Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway aka NC&StL, NC&Stl.L, ncstl,  




Growing up on the ole' NC&St.L Railway

Over my life I have lived in six towns in two states and of those six places, I have never lived in a single town, hamlet, or city that was not served by the NC. I see some irony in this fact; the NC&St.L certainly has a vast and firm intertwining with my soul!

I was born in a small clinic on the town square of McKenzie TN. Less than one hundred yards from the point of my birth ran the right-of-way of the railroad.

About two years later, we moved from McKenzie to Harding Ky. and again a short distance from our house was the trackage of the NC. I can't say I consciously remember the steam engines that by this time must have had only months of service left before they would be replaces by their new younger brothers, the diesels. There must have still been a few steam engines still trudging the old P & M branch near my home, but I was too young to remember. I have always hated the fact that because the NC. was one of the first railroads in the nation to completely dieselize, I cannot remember seeing steam engines in every day service. [On Sunday January 4th, 1953 a steam engine pulling a passenger train on the Bruceton-Union City branch chugged into Union City. This train was the last run of a scheduled steam engine on the entire system and the last run of a passenger train on that branch]

The wanderlust of my father then transferred us to Memphis. Though my father did not work for the NC., he did work for a railroad. I remember going to his workplace with my mother. My father was a freight car painter for the Illinois Central RR.

Next we moved to Dresden Tn., again an NC&St.L Ry. town. Soon, to my great joy I was now living less than 75 yards from the depot and all the fun that can be had at a place like that. Mr. Sam A. Buts was the stationmaster at the Dresden depot. I can only imagine the hours I must have spent in that old train station talking with Mr. Butts. What patients he must have had in answering over and over the endless stream of question I surely fired at him. I remember him showing me every part of the old station. He showed me how the telegraph worked and how the "order hoop" was used to pass up the train orders to a train crew as it sped by. Mr. Butts even allowed me to stand on his desk and pull the handled cables that controlled the semaphore signal adjacent to the station.

Dresden was a farming community in the late 1950's. Two of the primary farming commodities for Dresden and Weakley Co.TN. were potatoes and cotton and those were two of the items that never seemed to be in short supply around the depot of my youth. I remember the cotton gin that sat about 1/8 mile north of the depot and directly next to the tracks. Since there was not a rail spur to the gin, all the large cotton bales had to be wrapped at the mill and then transported to the depot platform for loading into boxcars. I spent many hours romping and jumping on top of those mammoth steel banded bundles of cotton.

Directly across the tracks from the depot was a cinder block building that was used as a sweet potato storage building. My grandfather at one time worked in that building sorting potatoes for shipment by truck and rail. These too were brought across the tracks to the depot for shipment by railcar.

In my minds eye, I can still see shirtless men working late into the night loading both potatoes and 500 pound cotton bales onto yellow striped, Dixieland boxes.

To the south of the depot stood a stockyard and next to that was a coal yard replete with a dump pit and conveyor under the track. Just south of the coal yard was the foundation of an old icehouse. During the 1950's the stockyard was still receiving hogs and cattle, the coal yard still did a small amount of business, but the icehouse was long gone. Though all three establishments had had access to the NC&St.L at one time or another, none were by that time doing any shipping or receiving by rail.

I would hang around the depot even when there was nothing going on there. One of the greatest remembrances of my youth was one Sunday afternoon I was playing on the platform of the station when up pulled one of the 800 series, F units. On this date I could not have been any older than 8 years old. The engineer who was setting out a car or two on the station siding looked down and saw me standing on the platform looking back at him. He must have sensed the fascination in my face because he invited me to ascend the steps to the cab of the engine. For the next few minutes I must have been in heaven. He allowed me to blow the horn and to actually open the throttle on that beautiful blue and gray unit. I had played engineer of my Lionel trains but now I was in control of 1500 hp of real NC&St.L power!

Although I love the yellow stripes of the 40' boxcars and the Geeps, I must admit that my favorite NC cars are the lowly right of way maintenance cars and their associates the bunk cars. Just before I moved from Dresden in 1960, the State of Tennessee built a new Highway 22 bypass outside of town. The new bypass cut across the path of the NC. trackage and a new bridge had to be constructed to form an overpass. The need for a new bridge caused the railroad to bring to town a work train and crew to build the shoofly track and to construct the new span. The L&N brought to Dresden a dilapidated old work train still lettered in NC. reporting marks; they positioned the train right beside my house. For the entire summer of 1959 I watched the bridge building crew come and go to their home upon the rails. Finally near the onset of fall, the bridge girders themselves arrived on the back of a freight train. I can recall riding my Western Flyer bike out to the construction on several occasions to watch the cranes lift the new spans into place.

The bridge is gone now, as is the old depot. Mr. Butts died in the early 1960's. The cotton mill, the potato house, the stockyards, the coal yard, the tracks from Dresden to Union City and even the NC&St.L itself has passed into history, but, if I listen close enough, the low rumble of a far off NC. GP-9 setting out a car or two at the Dresden depot late at night, I can still hear in my mind.

Terry L. Coats
September 2002



NC&StL Preservation Society, Inc. is in no way affiliated with the NC&StL Railway or any of it's successors.
As a non-profit entity, NCPS presents these pages to the public purely for educational and historic interest.

Return to top | Home | About Us | History | Engine 576 | Cities | People | Model Railroading
Membership | MerchandiseLinks  |  Site Map | Contact Us |  Copyright  | Privacy Policy

Add to Favorites
Please take a moment to send a tax-deductible contribution to NCPS.
We can't do it without your help!

If you have information
you would like to contribute,
we would appreciate
hearing from you.

Contact Webmaster


(c) 2003, NC&StL Preservation Society