Friday, August 30, 2019

Historic Railpark Train Museum, Bowling Green, Kentucky

We were on our way to the Corvette Museum and driving in were directed to a parking area that was at least 1/2 mile from the museum itself. We learned that it was the 25th anniversary of the museum's opening and about 10,000 corvettes from all over the U.S. were there as well as thousands of people, so we just kept driving and decided to head to the Historic Railpark Train Museum instead. We arrived just in time for a tour which took us through a Pullman train where we learned about mail delivery, eating and sleeping areas, and how the dining cars were named. 


The train on the tour consists of the E8 Engine, Railroad Post Office Car, Duncan Hines Diner Car (a 1949 Pullman diner, the Towering Pine), a 1953 Pullman sleeper, the 353 Pullman Presidential Office Car (the personal car of the president of the L&N built in 1911, and a Chessie Class C-7 Caboose. We also learned about Abraham Lincoln's involvement with the railroad.  Railroads ran through Lincoln's life, from his first campaign for public office in 1832, before he had even seen a steam engine, through his Illinois law practice, and into his presidency and beyond. Because he lived in a formative time in the industry's history, few public figures have had a more profound impact on railroading. 


Lincoln became a lawyer in 1836. His early practice was marked by routine cases involving debts, land disputes, and a variety of criminal matters, but he was also a successful corporate lawyer. Lincoln was the 1860 presidential candidate of the Republican party, whose platform "imperatively demanded" a Pacific railroad and urged the federal government "to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction." In November, Lincoln carried every state north of the Ohio River and the Mason-Dixon Line, plus the only two states in the far West: Oregon and California. And, though he won nearly 40% of the popular vote he failed to get a single vote in nine Southern states. The South distrusted him, and seven states seceded before he took office.


On a rainy February day in 1861, as the nation hung on the brink of Civil War, Abraham Lincoln left Springfield, Illinois for Washington, D.C. aboard a train. It would take 13 days and travel through eight states. Why did it take so long? Because Lincoln wanted to meet the crowds at several stops, in order "that I may see you and that you may see me, and in this arrangement," he joked, "I have the best of the bargain." Another light moment came at Westfield, New York. Lincoln made a short speech and then asked if a little girl named Grace Bedell was in the crowd. She had written to Lincoln a few months earlier, suggesting he grow a set of whiskers. Lincoln followed her advice, and wore a beard for the rest of his life. The 11-year old Grace was on hand that day, and Lincoln kissed her, to the delight of the crowd. Never had a new president come so far to take office, and thanks to railroads, Lincoln was able to turn the trip into an opportunity.

Lincoln's First Inauguration

When Abraham Lincoln left Springfield, Illinois to start his inaugural journey for Washington, D.C., he paid an unforgettable tribute to his friends and neighbors in what is known today as his Farewell Address. Lincoln spoke these famous, emotion-charged words as he boarded a special presidential train at the Great Western Railroad station, now a restored Lincoln visitor site. The day Lincoln saw this depot for the last time he recognized most of the people in the huge crowd gathered outside. Ahead of his was war, death, and enduring fame; behind him were the warm-hearted people who provided this response:

"My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. 

I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well.

To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell." ~~ Abraham Lincoln



Four years later, Lincoln's death plunged the country into a period of public mourning unprecedented in its time, and unequalled since. His funeral train retraced his 1861 trip to Washington for most of its 1,600 mile route to Springfield, Illinois. The trip would take 13 days. At major cities along the way, the president's coffin was unloaded from the train and taken in solemn procession to city halls or state capitol buildings, where mourners would file past in the thousands, heedless of the weather or the hour. One man who rode the train on a portion of the journey wrote "as we sped over the rails at night, the scene was the most pathetic ever witnessed. At every cross-roads the glare of innumerable torches illuminated the whole population from age to infancy, kneeling on the ground, and their clergymen leading in prayers and hymns."


Many women dressed in white accompany President Lincoln's hearse as it passes beneath ornamental arch. 

Railway Post Office Car

Railway mail service began in England as early as 1832, and by 1864 the U.S. Post Office had established the first Railway Post Office route on the C&NW RR. The wooden mail cars of the 1800's were often rebuilt coaches. Carried at the front of the trains, mail cars were typically telescoped in accidents, killing or maiming their Post Office occupants. By 1891 the Post Office responded with specifications requiring body reinforcement for existing cars and by 1911, the rules required the entire cars be made of all steel. 


The Railway Mail Service revolutionized the way mail was processed by sorting mail aboard moving trains. Mail was sorted en route, as a train moved between two points. The idea proved to be very successful. This new method of sorting mail was developed just when railroads began to crisscross the nation on a regular basis. The service grew as railroads came to dominate America from the end of the 19th century through WWII. 


