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
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.