The Kansas City Southern Railroad was a fixture throughout my life in Heavener. It was the primary economic driver for Heavener with a large number of people employed on the train crews plus a large contingent at the roundhouse where maintenance was done and a significant number of people on the section gangs that maintained the tracks. In addition, there were a number of administrative people ranging from the Trainmaster at the top through the ticket and baggage agents to the callboys at the bottom. Heavener was a “division point” and freight trains worked to Watts, Oklahoma to the north and to Dequeen, Arkansas to the south.
It is interesting to look at how some towns very familiar to us got their names. Edgar Arthur Stilwell (ca late 1890s) was one of the original KCS predecessor founders. He obtained substantial investment capital from the people of Holland. During his tenure the railroad advanced rapidly into Arkansas and established new towns. As a token of appreciation to his Dutch friends, Stilwell named certain of these towns after them. DeGoeijen became DeQueen, the nearest Americans could come in the way of pronunciation. Mena, Arkansas, was named for DeGoeijen's wife, Mena, which was, in turn, the diminutive of Wilhelmina, the name of Holland’s Queen. Vandervoort, Arkansas; Bloomburg and Nederland, Texas; Hornbeck and DeRidder, Louisiana, all were named for prominent Dutch investors. Zwolle, Louisiana, is taken from the Netherlands city of DeGoeijen's birth. Amsterdam, Missouri took the name of the Netherlands' capital. DeQuincy, Louisiana, honors Baron DeQuincy, Dutch nobleman and early stockholder. And, of course, Stilwell was named for Arthur Stilwell.
The promotion of Mena, Arkansas, as a town was enhanced by the efforts of the railroad to lay forty miles of track in forty days. Newspapers took up this mile-a-day program and gave the new line and Mena much publicity. Another project that put Mena in the limelight was the building by Stilwell interests of Wilhelmina Inn atop nearby Rich Mountain, which opened June 22, 1898. The Netherlands' influence still was large and it was hoped that Queen Wilhelmina, for whom the hotel was named, would be present at the formal opening, a hope that failed to materialize.
A train crew was made up of a conductor, an engineer, a fireman, a head brakeman, and a rear brakeman. The steam engines were coal fired, at first by hand shoveling but later by auger stokers. Tenders with coal and water were located behind each engine. Diesel engines after the late 1940s were petroleum fueled and did not require the water tanks pulled by the steam engines. Steam engines ranged from small 0-4-0 (four coupled) models to the very large 2-8-8-0 Mallets with probably the most outstanding one being the J-class 2-10-0 that had to be slightly depowered because it had a tendency to bend the power rods. More will be provided later about the various engine types used.
The roundhouse was located north of the downtown area but well south of the current refueling stations. It had a rotating platform large enough to drive a steam locomotive on. The platform was then rotated to match a set of tracks arranged in an arc and various maintenance tasks were performed in the building over pits that allowed workers access to the bottom of the engines.
The depot was located just north of where the stoplight is now. It was a two-story building and had a waiting room on the first floor, south end. As was current during that time there were restrooms marked “White” and “Colored” as well as drinking fountains marked the same way. The only African-Americans in Heavener at that time were the train porters on the passenger trains. They lived in a dormitory-like building south of the depot (but I can’t remember the exact location—maybe near the old deer park) during the time between trains while they were in Heavener. There may have been a second dormitory just north of the depot. The second floor of the building had administrative offices. There was a freight terminal on the north end with a number of steel-wheeled wagons used to move baggage and freight to the passenger trains. I think the room where the crews and their statuses were identified was on the second floor in the middle of the depot. In that room there was a board called the “ready board” in which crew names were listed. There was also an “extra board” where men with lower seniority were listed. Choice of job and crew assignment was on the basis of seniority.
Some of my fondest memories of the period are of sitting at the depot smelling the acrid smoke from the engines and listening to the air pumps that maintained the braking system on the trains. When a train pulled out small cinders from the exhaust showered down on us. Really good firemen rarely let their smoke turn very black but kept the fire in just the needed state to maintain the steam pressure.
Before the onset of US participation World War II in late 1941 trains were limited to 70 cars in length. As a part of the war effort this limitation was lifted (and never reinstated) and trains as long as 150 cars were not unusual when I was a child. In order for trains of this length to make it over Rich Mountain south of Heavener it was often necessary to use two locomotives in a double-header configuration. Some times it was also necessary to split the train at about the mid point and insert a helper engine. Each engine added to the train increased the crew size by two people. When the diesel era came along, the use of six or even seven 1500 to 2500 horsepower units was not unusual. This occurred under the leadership of the Deramus family who were known far and wide for their desire to haul trains as long as physically possible. The ultimate limiter was the drawbar strength. The grades of the track between Watts and Dequeen were the steepest of the entire KCS line so the use of exceptionally powerful locomotives occurred on this portion.
Not all my memories of the KCS are pleasant. In future blogs I will mention some of the unpleasant ones as well as the pleasant ones mixed in with a little painless (I hope) history.