Sunday, April 5, 2009

Trains and Rumors of Trains

I have to admit I'm becoming mildly obsessed with the life and death of the passenger train culture in the United States. Sometimes I feel the only thing I want more than a complete collection of 1980s Transformers is the ability to put on a pin-striped suit and take a Streamliner all the way across the state of Arkansas. Of course even the futuristic Streamliners failed to save the railroad industry, despite the fact that they made the 1950s look a hundred times cooler than they actually were.

The partially decomposed remains of a motel sit along the ghostly tracks less than a mile from the old Searcy depot (discussed last time). Although I'm not sure about this one, inns and hotels would often be situated near railroads for ease of access. Looks like one of the buildings is now used for some kind of counseling group, though the white plywood over the windows is shudder-worthy. As these little motor pools died slowly, the big hotels popped up on the other side of town. Evidently Searcy is one of the few towns in White County which actually flourished after the big freeways came in.

Click to see the picture of the last passenger train leaving Batesville in 1960. We found this in the Independence County Museum of Batesville, a friendly little place housed in a former armory. The back room contains a generous archive of Arkansas history which may come in handy in the future.

But after seeing that picture I couldn't leave Batesville without trying to find the site upon which those folks stood 49 years ago. With the help of the museum's curator, we did find it.

The Batesville Depot. The right side of it has been added on to, and there was a chain fence stopping me from taking a picture of the less altered left side. There seems to be a business in the added-on-to section, but we didn't really want to go in to find out (the windows were covered with U.S. flags so we couldn't see in...). You can see from the second picture that the rear of the building has been covered with corrugated steel with some of the original (beautiful) structure peeking out over it.

There are still tracks all over the place near the old depot, with freight cars sitting on tracks and a few abandoned old buildings rising over barbed-wire fences. The whole place smells like chemicals from the chicken plant a short distance from the depot.

Next time we'll finish out this train series for a while with a look at what may be the last remaining wooden passenger car in the state of Arkansas.



Drew said...

The freeway system certainly put trains on the downhill slide, but don't underestimate the importance of airliners. They were one of the final nails in the coffin.

The sad thing is that with the current energy crisis, a good mag-lev would be cheaper and cleaner to run and still move at more than half the speed of the normal airliner.

The infrastructure just hasn't been developed though, and without a big push by the government (as with the freeway movement of the 1950s) it isn't going to happen in the US anytime soon.

As we were discussing the other day, I think that cars and trains are going to move more towards modularity and interoperation as time progresses, both for consumer convenience and energy efficiency.

Rook said...

Maybe then I can finally get my train ride without having to rely on time travel (and we know how dodgy that is)...