Railway Office clerks were considered the elite of the postal service's employees. A full size mail car had a typical crew of five to seven men. Their jobs were exhausting and dangerous. They were required to sort 600 pieces of mail an hour. 

"Mail-On-The-Fly" ~~ The Railway Post Offices used s a system of mail cranes to exchange mail at stations without stopping. As the train approached, a clerk prepared the catcher arm which would then snatch the incoming mailbag in the blink of an eye. The clerk then booted out the outgoing mailbag. Exchanging the mail was a two-part process, after the clerk snagged the mail bag with the catcher arm, he had to toss out the mailbag for the station. If a clerk did not kick the mailbag out far enough, it could get trapped beneath the wheels of the train, bursting open and sending letters flying everywhere. The clerks called such small disasters "snowstorms." On the other hand, too much "oomph" could also cause difficulties. One poor clerk tossed the mailbag out with such force that it sailed through the bay window of the station house. Another clerk kicked off his shoe along with the bag.



This is the story of Owney, Mascot of the Railway Mail System. Owney was a stray mutt who wandered into the Albany, New York post office in 1888. The clerks let him stay, and he fell asleep on some mailbags. Owney was attracted to the texture or scent of the mailbags and followed them when they were placed on a Railway Mail Service train. Owney began to ride with the bags on trains across the state ~ and then the country. In 1895 Owney made an around-the-world trip, traveling with mailbags on trains and steamships to Asia and across Europe, before returning to Albany. 

Railway mail clerks considered the dog a good luck charm. At a time when train wrecks were all too common, no train Owney rode was ever in a wreck. The Railway mail clerks adopted Owney as their unofficial mascot, marking his travels by placing medals and tags on his collar. Each time Owney returned to Albany, the clerks there saved the tags. 



Owney died in Toledo on June 11, 1897. Mail clerks raised funds to have Owney preserved. In 1911, the department transferred Owney to the Smithsonian Institution, where he has remained ever since. Owney can be seen on display in the National Postal Museum's atrium, wearing his jacket and surrounded by several of his tags.

Postal Clerks practicing their shooting

Two of the most notorious train robberies took place in the 1920s. On June 14, 1924, the four Newton brothers stole $3 million in cash, jewelry and negotiable securities from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul mail train. The robbery was depicted in the 1998 film "The Newton Boys." The year before another set of brothers robbed a mail train. They ambushed Southern Pacific train #13 near the Siskiyou Mountains in southern Oregon, just as the train emerged from a tunnel. They used dynamite to blow their way into the car but used too much. The explosion killed the mail clerk and sparked a fire which destroyed much of the mail and the mail car. 

Due to the extent of the robberies, Railway Post Office clerks were required to carry pistols. The clerks in the above picture are practicing their shooting. The guns came in handy on occasion. When the Salt Lake City mail train was stopped en-route, the clerks on duty fired a hail of bullets and drove off the prospective robbers.



The Railway Post Office Clerks adopted a fascinating shorthand language for their work, including the term "nixie" for an unsortable or misaddressed letter and "bum" for a damaged or empty mail sack. Before leaving the station, one clerk might yell "throw the bums out" meaning to toss out the empty mailbags. Since there was no time to read an entire mail label, clerks shortened them into nonsense phrases.

Engineer Casey Jones

Engineer Casey Jones was one of the most celebrated steam locomotive engineers of all time. 

Jonathan Luther "Casey" Jones (1863-1900)

Jones acquired his nickname because he was born in Cayce, Kentucky. On April 30, 1900 he alone was killed when his passenger train, the Cannonball Express, collided with a stalled freight train at Vaughan, Mississippi, on a foggy and rainy night. Railroading was a talent, and Jones was recognized by his peers as one of the best. He was known for his insistence that he get her there on the advertised time and that he never fall down, arrive at his destination behind schedule. He was so punctual, it was said people set their watches by him. 

He was known for his skill with a train whistle. His whistle was made of six thin tubes bound together, the shortest being half the length of the longest. Its unique sound involved a long-drawn-out note that began softly, rose and then died away to a whisper, a sound that became his trademark. The sound of it was variously described as a sort of a whippoorwill call, or like the war cry of a Viking. People living along the Illinois Central right-of-way between Jackson, Tennessee and Water Valley, Mississippi, would turn over in their beds late at night upon hearing it and say There goes Casey Jones as he roared by.




