Rockport Railroad-Part 1.
Rockport-An Old River Town.
A jrd Stat on 2/24/05.
Railroading in the Mid-Twentieth
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
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.
Stationery by j r durham.
Overhead Bridge at
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
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
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
of Part 1.
The J. R. Durham's