Rockport Railroad-Part 1.
Rockport-An Old River Town.
A jrd Stat on 2/24/05.


Railroading in the Mid-Twentieth Century.

Rockport was settled along the banks of the Green River and established in 1870. First it was river transportation and then the railroad came in. A Mainline Railroad ran through this town, dividing it into two sections, South Rockport and North Rockport. We always called "South Rockport" as "Cross Town". An "Overhead Bridge" that crossed over the Railroad Tracks was the main access from one town section to the other. This Main Railroad was the Illinois Central and rail traffic was a major means of transportation from the original building of the railroad until somewhere around the mid seventies. Then Illinois Central sold out and am thinking that P & L Railway now owns the track and property.

A train crossing the Green River at Rockport, from the Muhlenberg County Side or the West Side, would first see the track crossing, where Main Street crosses the tracks and goes on down to the river. Next would be the Overhead Bridge. This is the view in the picture below. After the Overhead Bridge, and just around the curve and on the right is where the old Rockport Depot was located. The "Overhead Bridge" that is pictured is not the original bridge, but a modern day version. The old bridge and the one that I remember was made out of creosote timbers and large bolts, nuts and washers. A "Railroad Crew" called a "Section Gang" was responsible for the bridges and the rails among other parts of a railroad system. Later, this was broken up into two gangs. These were now being called the "Bridge Gang" and the "Section Gang". Think that it is that way today. To have known a member of either one of these gangs and have them save you a couple of those large washers was a treat indeed. All that was needed was two or four kids, four railroad washers and any type tool to dig a hole with. Presto, a washer pit and kids could entertain themselves, with games and games of "Washers". When the heat of the day put a damper on the play thing, a river was nearby. All is given in those times and each kid would produce his bathing suit and all would join in for a nice swim and a cooling off process. Yes, the good old days.

This stat is about this old depot and the railroad in general.

Overhead Bridge at Rockport.
Stationery by j r durham.


The above picture is a drawing of a typical train refilling area where the train engine's reservoir is filled with water. Usually, these "Water Tanks" were located near a river and a pumping station was used to pump water from the river to fill the water tank. When needing water, a steam engine would stop under the fill hose. A "Ground" person could then place the fill hose above the train's water reservoir and then pull a chain or a lever so as to open the water valve. Water would then flow from the water tank to the train's water reservoir and when full, the "Ground" person could close the valve and the train could be back in operation. This water, in most cases, was not potable water, but just plain river water. Chemicals were added to the water to prevent scale and rust build ups. The old steam engine was mostly a boiler with the heat source in the middle. The fireman would keep a fire going and control the heat by controlling the air flow and the fuel flow to the boiler. This process, mostly, depended on the steam pressure at the boiler outlet. Steam was them admitted to large cylinders on either side of the engine. The hot steam would expand upon entering the cylinders and cause the piston to move forward. This would move the wheels by a large crank arm. When one side of the engine cylinder was receiving steam the other side was blocked off after it pushed the crank arm forward and then the spent steam escaped from the cylinder as low temperature steam and water vapor. This was the "Smoke" that was seen. After a period of time, the water in the boiler's reservoir would become low and the train engineer would start thinking of another depot where he could take on more water and the cycle was repeated over and over. Wow, those were the days.


