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

My Mom's Memories

Abandoned NC&STL Railway
Route Between Memphis, Jackson & Bruceton

My Mom's Memories of the NC&STL train in Whiteville, Tennessee

I have the yellow papers from my mother, Betty J. (Pepper) Fleet written about her "Memories of the NC&STL train in Whiteville, Tennessee" on November 1, 2005 read:

I was born in the Mt. Moriah Community of Hardeman County, Tennessee in 1940. I lived there with my parents until 1945 when we moved to Whiteville.

The train depot was on Main Street (Highway 64). It was across the railroad from a large hotel on one corner and a private home on the other corner. My best friend lived in that private home so every time I visited her the train came by several times a day. Everything stopped as we couldn’t hear each other speak above the roar and the house and ground actually “shook.”

My very first recollection of the train itself was in 1942 or 1943. My father was drafted into the army and I very distinctly remember waiting for the train that he left on. He was not accepted however and I vividly remember once again going to pick him up at the depot. The train engine was a coal burning one and my senses still can almost “feel” the smell of the smoke and hear the sounds “Choo-Choo” “Choo-Choo” and the shrill shriek of the brakes. The engine had a cow catcher on the front and I remember the huge iron bars that seemed to be connected from one wheel to the next. When they all moved somehow it reminded me of a grasshopper. The engineer always waved and blew the whistle when I would wave at him.

The tracks seemed to me to go on forever (they were along Highway 64 to the West for many miles). About 2 miles outside Whiteville was Ina road and it was there that the train made a stop to pick up passengers or to let them off as they traveled from Memphis. It was at Ina road that all my aunts and uncles came when they visited my grandparents. Although I do not remember the event I heard my parents tell of many experiences of going to pick up these relatives in a wagon – sometimes getting stuck in deep mud.

The Depot was quite a busy place as I remember my mind's eye can still see the iron carts loaded with luggage and cotton. It seems to me that the cotton was in small cube sizes probably 4 x 4 feet. Not nearly as large as a bale of cotton. I do not know why they were taken that way but there was a cotton gin next door to my friend's house – and they may have loaded cotton from the gin directly into the box cars. The station was yellow with green trim. A blackboard hung outside on the wall next to a window where sat the station master. I remember watching him send messages with dashes & dots, click-clicking away. Telegrams could also be sent from there.

I can not recall the man's name that was there during the 40’s but I very well remember the 50’s. That man's name was Wilburn Darnell (see "W. Darnell, Agent" on the lower right corner of the ad card) and he was our next door neighbor.

Sometime in the very late 40’s or 50’s I remember the “new” streamliner as we called it. What a sleek, skinny, frightening thing it was. To a young girl it appeared to be something out of the distant future. It was silver and I remember a hugh light on the very nose of the engine – oh yes and I almost forgot. I always wanted to watch every car till the Caboose passed by. I thought cabooses were so strange looking but I surely wished I could ride in one.

It was during this period of time that I remember riding the train to Memphis to visit my uncles and aunts. I could not have been more that 11 or 12 the first time I rode the train (my mother had taken me to Kentucky when I was around 4 but I can’t recall that). My mother went with me to the station bought my ticket and instructed me to be sure I didn’t loose it. I then boarded the train all by myself and went to Memphis where I was picked up by an uncle at Lenox station. That was a day and time when it was safe for a young girl to travel alone with no fear of harm.

I do not actually remember what the inside of the train looked like but I do remember the windows could be lowered or raised and there was a cord that ran along the length of the passenger car. It was the “emergency” cord and I was strongly advised to never touch it. My mother said it might cause the train to have a wreck. Another thing I remember about those rides was the train stopping at a water tank (see far below). To me these tanks seemed gigantic and I could not understand why a train needed to take in water. I remember the conductor punching my ticket, it seems to me, several times during the trips. Always when I arrived at the Lenox station my uncle would be waiting for me. I distinctly remember there being something elevated next to the station. It was like a deck or platform that had some type of sides around it and benches. It also seemed that there was a picnic table there, perhaps I’m wrong about that, but I do remember having to go down what seemed to me to be a great number of steps to get to my uncle. It seems to me that he may have walked from his home on South Cox Street in Memphis to get me (see NC&STL map among Lenox Station & Aulon Tower). I know now that Southern was just about a block from where he lived and the train did travel right along Southern as those tracks are still there today.

I don’t remember ever boarding the train in Memphis to return to Whiteville. I suppose my father & mother must have come to get me and take me home. During the 50’s most of my relatives traveled by bus as did I so the train wasn’t used by us any more. My last train ride was in 1965. I lived in Sanford, Florida with my husband who was in the U.S. Navy serving in Vietnam. My 2 daughters were 8 months & 23 month months old. We come home to Whiteville for a few months stay. How different this trip was from those of my childhood. It was an Amtrak train and I had a small room that had a fold down “bed”. I especially remember the conductor. He was very guff and actually quite rude. We made it home but I vowed never to ride a train again. After that we always flew home or anywhere we needed to go.

Little did I know those many years ago that one day I would have a son who would be so interested in trains. If I had known, I would have made a few notes and tried to remember much more.

Today the Whiteville depot is gone – the tracks are gone, the telephone poles with the bright blue insulations are gone and my aunts and uncles are gone. There are no more smells of burning coal or the lonesome whistle. But I still see trains, and from where I live in Bartlett I occacionally hear the loud blowing of the whistle to warn drives & pedestrians along Stage Road and Raleigh Lagrange Road that it is about to approach.

Eric, Since writing the first part of my memories of the train a few other things have come to mind. I remember that inside of the depot was a dull stark room with a few hand-hewn benches. The men smoked cigarette and cigars and they also dipped snuff so there were spittoons in several places. That was the first and only time I ever saw a spittoon and I thought they were so nasty. The room was smokey / hazey I think this may have been the gathering place for the older men to sit and talk.

Another thing I remembered was once when I was riding the train there was an American Indian dressed in Indian clothes and leather moccasins (shoes). His clothes had beads on them. I was somewhat afraid because they only Indians I had ever seen were at the picture show (That's what the movie was called back then) and they were always fighting. I've tired to remember more about that but I can't - just have in my mind's eye the image of that Indian man. I also remembered that at my friend's house when they old coal burning engine come by the black soot got all over the yard and the porch. Her mother was always sweeping it away.

Once we heard that if you put a penny on the track that the train would mash it flat. I asked Nanny (my mother) about that and she said she had heard that it would cause a train to have a wreck. Well - I didn't always obey my mother so one day when we heard the train coming we (my friend and I) put the penny on the track. Sure enough the penny was mashed flat and we had a hard time finding it when the train was gone. It didn't cause the train to wreck but we were surely scared that it might. I still have that penny today (see below). I will try to find it for you.

A mashed penny in July 11, 1952. Written by Betty Fleet.

In the mid-month of February 2006 my mother drew the
railroad water tank at Whiteville Station. When she was a little girl,
she can remember it in the late 1940's.


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