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No Particular Place to Go p.3

Before leaving the "cotton gin", I looked Al square in the eyes and with a straight face, told him, "Al, I want to look around Washington for an old railroad right of way and the location of the depot". I saw him draw a deep breath as if his last. Then he gave me one of his silent nods. He understands that I'm his ticket home.

We continued on into Washington on La.103. I took the first street west and then looked for a street that went south, the believed location of the right of way. I've combed Washington before and was denied by this blocked bridge.

We came to the same blocked bridge.
We dismounted. Neighborhood houses were on either side of the street. I envisioned people peering from the curtains. The blocked bridge lay ahead. I've gotten a little tentative about trespassing lately. The clock runs down on good luck and Mike says that they only have collected 10 bucks in my bail money account.

Then I thought for a moment. This was a public bridge that was merely blocked, albeit with menacing signs. It did not belong to anyone but the town. I was still a little nervous about prowling around it as I know Washington has an aggressive police force, just try speeding near the Washington exit on I-49.

A woman was working in her yard, far off the street.
Al said to ask her. I waved my hands explaining that I was an old train nut and was this the location of the railroad that went through Washington. That approach has rarely had a positive conclusion. But, She smiled and said, "Yes, this is it".

I think I went, "huh?", not believing our good fortune. I asked her where the depot was. She said, "the section house depot was right here, let me show you the stairs the men would use to go down to the trains".

I was reeling, morphing into a happy puppy as we followed along.

Stop the presses, it is show and tell time.

Some explanation is in order.

"Section house" is the first. Scanning the web, I found one I could use from Texas that even had a little definition with it. Don't pay any attention to the "toll booth" mentioned.

Here's another version:

Here's my favorite, the section crew. I guess these guys kept the rails right.

And, this is the very rare picture of the Washington Depot. She said it had been down by the bayou near La.103. I had guessed that. It was near where the rock hauling business is today. Being close to the bayou, it could have been a transfer spot. Also, it would have been on flat land with no need of steps to descend to get to the platform. The picture was taken in the early 1900's. That is a Southern Pacific train. It would have come from Alexandria by way of Cheneyville or as far away as Avery Island and beyoud. Actually, you know it could have come from a number of places in southwest Louisiana. Could that be a Conductor standing on the platform getting ready to board?

The layout was this. I'm not showing the location of the overpass as our host and her husband, 5 Rottweiler dogs and male twins, age 2, do not invite visitors. The dogs were friendly, but well trained. The children were neither.

The rail bed overpass was needed because the Southern Pacific had to dig its way through Washington. The incline coming from the two bayous it crosses, Bayou Caron and Bayou Courtableau, is too great for those trains to scale, thus the sunken right of way.

The hurricane had dropped trees into the dig and I was unable to get down there. Actually I could have but feared the embarrassment of not being able to return to the surface with our host looking on. She made the point that she could get down there a couple of times which did no good to my manly pride. I told her I would, but not in my new jeans. I know, that was pretty lame. I settled for these unmanly pictures.

Here's the aforementioned steps from the section house to the rails.

Pictured is the surface of the bridge. I cannot believe this is all I have. Notice the heavy iron piece just outside the railing. What is that all about? Did it have a railroad function? I have to go back. Al, you coming? Yes, you can tell her that your Grandma was a Fontenot while I climb down into the trench. I'm so glad you saved that story.

Seen is only half of the bridge. It was quite a span. The iron might be a support pan for the unsupported stretch over the rails. I'm not satisfied with that guess. To keep the wooden bridge from igniting, an iron underbelly might have been required. Now there's a far out guess. I just talked to Everett, he verified that my guess was far out. But, to make me feel better, he did say that a mine had caught fire. I may have the story mixed up.

While talking, Everett sent this drawing of the LeCompte section house seeing I didn't have a local one.

This was the section car house, the "car" was used for railroad work. I'll get him to elaborate later, which he will, in lenght. You will know more about a section car than you though possible.

These were Red River and Gulf buildings in LeCompte. They were part of the railroad which was based at Longleaf where the Southern Forest Heritage Museum is now located. You might want to check out the Great Depot Adventure for a look at where this stuff was probably located.

That's it until I can return. This one is NOT OVER.

