The Ghost-Light of Old Fourche Log-Train -- Pt. II
This railroad was never designed to be a permanent one, so a few very specific areas weren't designed exceptionally well. The rail-bed itself was generally excellent however. In order for the railroad to turn a profit quickly, it needed to deliver ALOT of timber, as quickly as possible. So Gardner decided against the "soft grade/small train" choice, & instead went with the "hard grade/large train" option. This would allow one huge & heavy locomotive to bring in several car-loads of logs at one time, rather than several smaller, less-powerful engines pulling only 2 or 3 car-loads behind them.
Being as the route chosen mostly stayed away from the soft bottom-land of the Fourche River, & instead stayed at least a mile or so up in the hills, building a solid base was relatively easy. And too, this decision to go through the hills demanded a powerful locomotive. While the new railroad was being surveyed, Gardner hired Baldwin Locomotive Works in Pennsylvania to build him a huge 4-8-4 style engine. This was completed on time & delivered almost to the day that the last spike was driven in the rail-bed. Although that specific engine was scraped & sold for the war effort in the 40's, here is a picture of an almost exact sister-locomotive, the 819 based in Pine Bluff. She is pulling passenger cars however, not a log-train:
As previously mentioned, there were a few shortcuts taken in the building of the railway. Most of them were minor & were gradually improved during the several years that the railroad operated. Only one location proved to be a constant problem & nothing could really be done about it. Referring to the map in the Part I post, you can see where the railroad crossed a small creek. This was the closest that the route ever got to the soft & low ground of the Fourche River valley, & there was really no way around it, since train tracks can't be built with 90 degree turns, like highways can.
This creek crossing is actually more of an occasional floodway than an actual creek. Very little water typically runs through here & it can usually be walked across with just hi-top boots. However, when wet, the mud here can be a couple feet deep. The reason for this is that the land has little "fall" here & when it rains, a several hundred foot wide strip of this area will go underwater, to a depth of no more than 2-3 feet. Because of the almost non-existent slope of the land, this water will stay here for several days. It even did this before Nimrod Dam was built. If you look carefully at the map, you can see the exact area which floods, immediately south of the "Modern road", & the less conspicous narrower strip straddling the creek, up to the little marsh where the creek starts at.
The 2 options available to keep the tracks from going underwater here were both found to be prohibitively expensive. One involved cutting a drainage from the tracks, all the way to the river, over 1 mile away. The other involved building either a 1,500 foot long bridge all the way from the curve near where the modern road & modern power-line meet, to the other curve just off-map at top-left ...... or laying down thousands of tons of ballast in lieu of the bridge ...... to make this section of the track perfectly level between those 2 points. (That's because of one more difference between road buiding & railway building....you can't make short & rapid changes in elevation. You have to go with the gradual lay of the land, or make it perfectly flat for a long distance.) Being as, stated before, this railroad was never intended to be permanent, or to carry passengers, but only to make as much money as possible in as short of time as possible, a less expensive & easier solution was agreed upon.
This solution was to simply lay enough ballast to ensure the track never actually sank into the ground, or became soft, but also to let it stay with the natural grade of the land. This solution would however mean that this short area would occasionally be underwater, but only by a foot or so, and then only for a couple days at a time. This would be no problem at all for a train to travel through, if it did so SLOWLY. You definitely WOULDN'T want to hit this water at anything faster than a crawl however.
A train approaching from the north would have just left the 2nd sawmill minutes before. So if this section of track was water-logged, that train would have no problem. Not only would it be traveling very slowly, having not had enough time to build up a good head of steam yet, but the engineer would most likely have current reports about the water situation ahead. However, since this was in the days before good radio & cell phones, a train coming up from the south might not be aware of a flood problem. It could very well be moving at a decent clip also, which wouldn't go well with flooded tracks.
The possibility of an actual accident here was low however. The train would already be getting ready to apply brakes, because of the approaching curve NW of the creek crossing & also because the 2nd sawmill was just a couple miles north of that. But still, water is a powerful force & there WAS the "possibility" of an accident. So Gardner hired a local man as a "water warner". This man was a Mr. A.C. Asher.
Mr. Asher's job was simple....and required him to do practically nothing during dry spells. But duing rain & wet periods, he became a vital link in the chain, and might be required to only get short cat-naps when the train was operating. A round-trip took several hours, so Mr. Asher could always arrange his schedule easily. He was to monitor the water situation down by the creek crossing, & warn a south-approaching train of high water by use of a bright red flag during the day, or a red lantern at night-time. This is the type of coal-oil or carbide lamp he would have used to do that:
This arrangement worked out really well for Mr. Asher, for several reasons. He was single, enjoyed being so, and had no family as far as anyone knew. Thus he had plenty of time to perform his often lonely duty. As a bonus, during the dry periods, he also had plenty of time to spend in town, enjoying the beverages offered by the saloons, cavorting with the local ladies, or whatever single men do with their free time. He was reimbursed well, since his job could easily save a multi-thousand $$$ train, & was even furnished a place to live.
Obviously, he needed to be close to the creek crossing, but he also needed to be above the sunken area which collected water. It's hard to see on the map, but there is a small ridge in the woods north of the old railroad, running east/west, which NEVER goes underwater, even when today's Lake Nimrod is at it's fullest. Upon this ridge is where the company built the shack for Mr. Asher to live in. I haven't located the exact spot yet, but have highlighted about where I think it was on the map. This is on that ridge & about equi-distant from both the creek crossing & the southern stretch of track where he would have warned the approaching trains. There is an old path, bounded by rocks, which can be followed today up to around 250 feet of this spot. The path plays out however, & is not yet on top of the ridge, so I've just guessed at the location of it the rest of the way.
The old shack, like the railroad, is long gone. But it still stood in these woods till at least the 1970's. I never saw it, but my dad & my uncle use to squirrel hunt around it. This uncle is probaly where I received my love of history from, since he has studied this type stuff all his life also. He has a picture of WHAT HE THINKS is that old shack, before it was torn down when the Corps planted a pine plantation here. He does know he took this picture in the late 60's or early 70's, & does know it was around Plainview. But he can't remember if this is the exact one. Doesn't matter anyway. Mr. Asher's shack probaly resembled this one & since this happened 100 years ago, this was probaly considered a really good shelter way back then. Today, in the age of 4,000 square foot, quarter-million $$$ homes, we are spoiled & wouldn't even use something like this for a doghouse....even when it was new. But it was free to him, all utilities paid (satellite TV & all ), & I bet he was really proud of it:
And so, Mr. Asher performed his duty for at least a few years here, watching the water & the weather, & warning trains if the tracks ahead were flooded ...... until one horrible night.
Concluded in Part III over here: