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During the late 1950s, Luther Hodges made a whistle stop in Southern Pines, NC, during
his bid for Governor. In this photo the back-to-back spiffy-clean Seaboard passenger locomotives had uncoupled
from his train and moved forward to clear the crossing at Connecticut Avenue. The remainder of the train stayed
at the passenger depot.
A Seaboard GP-7 working the spur at the 400 block of NE Broad St in Southern Pines.
A pair of Seaboard GP-7s pulls a southbound freight past the intersection of
Maine Avenue and NE Broad Street in Southern Pines on the east track. In the foreground is the spur
which ran in front of my house and its associated derailer. The east track used to run from the Hamlet
yard (30 miles to the south) to Lakeview (7 miles to the north). The east track and the spur have long
since been pulled up and only a single track now goes through town.
The days of iron men and wooden cabooses! This caboose was attached to a
local that was working the spurs in Southern Pines. It is also the caboose that I managed to bum a ride
in for about 20 glorious minutes. (See narrative at the end of this page.)
Two hobos riding the freight behind the two GP-7s shown above.
This narrative is primarily aimed at viewers who may have lived in Southern Pines, NC, during
the 1950s and 1960s and those who wish more background on the above photos.
The photos were taken with a very simple and cheap fixed focus camera at about the time I
became a teenager. I might have only been 12 years old at the time, judging by my eye-level in
the photos (I was always the runt in my class at school). I lived next to the Seaboard Air Line Railroad
in Southern Pines, North Carolina, during the later part of the 5th grade, all the 6th, most of the 7th and
from the 8th grade through graduation in the Class of 1961.
My address was 475 N.E. Broad St. Broad Street paralleled the railroad on either side with each side
being a one-way street from Vermont Ave (one block south of my residence) to Massachusetts Ave
at south end of the downtown area. Seaboard was dual track from Hamlet to Lakeview and there was a
block-long spur in front of my house, another spur in the 300 block off the west track which served the
freight depot and another spur at the south end of town which served the local coal supplier and one
at the north end of town in the middle of the s-curve north of my home.
The spurs were at first worked by a very familiar black and red Seaboard yard switcher which came up
from Aberdeen, 3 miles south. In later years, one or two GP-7s came up from Hamlet to work the spurs. They
would arrive in Southern Pines around midday and work as far north as Lemon Springs and pass back
through at around 4 or 5 in the afternoon, returning to Aberdeen or Hamlet. The spur in front of my house
was very active with pulpwood loadings. The cars would be loaded by hand from the trucks of local
pulpwood cutters after being measured and paid for by a company rep who would spend the day in
his car with a measuring tape and a checkbook. The local feedstore would occasionally get a
boxcar load of hay or feed and I recall how much fun it was to play inside the boxcar after about half
the hay had been unloaded. Occasionally, St. Joseph Hospital would get a hopper car full of hard
coal. The hopper would be pushed to the end of the spur, next to Vermont Ave, and the loading
crew would knock open the hopper doors and let the coal spill out onto the track and they would
shovel it manually onto a flatbed bobtail truck to haul to the hospital. During this time, our house
had only a coal burning stove for heat. Many times, I would go out along the spur and pick
up bark and small limbs from the pulpwood loadings and fill a bucket with coal left behind on the
track after the hopper car had been pulled out. This supplemented the coal my grandmother
purchased from the supplier at the south end of town.
One two occasions, the local National Guard Armory received a brand new tank which was delivered
by flatcar to "my" spur. They would drop the flatcar at the end of the spur, like the hopper cars, and
the National Guard folks would come, put down a bunch of railroad ties to make a ramp and drive
the tank off the flatcar and through town to the armory. Since the hatches on top of the tanks were
only secured with a large bolt and a hand-tightened nut, the neighborhood kids and I would have
the tanks thoroughly checked out long before the Army arrived.
Occasionally, a "bad order" passenger car would be set out at the freight depot spur, a block south
of me. These were a source of fusees (burning flares that looked like a stick of dynamite). I never
could figure out how to light one of those things off and I would usually end up breaking it in half
and placing the broken ends in a burning pile of pine needles until they would light off then I would
see what I could burn or melt down until it got too short to handle. Then one evening, my engineer
buddy on #10 (mentioned below) showed me how to uncover the striker and light it off and from that
point on, my fusees burned a lot longer.
Being next to the tracks with trains stopping in front of my house all the time, I got to know a number
of crewmembers. The local switch crew let me ride in the caboose one day for about 20 minutes while
they worked the spur in front of my house and the one in the middle of the s-curve. I made straight
for the cupola and that's where I stayed the whole time. I was surprised at how much that wooden
caboose would flex during the switching operations. On another occasion I got to ride a GP-7 for
about a mile and a half north to Manly. That ride lasted until they came back through the crossover
to get on the other end of their train. It was a bit longer than the caboose ride, maybe 30 minutes
total, but it seemed like only an instant before it was over. On yet another occasion, I got to
ride in the red/black yard switcher for a few minutes while they shoved cars onto the spur.
Southern Pines had 10 passenger trains daily that made stops (5 each way) and 2 more in each
direction (Silver Star and Silver Meteor) that blew through like we didn't exist. The most significant
trains to me were the Palmland (#10) which went north around 8pm and #3 which was a local that
ran south around 6pm. #10's engines would stop right in front of my house and I got to know one
of the engineers and got to visit in the cab of the locomotive during the stops. He came through
every 3rd night and I could tell when he was on duty by the distinctive way he blew the whistle.
I rode #10 on a number of occasions as far as Baltimore, MD, when my parents were there and
I would be staying with my grandmother in Southern Pines. The return trip would be on #9,
arriving in Southern Pines around 7:30am.
#3 was made up mostly of express and baggage cars, a post office car, a combine (half baggage
and half passenger) and one regular passenger coach. I would sometimes ride #3 to Aberdeen
(25 cents one-way) and come back on #10 an hour or so later. #3 represented the last incoming
Railway Express Agency (REA) freight of the day and after #3's express had been sorted, the
agent would ride his green Cushman motor scooter down the entire length of the station platform,
exiting on Connecticut Avenue and heading for home. REA was the UPS of yesteryear.
The Palmland was THE way to arrive in the Sandhills if you were going to Pinehurst
(6 miles away). Piedmont Airlines had one DC3 per day in each direction flying between
Fayetteville and Charlotte with a stop at Southern Pines. The Palmland was a through
train from New York to Miami. It wasn't a streamliner like the Star and the Meteor but it
was scheduled perfectly for Southern Pines. Leaving New York at sunset, you could
be in Southern Pines a couple of hours after sunrise. The northbound trip was overnight
to Washington, DC, with rapid service up the Northeast corridor through the morning hours.
The Yanks desiring to go to Florida would ride the Silver Star or Silver Meteor which were
scheduled about 12 hours apart. The Palmland was met each way by a sharp looking
bus operated by the Pinehurst hotels. I remember hand-pulled baggage trucks lining the
entire length of the station platform, all of them loaded with baggage and golf bags with
most of them going into the string of sleeper cars. I remember Charlie Patch, an elderly
gentleman who owned the town's finest clothing store, being there to see the trains off.
Mr. Patch was probably the only other non-railroad person who met more trains at the station
than I did. He was also a heck of a nice person.
Mr. Patch and all the trains that used to stop there are now gone. Pinehurst has become
world-famous and the Southern Pines Airport now handles bizjets by the dozens. Piedmont
Airlines became part of USAir. But the
train station and its block-long platform remain - for now. I remember when the semaphore
tower penetrated the roof just outside the station master's windows. Then there was the
steady clackety clack of the telegraph, and my first taste of a powerful electric shock when
I touched one of the telegraph connections. And the depot itself still gives itself away to the
dark days of segregation except that the "Colored and Intrastate" waiting room is now
office space. But you can still see that the station master had windows on both sides of his
space to sell tickets to passengers in either waiting room. The railroad and the depot
made the town. I hope they both last as long as that wonderful little town.
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