No Particular Place to Go p.2

Coming from the south on La.103, then crossing under I-49 going into Washington, there is a public park to the right. There in lies an old, what we were told could have been, cotton gin. The operation was steam driven. We explored all that was not locked up, hung jawed at the museum this place was. Al lamented, with great sadness, that this place had not been preserved as a jewel in the crown of Washington's history.

Since I have domestic duties to attend to this morning, I'm not going into much explanation or speculation below, but merely exhibit what we saw. I'll insert a few pictures from a previous visit I made when I first discovered what was then a total mystery to me. Reviewing my old pictures, I am saddened to say, the place is slipping away at an amazing rate. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the overall area.

There are now 5 buildings/locations left. The weigh house, a homestead, the boiler area, a shed, and a locked warehouse. Missing is a work shed and an old honkytonk which was down by the bayou on the original road into Washington, which, I suspect, the cotton gin was on, also. First, here is what Al determined was the weigh house after he saw the hook for the counter weight inside the window. First the outside, then the inside.

Notice the wood shingled exterior walls and the hole in the wall for the pot belly stove, no doubt. We had seen a cow bell mounted on the front of the building. I don't see it in these pictures? Here's the drive on scales and the underground lever channel to the inside.

Inside, all I have is this old picture of the safe. The present scene is one of deterioration. That was 4 years ago.

There was a plumbing shed. On this visit, I felt something was gone. It was. I only have a few pictures of the contents.

Next is the boiler area. My pictures, again, are too close up for you to see the overall scene. I'll have to go back. This is a reoccurring tradition to be redundant in the light of these redundancies.

The gauge.

The door. Each part was stamped with its part number for easy reordering if it broke. You will not find that today. You can't fix anything anymore.

Combustion Engineering Company Inc.
Al said that they are still in business.

Below were the fire boxes.

With this inscription. Click to enlarge. I read it as "The Walsh & Weidner Boiler Co"

Below the boiler was this steam driven pump which delivered water to the boilers from Bayou Courtableau. Notice the cap is cracked, probably due to a hard freeze.

We could have spent the afternoon exploring just this facet of the mill. But, there was more. Here's the shed four years ago and yesterday when Al couldn't wait to go in. He's got to trim that "Afro" before he comes along again. After going into these places he complains of itching. I wonder why?

Next is the inside. Again, hours could have been spent investigating in here. There was a work area, the tool was steam driven.

Notice the Caterpillar tractor. The serial number began with "TT???". We can't remember the rest. Lucky we remembered that, our ages totaling over 120 years. See the large flywheel on that piece of machinery in the back. What was it? A lathe?

It reads, "A. Baldwin and Co. L... Agents, New Orleans, LA
There was a Baldwin Company that built steam locomotives. A connection? Possibly.

Next was the home. These are all early pictures. I failed miserably on this expedition to shoot much. The outside steps are gone. They were probably removed to keep people, like myself, and, especially Al, from killing ourselves going up to explore.

There was more I think I should not mention. No, nothing weird or bad.
The next picture was taken yesterday. Al really liked the curved corners of the porch roof line. They seemed unique to me, also. That's it, 3 hours is up and I have vacuuming to do. The railroad and section house, later.

Oops, almost forgot the honkytonk which is very sadly gone. Though not grand, it was a picture into the past that has been thrown away.

An old Falstaff sign remained as a reminder of good times here on the banks of the Courtableu, at the city limits. Rising above the location of the old bar is the I-49 overpass with its modern hustle and bustle traffic flying by. A poignant moment was had. I could have used a beer and a game of pool, good thing it's gone.


I think Chuck Berry had this place in mind when he wrote these lines:

Climb into my machine so we can groove on out
I know some swinging little joint where we can jump and shout
It's not too far back on the highway, not so long a ride
You park the car out in the open you can walk inside
A little cutie takes your hat and you can thank her ma'am
'Cause every time you make the scene you find the joint is jammed.

My Reframe, Oh Carol, how could you take my heart away? Yep.
Sometimes you bang into some history that's your history.
Sometimes it produces a big grin, sometimes, not.

