Sunday, August 23, 2009
The Traveler, the private rail car of the president (at the time) of the St. Louis and Southwestern Railroad, popularly known in these environs as the “Cotton Belt,” was part of a fleet of three such cars owned by the railroad. The others were the Dixie and the Fairlane, which at one time was the private car of Edsel Ford, son of Henry. I am told the Edsel has made its way back to Michigan. The fate of the Dixie I was not able to plumb.
Bob Abbott, entrepreneur, inventor, manufacturer, and all-around-good-guy, is now the proud owner of the Traveler. A resident of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Bob bought the Traveler, along with a lake, two-story house, and a bunch of wooded acres just outside of Rison, Arkansas, in 2004. Prior to that, the property had been owned by the Elrod family of Cleveland County, legendary for their acumen and success in timber and the wood products industry.
The Traveler was built and went into regular service during 1905 to tote the railroad president around on his railroad. When the United States entered World War I, the Traveler was pressed into government service and transferred to the Texas-Pacific RR operated in Texas, doing whatever was meet for a luxury rail car to do in time of war. Then in 1920, the Texans were told to release the car from their lunch hooks and give it back. The car was returned to the Cotton Belt yards at Pine Bluff, refitted, and then returned to its former glory as the coach for the railroad president. I’ll bet he was a happy camper.
Fast forward to 1953. The car again comes to Pine Bluff for some major refitting. The original wooden sides were replaced with the metal sides you see in the picture. And, ta-da, the makeover crew installed air conditioning. By that time, running a railroad had gotten to the point where it would keep the man at the helm in a sweat, so anything they could do to keep his operating temperature a bit lower was no doubt a good thing. With a fresh jacket and a cooler outlook on life, the Traveler was on the road again.
She came back to Pine Bluff and enjoyed a good stem-to-stern refurbishing in 1959. A year later, the railroad hierarchy decided that the Traveler was no longer needed and doomed it to the scrap heap. When that news reached Searcy Elrod of Rison, he decided that this magnificent piece of rolling stock would not suffer such an ignominious fate on his watch. When all the dust settled, Searcy had bought the Traveler for the princely sum of $1,900, delivered to the Cotton Belt depot at Rison.
The Traveler was loaded on a low-boy trailer and made its last trip of no more than five miles or so to its retirement villa on Pumpkin Hill Road, south of Rison.
When Bob Abbott bought the property in 2004, being the generous sort that he is, he informally let it be known that if folks wanted to use the property for special events, they could. In the ensuing time, the site has been the scene of high school reunions, church meetings, and other family and individual happenings. He has since built a small chapel on the property, which has become a popular place for weddings and other church related events.
Bob chuckles when he thinks about the first time he saw the Traveler. “I was a telegrapher for the railroad when I saw it at the Cotton Belt yards. Seeing it was about all we could do. Us peons were not allowed even to get close to it. Now I own it.” According to Bob, the old girl was supposed to have a new paint job this summer, but his painting contractor stumbled at the gate and did not do the deed. It’ll happen next summer, he says with a knowing smile.
A bit of history is in good hands. Good thing. They ain’t building ‘em like that anymore.
N O T E S:
Most of the time, there is more to the Photo of the Week story than can be told in an essay. And most of the time there are more pictures to be seen. Presuming that some folk will enjoy being privy to this trove of information, I have created a blog, “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind,” where I am showing and telling “the rest of the story." There are also some blatantly commercial mentions of some of the things we do to earn our beans and taters. Click on the Weekly Grist logo and go to the blog. — J. D.