virgil had asked his group about the possibility of a turntable. A noted historian in the group started with this. I'm leaving some out to lessen confusion. Mine. I'm not mentioning his name because some people like to remain anonymous when being quoted. Here's his thoughts, if not exact quotes:

In 1895-96 the St. Louis, Avoyelles & Southwestern RR built a line from Bunkie to Simmesport. [I didn't include his mileage since it didn't make since to me]

The SLA&SW was sold to the Avoyelles Railroad in 1899.

The T&P bought the Avoyelles RR on 20 Dec 1900.

In 1904-05 the T&P extended the line south from Simmesport along the west side of the Atchafalaya River to a connection with the T&P main line at Mellville. [it was the subject of the Melville-Simmesport history report if not mentioned during that report]

His thesis:

So, from 1896 until 1904 Simmesport was the end of the line. There may have been a need to turn locomotives there, or engines may have just run backwards in one direction.

Me: Reverse running was not a good thing. The engines were turned if there was a turntable and there was.

He goes on:

We know there was a wye, but we don't know when it was built. If it was built when the railroad first got to Simmesport, there would have been little need for a turntable too!

Me: He says that a wye existed. I do not believe the wye existed before the south route to Melville was built in 1904-1905.

He continues:

Railroad Ave.identifies the location of the railroad before the L&A arrived in town, so I suspect the wye was built fairly early in the railroad's existence.

ME: I have my suspicions about "Railroad Ave". I've been there and what is named RR Ave, may be the bed itself. There is another road, Mission Dr. which is very close to RR.Ave and the need for both is not clear. If a boulevard was the intention, then it would be named RR.Boulevard, and I believe the railroad which came to Simmesport in 1928 was called the Louisiana Railway and Navigation Company, just to be clear for all of you wanting to Google these terms. And it gives me another chance to be a smartass.

He continues his spiel, and I'll include it, as it may interest 2 of the 4 remaining readers.

After the T&P completed the line between Simmesport and Melville, the track between Bunkie and Melville (47.2 miles) was operated as one branch, and there probably would have been little need to turn anything at Simmesport.

Me: I'm going with the 1905 date for the wye which would have eliminated the need for the turntable, if the wye was built then. In reverse thinking. If you had an operable turntable in place, why build a wye if the trains could be turned in Melville and backing a steam engine can cause derailments? Just being adversarial, my mission in life. And, how much room was available and did the location of the sawmill cause a problem?

Anyway, this is "what is" and what I suspect. It is a crude drawing so don't go digital on me. CLICK THE MAPS TO MAKE THEM LARGER, HIT THE BACK BUTTON TO RETURN HERE.

The red line came in from Mansura. That was the pre-T&P Avoyelles RR.
The green line is the T&P's extension from Simmesport to Melville.
The yellow line, which I'm sure I found, would complete the wye "Y" formed by the old Avoyelles, T&P to Melville and the addition of the right branch of the "Y".
There was a wye at Melville also formed form the T&P's east-west route [where we saw the choo choo] and the Simmeport to Melville route where Mr.Bearb lives.
So, probably the turntable was not needed after the yellow stretch was added.

Through with that. Now for some pictures.

Since I'll try to conduct this as a tour, lets start by making believe we are a choo choo coming from Melville. After leaving the levee and doing a zigzag at the school, head north, still on La.105 to La.1, continue across La.1. You are basically on the tracks. You come to a fork. One goes left and one goes straight. I contend, at this point or just beyond, one went right. Illustration time.

If no cigar, it's close.

You are at the corner of MLK and Murphy Lacour.

Murphy LaCour is the left fork. MLK might follow part of the right fork. Next please. Notice the raised area to the right, that's an old bed after the left fork has begun.

Out there, I contend, it went. It had to skirt the old sawmill pond. I am wondering if, maybe, the mill might have been a hindrance to a wye at one time?

Here's a picture of the pond area and a shed that might have been associated with the sawmill. I later went around the corner and saw lumber in piles in it. That doesn't mean anything but could. Then, it could be a spur to the mill, but wait.

I know, this is tedious. Not as tedious as being there.

I next proceeded straight to the corner of Mission and MLK, past the fire station. Here's looking west toward Mansura. You can see the bed clearly.

I turned east, looking for signs of the right fork headed toward Railroad Ave. I saw it at the apartments.

And there were the rails coming from Mansura.

And they joined about here?

