Friday, December 19, 2008

The KCS and Heavener (Part 2)

“Carl? Carl? Are you awake, Carl?” came through the window of my parents’ home on the Independence Road at about 1:00 AM.  ”Yeah, I’m awake,” came the reply.  “Well, you’ve got 41 at 3:30 this morning.”

This kind of conversation was a routine occurrence when I was a child in the 1940s.  We did not have a telephone so that was the way that the KCS notified my father that he was to take a freight train south to Dequeen, Arkansas.  The callboy would sometimes have to scratch on the window in the winter to wake my father.  I shudder to think what would happen now if someone actually came to a window in Heavener and began talking through it in the middle of the night.  Most likely the least they would get is a visit by the police and the worst might be a bullet in the head.

The KCS operated a wide variety of steam locomotives in the 1940s and early 1950s.  The largest were the 2-8-8-0 Mallets (also known as Bull Moose) which were articulated so that the curves could be more easily negotiated.  The nomenclature refers to the wheel arrangement; in this case, two pilot wheels, eight drivers powered by two cylinders, eight more drivers powered by other steam cylinders, and no trailing wheels.  Mr. Deramus despised trailing wheels, preferring to keep all the engine’s weight on the drivers.  He reluctantly used pilots since the early Mallets with a 0-8-8-0 (Angus) wheel arrangement were limited to about 20 mph.  The most impressive locomotives were the J-class (class generally refers to a grouping of different designs that can substitute for each other in service) 2-10-4 (Texas) engines built by the Lima Works in Ohio I mentioned last time. (I guess that Mr. Deramus made an exception in trailing wheels for this one because it was so good otherwise.)  They were incredibly fast and were limited on the KCS by the track conditions.  They developed about 93,000 pounds of tractive effort and weighed too much for the bridges south of Dequeen.

At least two freight trains ran north and south each day. They were numbered 41 and 77 for trains departing to the south and 42 and 88 to the north.  At one time, I think, there was a third pair using another set of numbers that I don’t remember.  Odd numbers always meant they were traveling south and even numbers meant north bound.  In addition, there were sometimes extra trains operated using a temporary number.   It was possible to tell an extra train by the two white flags mounted on the front of the locomotive.  Regular trains flew green flags.  Three passenger trains (numbers 1 and 2, 15 and 16, and a set I don’t remember) were operated north and south daily as well. 

In addition to the scheduled and extra freight trains a number of “locals” were operated.  On a less than regular basis a train was dispatched out the A&W tracks (Arkansas & Western) to work some plants located to the east.  Some of the locals serviced coal mines north and west of Heavener while at least one went to the marble quarry at Marble City north of Sallisaw.  Another train worked the creosote plant and feed mills near Fort Smith and Van Buren.  The ones to Fort Smith were operated over the tracks of the Fort Smith & Van Buren Railway, a subsidiary of the KCS. (In 1939 the Fort Smith & Van Buren acquired the original portion of the Fort Smith and Western line from Coal Creek to McCurtain and the balance of the line west from McCurtain to Guthrie was scrapped.) When the call went out to the crews the local trains were referred to simply as locals or dodgers while the Fort Smith run was usually spoken of as the FS and VB.  The name “dodger” was fairly unique to the KCS and referred to the actions the local had to take when on the main line, i.e., “dodge” the passenger and scheduled freight trains.

Occasionally my father would make one of the local runs.  In the early summer I would accompany him (quite against regulations, I suppose) in the caboose and be dropped off at a particularly good blackberry site.  I would pick berries until the train came back that way in the late afternoon.  I usually carried a sandwich filled with chopped boiled eggs, potted meat, and mayonnaise and a quart fruit jar of water.  Folklore being what it was in those days I also employed a “sure fire way” to keep chiggers off me.  I wrapped kerosine (Word wants this to be spelled kerosene but I grew up spelling it kerosine—usually we just called it coal oil) soaked rags around my ankles.  I now know that all I accomplished with this approach was to create a slight irritation of the skin but, at the time, I believed it was absolutely correct.

Working on the railroad was a dangerous job.  In addition to the far-too-frequent train wrecks, there were other ways to get hurt or killed.  These dangers caused events that left me with the unpleasant memories I mentioned in the last blog.  In later years I recall one death and one crippling accident.  The cars loaded with marble from the quarry mentioned above were winched out of the quarry using steel cables.  On one occasion the cable broke and struck a man named P.J. Walker across the top of the head causing instantaneous death.  On another occasion Leo Anderson was in the process of kicking the drawbar coupling open on a car about to be coupled to the rest of the train when he got his foot caught between the couplings resulting in the loss of the foot.  Leo’s son was Jim Anderson who started school in 1947 with my class. 

Before I was born my father was walking the tops of a train of boxcars and had the train start to move just as he jumped the gap between cars.  He landed on his back on the drawbars and incurred severe back injuries that, after spending six months in a full body cast, plagued him the rest of his life.  In spite of his injuries he worked for the KCS another 30 plus years.  Those of you who knew my father in the last years of his life may remember the stooped way he walked as a result of this accident.  Beyond this injury he also ripped the tendons in his right arm moving a frog (heavy piece of metal used in switches to direct the flanged wheels of trains) and suffered many sprains and bruises.  If you look at the caboose located in Heavener you should see a curved piece of pipe that transitions from a horizontal orientation to a vertical one.  This pipe served as the thing which men grasped to board the train while it was in motion.  Similar devices were mounted on engines but to climb the ladder to the top of a boxcar it was necessary to pull oneself directly upwards.  I have seen men mount a moving boxcar with the train doing upwards of 10 miles per hour.

More next time.


At December 20, 2008 at 7:24 AM , Blogger Bill Hinds said...

Thanks again Glen! You are much more educated about the KCS than I ever was. I grew up to the calls of the call-boy too. I remember several really bad accidents associated with the KCS some in and around the RR yards there in Heavener. My dad also received a back injury that bothered him the rest of his life. It happened when a flat car loaded with poles lost its load and he got hit by one of the poles. Mercy!

At December 20, 2008 at 12:58 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, Glen. I was never around the railroad much at all, so everything I read from you, or hear from Cynthia, is all new to me. I will still get Cynthia to write her own blog on the KCS sometime. Or, at least, I will get her to comment on your's. She's in Heavener as I write this, visiting her Aunt Mable. Everything about the KCS is so interesting. All I know is her dad Felix and brother Larry worked on the railroad. That's all I know, except that I rode on the KCS passenger train, as I mentioned in my earlier blog.

At December 20, 2008 at 11:18 PM , Blogger Pat Burroughs said...

More interesting memories. I had heard of "the call boy" but had completely forgotten that not everyone had phones back in those days. I remember when Preston Benjamin's dad got killed on the railroad, and when Leo Anderson got his foot cut off. I remember a story Jim told about something that happened afterwards about that, that I hesitate to write about here. I remember when Tinker Cram caught a ride on the side of a train car and rode down to his house near the Waldron road.When his mother found out, he didn't want to do it again.

At December 21, 2008 at 9:51 AM , Blogger Chuck Hudlow said...

Good stuff, Glen! Keep it coming, please.


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