Page 1 Only With No Particular Place to Go (Washington w/Al)

I spun around in my front yard trying to see where the crease in the heavy dark clouds might be. I flipped on the weather channel and it was as vague as usual. I figured I'd done all that a mortal could do to prepare for motorcycle riding in Louisiana weather, it being nearly 80F with a forecast of 30F sometime, soon.

In the meantime, Alphonso was loading a handful of little shinny packets into his bike's trunk, a sure sign he'd been to the Stop and Run to satisfy his candy jones. I irreverently revved the little DL 650 in hopes it would snap him out of his sugar intoxication. I wanted to get in a few miles before the weather dropped on us, which I was sure it would.

I picked "north". We would head straight into the menacing blackness singing songs from The Sound of Music. That practice has been known to cut straight through adversity. Weather adversity. Adversity of any kind. Try it the next time you get hassled.

It seemed to have worked as we found ourselves on the banks of Bayou Fusiler, west of Arnaudville, still dry. I had wanted to show Alphonso, who's been away for a while, some of the less known wonders of the area. Of course, being Al, direct descendant of the French explorer, LaSalle, he immediately claimed the Bayou, the dam structure, and all lands draining to this point for France. I've never had the nerve to tell him that some of this stuff is already claimed.

I can hear it now, straight from the peanut gallery, "What kind of history hunt is this"?

As it turned out, it was a damn good one.

Grand Coteau is on one of my routes north. We stopped at the historic Catholic girl's school there for a few shots. I have a whole web page on Grand Coteau I'll link later. Al, said that he saw some cool cows but they weren't there when I went back to look. He gravitates to cows. I haven't figured that one out. Nor the others.

Next, out on Highway 31, I saw this old girl sitting back off the road. She was lovely, though a bit worse for ware, but nothing which rehabilitation couldn't render up. Al just sent me an email and mentioned seeing severe damage to the chimney area.

Meandering a bit, we, more or less, headed to Washington, I called a halt as I was overcome by the aura of our route.

I tell you how Al and I de-biked in Washington, explored a bunch of stuff and visited the spot where the Missouri Pacific Railroad had its section house. That was where Bidstrup St. crossed the rails on a historic overpass. To top it all, the home owner I interrupted from her yard'll have to wait.

Duplicate Q & A

I tread lightly upon the surface of history. From time to time someone notices my prints and brings attention to what I've stepped upon. I then repeat all that they tell me by posting that knowledge within an explanation of my often pointless ramblings. After that, I take credit for it all. Lately, I've learned to refine this game. I've met some people that know stuff. I've met other people that know stuff but want to learn more. I put them together using myself as a conduit. As a conduit, I am privy to all questions and answers that pass by. Most of the time, just the questions are more than I know. When one of my experts answers the question, it is a real bonus. So, now you know, but you don't really know how much I really know or knew prior to knowing. Does it matter? I think not. Knowledge should be free. Knowledge makes you smarter. Knowledge will set you free. I know it's helped and freed me up a bit. Thank you questioners and answerers.

As acting conduit, here are some questions coming out of Kaplan and the answers headed back that way. If Kaplan had an acting historian, Donella would hold the title. She is driven. To find the name of the Southern Pacific station agent there, she just reviewed 6000 draft cards of the World War One era. Absorb that number. I know it sounds "wierd" (an inside joke) What it amounts to is something called "commitment", an historical word.

This page is just a look inside a few of her request and the answers she's gotten plus a little lagniappe at the bottom . I'm including this page in History Hunts because it applies to several rides I've taken following these southwest Louisiana Railroads. Actually, it is a lot easier doing it this way than trying to pry those old writes apart to insert this stuff which could seem a little out of place since none of the rest of the writes go into such detail. The guy that answers her first question does a dissertation, which is fine. The more the merrier. He also spouts credentials which I will leave out due to his desire to remain anonymous. I call him Double-O-L and he likes it.

OK, let me set the plot. Donella was wanting to know Kaplan's railroad history. She had found an ancient article in an old Abbeville newspaper, I think it was. It mentioned several railroads by their initials. RRI's [rail road initials] are maddening to me and the rest of the lay rail world community. It is all alphabet soup. The names are confusing enough.

The date is April, 1902.

Her question was this:

Back in 1901 and 1902....I find a KCS RR and a I&GN RR that were interested in running lines through Vermilion Parish. KCS was interested in connecting Leesville with Abbeville and I&GN wanted to establish a line from Houston to New Orleans that would parallel the existing one (at that time.) and they were interested in passing through Gueydan. The line would be called Houston Beaumont & New Orleans. My question is: Were these companies part of Southern Pacific in 1902?

OO-L's answer:

No, neither the KCS nor the I&GN were part of SP, then or later.

The Kansas City Southern Railway Company was incorporated on March 19, 1900, and on April 1st it assumed control of the properties of the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad after purchasing them in foreclosure. The KCP&G had been completed in 1897 between Kansas City and Port Arthur (through Leesville), and it included a branch from De Quincy to Lake Charles. [he adds his credentials which would reveal his true identity].... I've never heard of any KCS ambitions to build through Vermilion Parish. I'm not doubting the report, however. The KCS is one of the handful of major railways today.

The I&GN was the International and Great Northern Railroad Company, which had been formed in 1873 as a consolidation of the International Railroad Company and the Houston and Great Northern Railroad. From 1880 forward, the I&GN was controlled by the Jay Gould interests, which also controlled Missouri Pacific, Texas & Pacific, etc. Although it was a separate company there was great cooperation due to the same control. By 1901-1902, I&GN's main line ran from the Border at Laredo through San Antonio and Austin to Longview, where it connected with T&P, and through it to various other Gould lines into the Midwest. They made up a through route between Saint Louis and Mexico. There were also I&GN branches to Fort Worth, and to Houston and Galveston. After the Goulds were out of the picture, and through a complex set of 1924 and 1925 deals, Missouri Pacific acquired the I&GN. It was assimilated by Union Pacific with the rest of MP in 1982.

As of 1902, there were two existing rail routes between Houston and New Orleans. One was part of the Southern Pacific family. It ran from Houston, Liberty, Beaumont, Orange, Lake Charles, Jennings, Crowley, Lafayette, and Morgan City, to Algiers opposite New Orleans. This route west of Iowa Junction belongs to UP today, and east of Iowa Junction to BNSF. The other Houston-New Orleans route as of 1902 was the New Orleans, Texas & Mexico Railway, part of the Gulf Coast Lines (GCL). The route eastward from Houston was to Hardin and Beaumont, then via trackage rights over KCS to De Quincy, then east via Kinder, Eunice, Opelousas, Livonia, Port Allen, and a ferry to Baton Rouge, then via trackage rights over Yazoo & Mississippi Valley to New Orleans. This route belongs to UP today between Houston and Port Allen, having come into Missouri Pacific in the same 1924-1925 deal that acquired I&GN.

Any 1902 I&GM interest in building to New Orleans through Vermilion Parish would have been an effort by Gould to rival the existing SP and GCL routes.

ME: the fact that he knows all this is mind boggling. I'm not sure he ever answered her question, but it was impressive.

Her reply:

Here are two articles [I showed you the first, the second, though it is not complete, I'll show below] I came across regarding the rails. I originally wanted [to find]the article on the death of IH Lichenstien, father-in ]law to Abrom Kaplan founder of Kaplan..... I love to read all the other articles to find out what life was like back then. [Donella uses genealogy as a major tool in her research]

About the info your friend sent, it was perfect. I wanted to ask ... what lines did these companies have. With what he told me it makes more since. The article was from the Abbeville Meridional, dated April 19, 1902. Abrom Kaplan approached Southern Pacific the year before and must have sparked some interest with the other companies as the SP began their extension between Gueydan and Abbeville. I do know that as of March 1902, the location of Kaplan was not yet determined. Speculation from KCS and I&GN and from SF, must have put pressure on the SP and they in turn pressured Abrom Kaplan to get a location laid out for the town. In Kaplan's diary he mentioned that the railroad people gave him plenty of trouble.

Me: See what I mean? She asked a question, he responded, and she wrote back with what his answer meant to her. I would have never recognized anything OO-L said as making sense. She, obviously did and explained it as a real life situation, the founding of Kaplan. She further adds: You may have already seen this. It indicates the Iberia and Vermillion RR was completed to Abbeville in 1892.[yes I had and it is on Abbeville's wonderful Railroad Page]

She added:
The Southern Pacific's Louisiana and Western Midland Branch was completed to Gueydan in 1896. This is who the "Section Foreman", mentioned below, worked for.