Here's looking at where we are going next, to the station and the turntable. Click the maps and they get larger.

The lady said the station was in the area between what is called Railroad Ave. and Mission Drive, the straight road. She said the turntable was at the end of Railroad where I have the yellow line pointing down. My suspicions are this: the station was closer to Evangeline, the turntable was where the broadest distance is between Railroad Ave and Mission, the red line. I am having severe computer problems and this is becoming a war. Obviously, I cannot get a clear picture with GE. This is the place to look if you want to try to figure it out.

I didn't have the benefit of overhead sight when I was there, but now I'm seeing stuff in my pictures. This is looking from Simms St. toward Norwood down what is called Railraod, which should be going straight, but was curved around something.

Looking back toward Rairoad, I caught the curve going the other way. That is Mission to the right. The next cross street is Simms and the station was suppose to be on the other side of Simms between RR and Mission.

This is the area where she said the station was. I am standing on Simms looking west.

I am considering the possibility that Railroad Ave was the railroad. I've said that. I've been up since 3:45 and I'm loosing it. It is the gravel looking narrow road. Possibly there was no Railroad Ave. prior to the rails being torn up? I've said that. This is getting more tediouser. I should have taken some wider shots. Oh, well, I guess I blew it again. I can't go back, Keith, it's up to you.

Next page to get out of Simmesport and continue the ride. CLICK HERE

By the way, this is what a turntable is.

Keith just sent this one which is another overhead shot before the mill ponds were filled in. The right arm of the wye can be see. I used Christmas colors to coordinate with the season. Click Pic to enlarge.

For those whose imaginations are running on empty, there really are some old rails in Simmesport that require just looking. These are near where the T&P angled down Mission Street to the depot or took the Melville branch.

I'm through with Simmesport.

This is going to get sloppy real fast.

I headed back to Plametto looking for the depot's location. I shot this and blessed it as the place.

Looking from the police station, here's a better view.

Next, I pegged it, ending up in Port Barre.

Mercy, mercy, mercy. After the town was alerted of my article on the Opelousas and Gulf Railroad (short version of the name since I forgot it) and realizing what a tourist attraction the old route could be, they put up signs that make the location extremely identifiable.

Or: so many of my readers have come looking for it, they had changed the name of the road so that there wouldn't be so many wandering idiots looking for the old right of way.

There it goes off to the east, all the way to Melville where it met the T&P. Been there, done that.

I had never looked down the OG in Port Barre going east toward Opelousas. I figured it was time to do that. Mercy, mercy, mercy. This was where it crossed the Courtableau. I was going to draw a map but the computer is frying. There were 32 dogs barking at me and I was getting nervous that Shepard might get loose. I had a Shepard, they like rump roast.

There was no trestle and not much but water, so I didn't bother with a shot.
That's it. Now to fight the computer.

Avoyelles Branch Part 1

Everett had mentioned the Texas and Pacific Railroad Avoyelles Branch when I had sent him a picture of cracks in the highway in Bunkie. You don't send pictures of highway cracks? Almost immediately Mike sent me his latest "Railroader" addition, Living and Loving on the Avoyelles Branch. So, I guess the ball was in my court to show you the line which the story depicted. The ride didn't start with that intention.

The weather was unsettled. Storms were in the forecast.

I hadn't ridden in over 2 weeks, so the above was irrelevant. I put an old collapsible umbrella in the bike trunk and strapped a folding chair on the back of the bike for a possible Plan B. If the weather became the ride, the ride would pause. I have no quarrel with weather nor want to compete with or challenge it. I'm for co-existence. I would unfold the chair, sit in it and raise the umbrella. Then I'd drink the two ice teas I had brought. There were also some boiled peanuts in the trunk somewhere. I'd be fine. The storms were listed as the scattered variety. That meant they could be avoided, and if not, well Plan B has been described. The vision of me being Mary Poppins in a folding chair hadn't crossed my mind. "Co-existence" can have issues.

First some unfinished business:
Here's the rest of the Burma Shavic rhyme seen near Lemoyen. Of course you have to look on that page to get the first part of the poem.

How true that sign is, just by its lonesome. I saw in the ditch when I circled to shoot this.

That's what gave me the idea to add to Mike's story by tracing some of that steam engine's route off into eastern Avoyelles Parish.

I told the GPS wench to take me to Bunkie in case I got lost on US71. She told me it would be 24 minutes before we got there. I made her change that assessment. She doesn't like being proved wrong. You know one that does?

Soon we were crossing the T&P tracks that go to Opelousas at the Bunkie city limits. I crossed the main line which had been my companion on the way north. She told me I was here. Mz.Garmin we'll call her? If I continue to call her, "that winch", she may rebel and lead me astray or worse.

Let me mention again, you can click these pictures and they will get bigger.
The black triangle marked my position right in the middle of Bunkie's railroad district. To the right of the triangle you can see a rail line going east (+++++). That's the one we'll follow. It does not exist anymore but there is evidence, starting with this, so Mr.Everett, you know your stuff though I have questioned you.

Yes, I've questioned him, only because he does know his stuff. See how terms can be taken wrong. That's a problem with e-mail and the internet. Life long friendships can be wiped out by the wrong "smilie face" or lack of. Be careful out here. Where did that come from? I'll leave it, as it is the duty of us older Americans to teach the youth of today. Here's one, "If you are in a hole, don't keep diggin'".

I turned to look where they would go.
This group of ag business buildings was first. I went in and asked an older man (one to another) where the rails had run and he said "there". Here's there. Let me add, I've got a new thing going for old steel buildings. I'd hoped that he'd been a little longer winded and told me the entire rail history of Bunkie, but "there" had to do.

I could rattle off a long list of why I like these old buildings, but that would be senseless. Most people's minds are made up already when it comes to steel buildings and that's a shame. They may be old, they may not be pretty, but they are strong and they are still there because they were made of the right stuff. They have integrity, a facet some newer more flashy buildings don't.

I headed east on La.29 toward Evergreen, a gorgeous place. Soon I saw this. What this perfect concrete foundation had supported or led to, I don't know. The rails had crossed it and the wooden crossing planks were still in place.

Now don't get all disillusioned. This ride is not going to be all bumps in the road. Nevertheless, they are important evidence and keep you up to speed on the progression of the investigation. Just be thankful I don't show full size maps of where to find them, complete with coordinates in three different styles.

Next up was Evergreen.

Let me show you what I was seeing on the GPS. I was coming from the west on 29. I worked both sides of the bayou trying to see if there were any pilings still in the water or trestle parts on the shores of first, Bayou Huffpower, and then Bayou Rouge to the East. Why were the rails routed across 2 deep depressions when crossing just Bayou Rouge and going through town would have worked? On the land between Huffpower and Rouge I found a large plantation. Possibly, it was a stop?

This is the approach to crossing Huffpower, what I could see of it. The undergrowth is at its peak for the year. Winter will open up the views.

The picture was taken from the hump in La.29.

Here's another perspective. The land owner has kept the bed cleaned up. I would have loved to have walked out there but I didn't have time to stop and ask permission. It's on my list.

Here's the official Evergreen welcome sign. Dave has my Louisiana and Arkansas RR book right now so I'm not sure of this, but, it seems Evergreen was mentioned. The founding date jives.

Add "beautifull" to "historical". Bayou Rouge is in a somewhat healthy state due to Huffpower's addition, south of Evergreen, the once wide bayou is reduced to ditch size. Reminder: Bayou Rouge was a main steamboat route to Cottonport from the Atchafalaya. So, beside imagining those billowing steam engined trains, imagine their predecessors, the steamboats billowing clouds on the bayou. For more steam, just imagine the humidity. But not that day. The weather was delightful. It didn't get over 87F and the humidity couldn't have been much higher.

As the road enters Evergreen (a pretty name in itself) the bayou landscape unfolds.

This is all viewed entering town.

I crossed Bayou Rouge to check out where the rails had landed on the peninsula. Indeed there was a large farm there. This is looking right down the imaginary rails.

Crossing back over I could see where the bed headed through town. I then imagined a station, but found none.

Next, I was off to Cottonport. The rails went the direct route across the fields with no access until I came to Crackville Road at the imaginary settlement of Enterprise.

Here's your update map to keep you humming along. See Enterprise?

I know you are wondering, as I am, what was at Deals and Dora? Maybe Deals and Dora?

The answers are All Down the Line. (just a plug for the article over on Back Road Riding)

Cottonport was next. The line came right through here.

And down the main boulevard of the town, through downtown. Yes there were streets on either side of the tracks creating a boulevard. I would have named it Railroad Boulevard. They didn't.

This old house sat on the north side.