The old Rockport Depot was typical of depots in this unique period of time in American History. A Depot Agent used this depot as his office and a control station. His responsibility was the controlling of the tracks assigned to his area. By use of a telegraph, each depot agent was in contact with the other depot agents and they controlled the train traffic in their area of responsibility. A typical train would leave a central area, for instance Chicago, and the engineer would have his orders. He may have to "Drop Off" three loaded "Cars" at Leitchfield, pick up ten "Cars" loaded with timber at Rosine, drop off a "Chemical Car" at Central City and pick up ten "Cars" loaded with coal and on and on until the train reached a "Turn Around" point, for instance Atlanta. The time of this one-way journey may be a week and would consist of several changes of "Operating Crews". This plus, the train would take on water at several locations and may have to take on a load of fuel. A day or so later, the process would start all over and the trip would be back to Chicago with many stops in between. A conductor would be stationed in a "Caboose", a small car located at the rear of the train. The conductor had his office and communication equipment in the caboose and he was responsible for the train and the crew. An engineer would be located in the engine room and he was responsible for the operation and running of the train. In the same area, but on the other side of the train engine was a controlling station where the assistant engineer worked. He assisted the engineer and was responsible for the general maintenance of the train, like oiling and greasing. Behind the engine was a coal car and a "Fireman" worked out of this area and had the responsibility of stoking or keeping the boiler fire at a correct temperature by "Firing" to control the output pressure of the boiler. In earlier days and especially in areas where coal was not plentiful, this coal car may have been called a "Log Car" as wood was used to fuel the boiler. Minor repair and maintenance to the train was done in route and if needed, the train would stop along the route and "Switch" over to a "Siding" or an alternate track, next to the main track. Here, with the train stopped, a more serious repair could be made. Major overhaul and maintenance was done in places called "Roundhouses". There was one located in Central City where it stayed operational for many years. At the "Roundhouse" a train engine or a car would be placed on a "Turntable". The "Turntable" would then turn and line up with an auxiliary rail. Now the train or car could be moved to any of several places depending on the repair needed. If a "Wheel" needed replaced, the car was moved to the "Wheel" shop where a large crane or lift would lift the car and allow the old wheel to be replaced with a new wheel. Likewise, if an engine needed to have its' furnace repaired or replaced, it would be "sided" to the boiler shop. As you can see, this "Roundhouse" area needed to have lots of room and different buildings and work areas. At one time, this was a big operation and employed a hundred or so people. Sadly, all is gone now and most people may never know that area of major activity. Those were the days.

The above picture is a "Mail Car" that was maintained by the U. S. Postal Service. One or more postal employees would board the car in the early morning hours and have a "Run" to make. These "Mail Cars" would be added to the train and it would leave a certain station and continue to "Drop Off" and "Pick Up" mail at each station. This would continue until the last station was serviced. Depending on the situation, the mail could be "Dropped Off" in the A.M. run and "Picked Up" in the P.M. run. For instance, a Postal Employee could board the "Mail Car" at Leitchfield to start his run. The "Outgoing Mail" was sorted and at each "Station", a mail bag would be thrown out the open door of the mail car. This mail would be the mail that was to be delivered that day. This process would continue until the last station was serviced, for instance it could be Paducah. Each station would have a "Postal Employee" that would pick up the "Mail Bag" that had been thrown out the door of the mail car. It would be taken to the local post office, sorted and delivered to each customer. Then, the "Outgoing" process would start. The Postal Employee would place all of the "Outgoing Mail" in a mail bag and transport it to the local Train Depot. They would know the train schedule and the Depot Agent would attach the mail bag to a holder a few minutes before the train was scheduled to arrive. This holder was positioned next to the railroad and as the train passed, a hook would be extended from the Mail Car that would grasp the mail bag. It would be swung to the open door of the mail car and the contents emptied and made ready for the next station.

This "Hook" was a relatively simple mechanism that worked with very little effort on the operators part. Notice the vertical lever, about head high, in the above picture. This lever was unlocked and pulled toward the operator and locked in the "Grasp" position. In doing so, the arm with a forty-five degree finger would then be positioned horizontally instead of vertically. At the train passed the pole where the mail bag was positioned, the mail bag would be directed into the neck of the grasping arm on the mail car. It would then be pulled loose from the securing mechanism of the stationery pole and now the railroad car held the mail bag. The operator would removed the mail bag,reset the grasping arm, and get ready for the next station. Such was life until about the middle of the twentieth century.

Hum, looking over what has been written, leads me to believe that I have not considered the reader and have included a lot of non-pertinent material. Plus have not said much about the old Rockport Depot. Sorry about that. For those that may want to look at more of this type nonsense, please stay tuned for Part 2. For those that have tired of this rhetoric, just "Back" out and feel free to visit other parts of the Rockport/Echols Web Site. If you are still here, thanks for looking.


End of Part 1.
The J. R. Durham's

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