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Comes to Demopolis, Alabama
The "R" Line - Frisco's Route to the Gulf
If you look at a map of west central Alabama where the Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers flow together you will find the city of Demopolis. The area was settled back in 1817 by Napoleonic refugees who established the Vine and Olive Colony. Demopolis was also the crossroads of the St. Louis - San Francisco Railway and the Alabama Great Southern.
The St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad Company, better known as the Frisco, was incorporated on September 7, 1876. The next twenty-five years were ones of rapid expansion. By 1903 the Frisco was one of the premier railroads in the West-Southwest and had control over the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad, which gave it an entry into Chicago. What it did not have was a route to the Gulf of Mexico. The depression of 1913-14 led to the bankruptcy reorganization in 1916 and the name was changed to the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Company. The Frisco reorganization started the purchase of new locomotives and freight cars which allowed for new passenger trains. Passenger trains such as "The Texas Special" and the "Firefly" were great name trains of their day. By the early 1920's the railroad operated over 5700 miles of main line track. The Frisco, however, still lacked an outlet to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Muscle Shoals, Birmingham and Pensacola Railway had gotten into financial trouble and on July 7, 1925 the Frisco purchased the Kimbrough, Alabama - Pensacola, Florida line and its dock facilities. Now it could build a section of railroad from Kimbrough to Aberdeen, Mississippi and have that outlet to the Gulf. In December 1926 the construction began on the Aberdeen - Kimbrough section of rail. There were 4.5 million cubic yards of rock and earth moved during this construction.
The coming of the Frisco to Demopolis had an immediate effect on life in the area. Greene and Sumter Counties were dependent on dirt roads and the river ferries for their routes of transportation. Now there would be a fast means of access to Demopolis. Because Demopolis was a larger town of the period and offered high quality goods for sale, it could now draw business from the lower part of the county and adjoining areas. Mr. R.D. Perkins, who was a Dairy Specialist with the Frisco, and local E. E. Hale worked on developing the local dairy industry. Mr. Perkins even held a Dairy School for the area. The building of the bridge across the Black Warrior River and the new up-to-date station brought needed money into the local economy. The depot cost $50,000 to build in 1928 and was described by the press as being handsome and city-like with beautiful grounds. The company had built stock pens near the station so that cattle could be brought in and shipped out at any time. Mr. L. S. Brophy was the first Ticket Agent for the Frisco in Demopolis.
On June 27, 1928 the Frisco ran two passenger trains of eleven cars through Demopolis on their way to Pensacola for a celebration there. These trains carried the name of Pensacola Special and can be seen in the August 1928 issue of the Frisco Employees magazine. The trains had many prominent people from St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Wichita and other cities opened up by the Frisco. The trains consisted of Diners, Pullmans and Baggage cars. The officials on the trains consisted of President James M. Kurn, Vice-President J. E. Hutchinson and A. P. Matthews, Assistant General Passenger Agent. There were over 200 investors, home seekers, and newspapermen from the west and midwest, stockholders of the railroad and bankers from the East. The City of Demopolis held a barbecue on the 29th from 12:00 to 1:00 o'clock for the officials and their party at Tibbs Grove. The larger barbecue that was to include big entertainment was to be held later on when the entire Tombigbee valley would be welcome as guests.
One of the excursions trains to Pensacola carried some familiar names from Demopolis. There was Mr. and Mrs. N. L. Lee and their daughter, Mary Lane, Mr. L.C. Lowe and a Mr. Ray. There were about 25 colored people on this train but no names were available.
The Frisco ran an excursion for the colored people of this area from Amory, Mississippi to Demopolis on July 4th. The Southern Railway also ran one from Meridian, Mississippi to Demopolis on the same day. The colored population of Demopolis had planned a huge picnic, barbecue, ball game, and music by a Meridian band and this was to benefit the Black Belt School. The Chamber of Commerce asked businesses of Demopolis to remain open on this holiday until 1:00 o'clock because such a big crowd was expected.
On August 21, 1928 the first carload of cattle shipped over the Frisco through Demopolis and were shipped from Jefferson. It was a carload of red and white face calves that were owned by L. L. Simmons. They were sold to J. F. Elder in Jersey City, New Jersey. H. D. Peteet, Clarence Simmons and Dr. C. E. Rhodes shipped a second carload. There was a total of 146 head in the shipment.
The Frisco began regular thru service from Kansas City, St. Louis to Pensacola on September 2, 1928. The "Sunnyland" with its Diner and Pullmans provided access for the local folk to "step down to the station and take a Pullman". The fare was $3.75 for a round trip ticket to Pensacola. You could get a sleeping car for $5.75.
Some of the station agents that served the Frisco here in Demopolis were L. S. Brophy, who was the first Agent, Julian Pickett, O. C. Beavers, John B. Osborne, C. W. Walters, J.D. (Don) Earley and John O. Atkins. Homer Gilley and Howard Luker were the two Bridge Tenders from 1928 until 1961 that were in charge of the drawbridge over the Black Warrior River. Frank Magers and Don Miller were Signal Maintainers at different times in Demopolis. There were many others from the Demopolis area who served the Frisco and made it one of the finest railroads in the country. Their hard work made Demopolis a better place and to them we would like to say thank you. On November 21, 1980 the Frisco merged with the Burlington Northern Railroad. Then in 1995 the Burlington Northern merged with the Santa Fe to become the Burlington Northern - Santa Fe Railroad.
Having had several members of my family in the railroad business provided for a unique opportunity to fill my body with that unquenchable railroading fever. I can still hear the whine of that GP7 while the crew switched their train, remember seeing my first RS2 that pulled the Amory to Demopolis local, hearing those cows bellowing from the cattle cars that were being pulled by F7's, and riding on the engine around the yard limits while the crew switched the local businesses. Those were the good ole days when railroading was more than satisfying Wall Street. It was a time when pride in your work and service was the leading role. It was the time before mega-mergers.
Having always enjoyed trains what else could my web page be designed around. My love of railroading is connected to the St. Louis - San Francisco Railway, better known as the Frisco. I had the chance to grow up around the Frisco and those memories are as fresh as if it were yesterday.
The Frisco comes to Demopolis, Alabama
First passenger train June 27,
(click on thumbnail to view larger picture)
The Frisco served nine states - can you name the states?
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March 01, 2021
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