Crossing La.107 in downtown Cottonport, the next railroad associated building is this one. It may have been only a warehouse, but I think it was the station, also.

I followed the rails east as far as I could. At the end of the road was this place.

The "Squeeze Box" is reflective of the accordion, a main ingredient of most French and Zydeco bands. This place was hidden and is no doubt, a local secret. Don't be "hanging on" on the porch.

Returning back up the dead end road, I was back in downtown. Another steel magnolia beckoned for a shot.

I say cotton gin, but then I say cotton gin often. Yes, I knew you wanted a closer shot of that tractor, that's why this website is so popular, I anticipate.

Next is a bump in the road picture so you don't feel lost. I anticipated your need, again.

Still lost? The tour continues going east on La.29, a great adventure road. You can make a day or maybe 2 or a week out of La.29. I've made more than that from it. The places it visits are phenomenal. You want Cajun Louisiana? Follow 29.

I took 29 out of Cottonport and looked for access roads to the bed. Joffrion was my first chance but it only offered a hump which was negligible and I've learned to draw the line when there is a bounty of other pictures available. But, there was something you have to see. It blew me away. I like most people have a hard time getting rid of my used tires, being the environmentalist I am. I've been told that the EPA really frowns on burning them and the parish dissuades dumping. It further cost money to turn them in. So, this trucker/farmer has got it done in the true Southern Tradition of Inventiveness. He has built a drainage pipe out of his used tires. It is a model for America, if not the pipe, the resourcefulness.

The contributors:

He gets the Getterdone Bubba award for this outing.

At the head of the property was this old building. Associated with the RR, who knows?

Time was moving on quickly and I was still watching the sky for darkening clouds. All seemed stable for the time being. I was on La.29 right at Long Bridge. I came upon this in the road. another sign that road maintenance is slow, if ever in LA. I think these tracks were torn up in the early 70's, maybe earlier.

Looking down the once rail bed, this is what I saw.


Next, I would get on La.114 which is basically a Marksville bypass and head north to Mansura.

In route I would leave 114 and see if I could see some evidence of where the T&P had crossed Bayou Des Glaises (the same bayou that forms Big Bend and ends up at

I found this at the crossing. It had to be part of the bridge approach. I could see nothing in the bayou. The foliage was thick and the land private, so no snake bite walk could be taken. I love it when I have an excuse.

Back on 114, the "rails" soon joined the highway. At Bayou Grand Encore, the raised approach bed could easily be seen.

Maybe, only by me, but it's there.
I was almost to Mansura. No offense to Mansurians, but your town is known for its bars.

Here's a couple of historic ones. The one that is real historic, the big one, I just didn't see wasting any film on since it ain't pretty. This is Milburn's BAR and Packaged Liquor.

Across Bowling Alley Road is this pretty Easter Egg. I didn't catch the name.

Now we need another map to understand the complexities of Mansura's rail district.
Click it, then open it in new window so you can follow along.

I was coming from the south on 114 watching the GPS and trying to put the real messy world together with the neat little map.

This would be the curve to the east where "Ag Businesses" is written.

I also like big ag stuff. Go figure.

I would come back to this area. Something was pulling me up the line.

When I saw the RXR sign, I was wondering if it was a leftover. I forgot that there was an active line running through Mansura.

Moving across the bayou, I saw the old depot to the left. I'd come back to that, also, even though I figured it was not associated with the T&P. I could see that the T&P crossed the KCS and paralleled 107 through town. 107 has several neat old buildings on it. I have a whole page on Mansura somewhere? Stuff happened here long ago.

Honest, I didn't see the street name because the wonderful old software isn't real street name oriented. It is old railroad oriented. I just felt that I should go on the back streets and see what evidence the Texas and Pacific had left.

There was "some".

I wonder what percentage of the Mansurians knows what T&P stands for? I can imagine the guesses.

Here's an old shotgun that was adjacent to the tracks. Was this the location of the T&P Depot in Mansura?

Returning to 107, I stopped at the stop sign and shot this old service station (a lost term) and the adjoining old building.

I was then off to the depot. Turn where the sign points to the local library off 107.

You will now get 17 pictures of the depot and stuff around it. Hey, more is better.

That pole outfit was used for something, mail pickup, possibly?
I rely on you rail experts to hep me naw.