ME: You have to know the pieces to put the puzzle together.

Now that your wires are all singed with railroad overload, we'll move on to her latest question. Please be seated.

Here's Donella:

I have just searched through 6,000 WWI draft registration cards, looking for the manager of the railroad depot in Kaplan. I found a young man who served as the porter. I found the card I am attaching. Can you explain what this occupation was? or is this the same as depot manager. I found another individual with that same occupation of "section manager" in Erath.

Her question:

Is there any where that Mike may know of to find out who the depot managers were? Does the railroad keep old logs from all the depots?

Another question:

[My Mom met] a Mr. Melancon, he told her he was born in Kaplan and that his father worked for [the railroad]. His mother operated a restaurant. His father died from dysentery after the 1927 flood. In time, his mother remarried another RR man. The first husband was a pumper and the 2nd was a machinist. I contacted him and he sent me this awesome photo. Maybe, Mike can explain exactly what this is. I am not sure if it is in Kaplan. Maybe, it was closer to Abbeville. He did say his stepfather worked around the area keeping the pumps operating properly. The other photo is of Mr. Melancon, (born 1927) with his guns, on a car between Abbeville and Kaplan. So I guess these photos are from the 30's.

PS: Did a "pumper" also put water into the train or just water into the tower/tank. Mr. Melancon told me he pumped the water into tank/tower. I assume the water was also used to keep the livestock in the stock pens from dehydrating! [There was a large corral next to the station in Kaplan. A gentleman told me that cattle were driven through town to the corral for shipping]

More: There are other men who are just listed as RR laborers, with no other title/description.

Me: Now the 2 neat photos. The amazing little car and the cowboy on the boxcar.

A railed Bat Car?

C. Alphonso de LaSalle asked whether Mr.Melancon was fighting of Indians or holding the train up.

Mike responded, adding even more lagniappe:

A section foreman was the supervisor of a track gang, and had responsibility for a defined 'section' of track, and all maintenance thereon. This was in the days before $5 million dollar track maintenance machines. All work was done by hand, from pulling spikes and ties, to laying new rail and ties. They did not do any work on bridges however. The section foreman was a fairly good job, and came with a nice house, and free coal oil for lanterns and coal for heat and cooking. Mr. Les Golmon was the section foreman for the stretch of T & P track from the south Alex yard limits to the LaMourie briidge. Mr Hanley Gremillion had the section from Lamourie to the east end of the Meeker siding, just past the Meeker mill. Both were super men, and treated their hands well.

ME: Since she had mentioned "laborers", Mike clarified that and then added another story:

Usually the station porter did the odd jobs around the depot/station. He swept up, kept wood/coal for the stoves supplied, helped with Railway Express or baggage as needed. Usually they were older men who could no longer work on the track gangs. Some even had a place to sleep at the depot, as they had no family. Palmetto had Smokey Joe, a gray headed old black man, who was a favorite of the railroaders because he always waved to them as they passed by. His funeral in the late '50's was attended by many who had had contact with him over the years. He lived in a room off the freight shed, and folks helped him fix it up nice.

Do you see how it all snowballs into a conglomerate of stories, recollections, the products of endless research and that old word "commitment". These people, all the above, are committed to keeping history alive. I stand in awe to their knowledge and their unending energy to continue its pursuit.

I almost forgot the train schedule that is in the Kaplan town museum on Cushing Ave.

"This is the schedule from Kaplan's newspaper, 1905, original under glass and my camera was having issues".

This is the second article she spoke of concerning the various railroads jockeying to connect with Kaplan.

Now, though not a question, it was one of those observed foot prints I was talking about earlier. I had been down to Burns Point and had mentioned that I'd had to wait for the train to pass. My old buddy Steve sent this reflecting on his relative who lives near the crossing. Yes, indeed. BTW, Mike and Steve are cousins. Is it a coincidence that they end up on the same page?

The article is by Jim Bradshaw of the Lafayette Advertiser. Mr.Bradshaw was a driving force in the creation of the wonderful Carencro High School Website that I have used to plan many a History Hunt.

There you go, even more questions.

You can find all the railroad articles on the front page of History Hunts.