Casey Jones had a reputation for being one of the best engineers on the rails. Neither he nor his fireman knew as they pulled out of Memphis with a train full of passengers that in the darkness of that Southern night a legend was waiting to be born. On April 30, 1900, the train left the Poplar Street Station in downtown Memphis, Tennessee on its way to Canton, Mississippi. Near Vaughan, Mississippi, a terrible train wreck occurred. Casey sacrificed his own life saving the lives of his passengers and crew. He stayed on the train to slow it down as much as possible. His dramatic death made him a hero; he was immortalized in a popular ballad sung by his friend Wallace Saunders. The engine Casey drove that night, the 382, was a steam driven Rogers Ten Wheeler with six drivers, each approximately six foot high. Casey reportedly called the 382 his Old Girl in High Heel Slippers.  

Duncan Hines Dining Car

Railroads separated the cars in the consist by assigning numbers to coaches and names to both sleepers and diners. On the L&N the railroad generally named their dining cars after famous establishments such as the St. Louis Hotel, Galt House, or Cross Keys Tavern. But in 1946 for the new streamlined trains The Hummingbird and The Georgian they named a diner after Bowling Green's own Duncan Hines, the renowned author and fine food authority. 


Bisquick was developed by chefs aboard the Southern Pacific who wanted to quickly prepare oven hot biscuits to meet the demands of the diners. Square sandwich bread bought in grocery stores across America was first cooked in pans with square sides. This made it easy to stack in space-starving dining car kitchens. 

Dining cars had a major impact on the food industry of today. Standardized recipes and portion control ensured that passengers on any given railroad could enjoy their favorite dish and be assured that regardless of what route they were on, or which cook prepared it, it would taste the same. Finally the term "diner" used to describe the iconic roadside restaurants built to look like rail cars owes its roots to the railroad dining car.






When men like George Pullman entered the Railroad Car manufacturing business, he realized that that comfort and style were commodities that the general public were ready for. By the 20th century passengers were treated to services provided by on-train barbers, beauticians, manicurists, while enjoying air conditioning, fine food, telephone service, showers or baths, theaters, lounges and even a complete car with a ceiling high aquarium. If you traveled by Sleeper, you could have your shoes shined if you placed them in a specially designed shoe locker. Service, politeness, and cordiality were the norm of the day.





The railroad became synonymous with hobos, jumping trains, and traveling in them from "hobo jungle" to "hobo jungle." In the jungle camp, especially a permanent jungle camp, one might find pots and kettles, utensils of various kinds, a line strung on which to dry clothes or a mirror with which a man might more easily shave. Much in the tradition of the cowboy camp whose basic tenet is that you leave it as you found it, the jungle had certain rules designed to keep it functional and self-sustaining. 

Men were supposed to use cooking cans for cooking only, "boiling up" cans for washing clothes, coffee cans to cook coffee, etc. After using, guests were expected to clean utensils, dry them, and leave them turned bottom up so that they will not fill up with rainwater and rust. They were expected to keep the camp clean. To enforce such common-sense rules, self-appointed committees came into existence. 

The jungle was also the "school" where the techniques of survival were learned. While often viewed as the haven in which hobo law, lore and tradition were passed on, the jungle could also be a place of danger and intimidation. Police, railroad bulls, and criminals could find scapegoats or easy targets in the jungle congregation. As the railroad carried the hobo from the jungles to the cities and back again, it also carried the slang, stories, songs and sentiments that were the heart of hobo culture. 

The railroad also played a major role in The Great War. World War I began in 1914 in Europe. During 1915 and 1916 the United States' main objective was to supply our allied forces in Europe with badly needed supplies. Rail traffic grew to the point that in 1916 American railroads were stretched to the breaking point.




American railroads feared that they may be taken over by the federal government just as the railroads had been in Britain, so they formed the Railroads War Board, and pledged to operate as a single railroad to help the United States war effort. Many issues faced American railroads in 1917. Because of the rising cost of living, huge increases in manufacturing jobs, and a loss of men to the draft caused severe labor shortages for railroads.


The railroad was also significant during the Civil War. One of the greatest stories ever told belongs to a small engine called the General. During the Civil War in April 1862, the Confederate withdrawal from Kentucky established a new line at Corinth, Mississippi. This line extended to Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee and on to Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital. The rail hubs of Corinth and Chattanooga meant that Confederate soldiers and supplies could move rapidly from New Orleans, Montgomery, Atlanta, and Charleston to support the Army of the Mississippi in its fight against the Union.


The General

A spy and contraband runner from Kentucky, James Andrews, presented a bold plan to the Union Army. Andrews convinced General Ormsby Mitchel to take Huntsville and gain control of the Memphis and Charleston railroad then move on to Chattanooga. Andrews would take a small group of raiders south, steal a locomotive in Georgia and destroy track and bridges of the Western & Atlantic Railroad preventing the southern reinforcement of Chattanooga. This daring plan would become known as "The Great Locomotive Chase."




Quote for the day: "The rails go westward in the dark . . . Have you seen the starlight on the rails? Have you heard the thunder of the fast express?" ~~ Thomas Wolfe










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