Everett has come to the rescue and explained the pole:

"Ah, the pole outfit. In the days when every station had an agent, and before radio etc, train movements were controlled by timetable and train order. The timetable told the engineer and conductor what time that their train had to be at a certain spot to avoid other trains, pick up passengers or what ever. IF for what ever reason the dispatcher overrode the timetable, or the train was an extra train not on the timetable, its movement was controlled by train orders telegraphed from the dispatcher to the appropriate station agent that could get them to the conductor and engineer of the train. The pole out in front of the depot told the engineer if he could just blast on by the depot, or if there were orders at the depot for him. It had a paddle on the pole and a light for at night. If the paddle was straight up and down or the light was green, he could keep on going. If the paddle was up at a 45 degree angle, or the light was yellow, that meant, slow down, and the station agent will hand up Form 19 orders, which were usually on green paper and handed up to the crew on the fly. If the paddle was straight out, or the light was red, it meant stop for Form 31 orders, which had to be signed by the engineer and conductor, and the train physically stopped. Form 31 orders were usually yellow as I remember. So the pole is called a train order signal. Now days with radio, GPS and computers, the dispatcher not only knows exactly where every train is, and how fast it is going, but can contact the crew at any moment to transmit information. Today's version of orders are now called "Track Warrants" and a warrant allows a particular train exclusive authority to occupy a particular piece of track for a specific time period and it is all done with GPS and wireless internet etc."

Now we know. Thanks Everett.

Everett just added this explaining this picture of the mast:

"You can see the train order signal out in front, and it is bidirectional. The signal to the right of the mast governs train movements from right (north) to left (south), while the signal on the left of the mast governs movements from left to right. In this case, there are no orders for trains in either direction. This type of signal is called a semaphore signal, with the arms. There were other types, that rotated so that when the arms were perpendicular to the track the red light would be on, and it would mean stop."

There were a bunch of rail support plates. I copped a spike.

And piled up timbers. (Forget about it Cindy)

And what looked like a work car wheel. It was yellow. I though about you Everette.

I took the next picture because I thought it might be significant to one of the really intense rail nutz that read this thing.

I didn't realize I was getting the fullness of this shot when I shot it. I was just aiming at the far away Mansua sign. I didn't realize I was capturing where the switch had been to allow cars to take the side track to the station and the oil business close by.

This is from the west end, right across the street from the oil business.

Having tried the doors and taken every angle and all the stuff on the ground, I felt complete and headed back to the ag businesses to investigate further.

I immediately thought I'd hit the Holy Grail. On the map, you can see that the T&P not only crossed the KCS but merged with it. Not shown is the western connection(because there was none as I first believed!) You can see the Highway 107 crossing in the distance. The map I used is old. 114 now makes the bend following the black line and aligns with 107 so what you are actually seeing is the 107 crossing near the depot. That threw me off until I compared maps. This is important and I want to get it right as it was the high point of the investigation.

The map of my movement in Mansura is below. The picture above was taken from where "X Tracks" is marked on the map looking toward the depot.

Right where I guessed the "X" to be was here. The cement doesn't jive with rails being exactly there. Ah, Now I get it, I think. the picture of the old rails is the cross track. It did not cross at right angles. There was no western merger.

Here's looking from the eastern merge tracks back to the T&P main line where I'd come into town.

I was overwhelmed by the excitement. I could absorb no more railroad stuff (like you probably feel) and headed back to Bowling Alley Rd to cross over to 107 and the quick way back to Cottonport. I then hooked up with 362 and 361 for a great ride back to US 71.

On the way I stopped to take a picture of Bayou Rouge.

The once proud bayou has been reduced to nothing south of Evergreen. It is now cut off from the Atchafalaya and Bayou Des Glaises.

Best picture of the ride: Old building and dog on 361, Bayou Rouge, same spot.

Runner Ups, maybe if the mirror had been cleaner:

I was attempting to demonstrate what a great road 361 is.

And: Harvesting on La.359 below LeBeau and the Port Barre turn off. The wires detract from the whole thing and it almost got dumped.

That's it. The Avoyelles Branch is almost invisible now except for what I found. I think I found it all, but maybe not. Winter could help. Louisiana gets pretty thick in summer. Ghost? Yes, there are ghost. I think I found Yvonne's house and I know I actually saw her crossing the street in Mansura. She smiled and waved as I waited for her. She's a little my senior, 78, Mike estimates, but still cute.

PS, yes, I hit rain on the way back but not quite enough for Plan B. so I still have some peanuts left. I drank the teas.