Sunday, April 12, 2009

Combo Car No. 57

Didn't mean for a week's gap between posts, but oh well. It's bound to happen sometimes.

The mid-to-late 19th century is about as old as you get here in Arkansas, at least when you're talking about the country as we know it. And in the late 1800s the railroads were still going strong. Passenger cars were wood-and-iron boxes which could carry a few dozen folks and sometimes even included a toilet or a stove.

The Missouri/North Arkansas line went right through Searcy, right past that dismal white building which I featured a couple of posts ago. Combo car no. 57 (a brother of no. 55, pictured above), built in 1894, was one of those wooden carriers and probably spent a lot of time yukking it up with no. 58 and no. 60 (I don't know anything about no. 59) during its long life.

Here's our no. 57 bringing up the rear of his family, adjacent to car no. 55 who is receiving some mail. No. 57 was also a mail car. At some point, partitions were placed in no. 57, adjusting its passenger capacity to "20W 14C." That's 34 folks total; I'll let you figure out what "W" and "C" stood for.

By 1949, no. 57 was retired and the Missouri/North Arkansas line was beginning to disintegrate. The old car sat and watched as the tracks were swept away like leaves, and time finally robbed no. 57 of its trucks (its iron wheel housings), deserting the car on Oak street in Searcy. Somewhere down the road the car was converted into a residence, but eventually that too fell away. In the end, car no. 57 was in a salvage yard and was scheduled for destruction.

But in 2007 the White County Historical Society came to its rescue.

The first time I saw this car sitting next to the restored depot in Bald Knob, I was like "wow, that's a really moldy old train car!" I later came to find out out that not only is it very old and very moldy, it's also one of the last of its kind. It's the only known surviving car of the Missouri/North Arkansas line. The Historical Society is currently working on restoring the car, and they have a lot more data on it at their website, from which I also borrowed the above historical photos.

There are a couple images of the interior of car no. 57. Now I'm just going to have to see if I can get old 57 to get together with the caboose at Riverside on the other end of town...


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