The Louisville and Nashville Railroad
A Special Sheet About Our Railroad
One of the first engines used on the new railroad was a #15, Rogers. Wood burning for making steam to run the train, wood and water, was a must. We had the water tank in Sparta, but the wood had to be cut and ricked along the track. We had one at John Robinson’s, about half way between Sparta and Sanders. This wood was cut about 4 feet long, and most of it was split into four pieces per log. The other wood stop was up at Lost Branch. The Short Line was a good five hours faster than the next quickest, and shortest, rail route, and over seven hours faster than the best Ohio River steamer schedules.
I would like to take time out at this point to tell you about my experience with the L. & N. R. R. Our family all worked for the railroad at one time or another. My Father started to work for the L. & N. in 1896, and today, 1974, I have one brother and two nephews working there, as well as one brother who retired. My father retired in 1937, after 41 years, his health being the cause of his retirement. I worked 10 years myself. But most of all I wanted to tell you about a slave, a black man, a Christian man, named George Winburn. He was known to the community, and all railroaders, as “Uncle George.” He was born about 1957, close to Sulpher, Kentucky, on the Little Kentucky River. After the slaves were freed in 1865, his father and mother remained with their owners. And in 1867, men began to clear the right of way, cutting the cuts through the hills, and making the high fills for the road bed. The men had to eat, so Uncle George as a boy would carry from his home eggs, milk, butter and chickens, and sell to the men who were doing the work. He also carried water; he was what was called a “water boy.” After the railroad was finished, on April 18, 1869, and George got older, he got a job on the railroad as a track walker. What is a track walker? This meant that he walked over three and one half mile of track both sides every day, seven days a week, regardless of weather. He carried with him a spike mall, a wrench, a red flag, and several torpedoes, which he could fasten on the rail in case of trouble where he had to stop a train. A loud sound would be made, and this was a warning to the train men. One sound was to “Stop 2” when you wanted the train to slow down, and be ready to stop on once if a second torpedo, about 100 feet later, went off. This pack the George carried would weigh about 25 pounds. The pay he would get for this days work was ninety-five cents, or $6.65 per week. They would also pay you $1.00 for every broken rail that you found, which sometimes would amount to more than your regular pay.
There is no way to know just how many wrecks George prevented, but there is one I’d like to tell you about. You remember I told you tht George was very religious. He was a Baptist, and his church was at Sulpher. This happened on a Sunday morning. George lived about in the middle of his three and a half miles he had to walk. He always went over the south end of the track on early Sunday morning, then over the North end, and on to church. On this day in the spring of 1900, Uncle George was walking the track and on his way to church, when just about one mile north of Pendleton, there was a long trestle. It was maybe fifty feet high, but as they would ditch along the rail road they would fill in places like this, and that would do away with the trestle. This one was almost completed. This was where George found a broken rail, where the track had pulled apart. Just about the time George found the break, he hear the Number 4 blowing for Vances Crossing which was about two and a half miles away. He had to run back about one half mile to put his torpedo (gun) down on the rail, then get to where he could be seen with his flag, for this was a reverse curve. Well he got the train to stop, and saved the lives of hundreds of people, besides those who might have been crippled for life.
I will have to tell you about this one. It was in the winter of 1917 and 1918. the Big Snow. All you could see of the track was just the ball of the rails. Uncle George was coming down what is called Harold’s Creek fill. It was fill about 30 feet high, and old George Rider was coming north out of LaGrange, down hill all the way. He was just coasting along. You could not hear a sound. Uncle George was all bundled up, and walking along the side of the track, when George Rider, the Engineer, was watching Uncle George and he got as close as he thought it was safe, he gave one quick loud blast of the whistle. Uncle George looked around and took a dive for the snow drift, where he went out of sight, down the bank. Mr. Rider used to tell that and laugh. Uncle George would “Dad Bob” I will get you for that. They have both gone to meet their maker, may they rest in peace.
I would like to say a little about tobacco, just for the record, for the younger people to see. When I was a boy, about 10 or 12 years old, which would have been 1906 or 1907, we had a man in the community that bought tobacco, and prized it in large barrels called “Hogsheads.” This was in Henry County. There was also in Sparta, where the lumber yard now stands. I have heard farmers say tht they would sign a contract to sell there tobacco for the rest of their lives for 10 cents a pound. I raised a crop in 1911 and hauled it to Shelbyville by wagon, from LaGrange, for fourteen cents per pound, which was a good price that year. Now in the fall of 1915, In Owenton, loose leaf sold for $6.39 for 100 pounds. In 1919 when tobacco was in demand leaf grade brought $1 to $1.50 per pound, but while some brought $1 a pound, there was some a six cents a pound. In 1920 the farmers got a great disappointment for the price dropped to $13.13 for $100 pounds. It was some time in the early thirties that Crate Crouch borrowed $100 from the bank to raise his crop on, and when he sold it got enough to pay the interest on the money he had borrowed.
Bill Farrar said in 1937, the year of the big flood on the Ohio River, he sold tobacco for thirteen cents a pound and was glad to get that.. Mr. Elmer Dunavent said that in 1931, the best crop he ever raised, he sold for fourteen cents. Mr. Leslie Minor said that when he was a small boy, that would have been in 1900 or so, his father sold tobacco for three and four cents a pound. Thurman Lafferty said [ends there].