Decoursey Roundhouse Passes 40th Milestone
Forty years ago - July 1, 1917 - DeCoursey Roundhouse was officially opened for business at 12:01 a.m. I happened to be one of the two machinists sent from the Covington Shops to help open up and to be on hand when when opening time arrived. We traveled in style on a commuter train made up of four cabooses.
With the disappearance of steam from the L & N scene, the days of this facility were numbered. All that remains now is a portion of the machine shop. In the comparatively short span of four decades though, it witnessed a lot of history in the making, and saw a lot of water go over the dam. In the last connection, I do mean water, for in January-February, 1937, everybody had to move - not only roundhouse forces but those in the yards too because the Ohio River went on its granddaddy of rampages.
But back in 1917 we were in the midst of World War I and had other things on our minds. In those days, we had only two shifts of roundhouse men - one day and one night - each working a nine-hour shift. The roundhouse foreman, however, had to work a twelve-hour shift. The night foreman at DeCoursey Roundhouse was George G. Wasser and he traveled with us on the commuter train mentioned. This arrived at DeCoursey in time for all of us to go to work at 7:00 p.m. on the night of June 30; however, the official opening wasn't to be until 12:01 a.m., July 1. There wasn't a thing in the "new" six-stall roundhouse when we arrived. I say "new" in quotes because oddly enough this roundhouse had been built in 1912-1913, but what with one thing and another it was not activated until the increase in business occasioned by the traffic demands of World War I, although the yards there had been in use.
So we had about five hours to kill and being quite a bit younger then than we are now had a high old time in the interval, scooting around on tracks on the old handcars then still in general use and throwing at the bats and owls which seemed to have taken over the place.
However, just before midnight our fun came to an end with the arrival ofr Engine No. 1033, long since departed (in 1933) the way of all good steamers. Engineer Ed Weaver, now deceased, was at the throttle and after the engine was serviced at the coal chutes, it received additional attention at the cinder puts and water crane. Incidentally, I had the distinction of watering the first engine inbound at DeCoursey Roundhouse. I also gave it the usual inspection and worked it up for its next outbound trip and from then on it was work and no play at DeCoursey.
As implied, there have been many changes at DeCoursey, not only at the roundhouse, but also in its related facilities. With work commencing in 1918, 20 stalls were added to the original roundhouse; then the turntable pit was enlarged and a new and larger table put in to accommodate the more powerful locomotives.. Still later, the old cinder pits were discarded, to be replaced by mechanical conveyors; car retarders, known locally as "squeezers," were installed on the northbound hump; many of the stalls were made longer, etc. Much of this modernization took place just prior to WWII and during the period, 1948-1950.
The big things that have happened at DeCoursey are a matter of record; however, I have often wished that I had kept a diary of some of my own day-and-night experiences at DeCoursey.
One event that I will never forget took place July 18, 1917 - not long after I went to DeCoursey. I was advised then of my promotion to night foreman at the roundhouse as a result of the transfer of Mr. Wasser back to the Covington Shops. Since then I have held every foreman position at the DeCoursey Roundhouse, with the present title of assistant department foreman. I have been in continuous service since June, 1912, with the exception of an absence of two years in 1946-47 because of illness. I am the only man left who was here when the roundhouse was opened in 1917 and, of course, I witnessed it's "almost" passing just recently.
The biggest change, I would say, has been the a switch from steam to diesel power. Even when we had secured our first road diesels, I never thought I would live to see the day that the L. & N. would be completely dieselized. But it did happen, of course, and it is a change for the better, not only for the company, but for the employees themselves.
I will never cease to wonder if the next forty years will see equally revolutionary changes in railroading.
by J. H. Carpenter, Assistant Departmental Foreman, Decoursey, Ky., from the Louisville and Nashville Employees Magazine of July, 1957.