Sunday, February 3, 2008

Pine Bluff, AR And The Cotton Belt

I know this is supposed to be a Central Louisiana trainspotting blog, but guys and dolls, you're gonna have to forgive me this meander away from CenLA. Honestly, I'm not even sure where to begin.

We had a dog show this weekend in Pine Bluff, AR, which if you're not familiar with the area is five hours northish of Alexandria or three hours northish of Monroe, one of my favourite train haunts. On 8th St. in Pine Bluff is a sizeable hotel with an attached facility for conferences and such, and in what seems to be a pattern for coliseums, there's train tracks nearby. In this case, it's right down the middle of town, between 3rd and 4th Avenues.

Literally between them. For miles.

In the 1900's Pine Bluff was a major staging point for cotton, and specifically the Cotton Belt. Circa 1906 a train station was built on E. 4th St., around Union St. I believe it was, because it used to be called the Union Street Station. I say this because I was too enthralled to look at street signs! It's now a train museum (the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Historical Museum,) and looks remarkably like it did 102 years ago. A little worse for wear but still a handsome old building, and I think a nice museum tho I didn't get to go inside (they're closed on weekends.)*

See that pair of tracks? Same tracks the Cotton Belt steam trains used to run, only now they carry diesels. LOTS of diesels. Notice the signal tower's red lights? They never went dark. There was so much traffic they simply stayed burning.

When I tell you that I could stand outside the 8th St. convention center and hear a train horn every ten to fifteen minutes I'm not kidding, not stretching the truth, not even a little bit. EVERY time I stepped out to walk the dogs or get a breath of fresh air or to load or unload the car I heard a train. My impression, both from last year and from this year was that there was a train yard there, like the KCS West Magenta yard at Monroe that terminates right alongside a Holiday Inn. I was wrong. There's simply two very busy tracks there, a sort of major thoroughfare for train traffic.

Saturday afternoon I headed out after the showing, determined to get a photograph or two. What I got was opportunity for hundreds in the space of an hour and a half. Union Pacific. Burlington Northern Santa Fe. CSX. I'm sure if I'd been able to stand there longer I'd have seen everything from ALM to whatever train company starts with a "Z."

It wasn't hard to get a shot of a train in a crossing--every block there was a pair of crossing gates. When a train would cross you could listen to them begin to light up, wig-wags blinking, bells ringing, one after the other in a chain like dominoes falling. It was astounding.

So were the trains. They drove through, whistling and blowing almost non-stop, warning each crossing.

And they drove through.

And they drove through some more.

And they drove through again.

Had I the option I could have stood there all day and filled a 4GB card with the same shot, simply varying my position and what sort of lovely old downtown architecture was behind the train. I doubt I could have tired of taking the shots--there was that much opportunity to change by simply walking one block up or down.

On a whim, and wanting to find the yard that HAD to lie just past that enticing curve that all these trains kept coming from, I drove up several blocks, and saw...more track. No yard, just three lines that merged into two and carry what seemed like every single piece of freight that was traveling east to west across Arkansas.

Then I saw the mother lode. An operating cotton gin with SIXTEEN engines parked, one behind the other behind the other. I can only assume they were being stored there for parts because most were old and one was, to a cursory examination, missing it's entire engine. Most were old Southern Pacific engines, one was an old CEFX. All looked in poor condition, but there were SIXTEEN of them. I only had time to take 'roster' shots of them as I had to get back to the hotel, but next year...oh, next year.

I'll update this post with Flickr links as I get the photos up. There's gonna be a lot...
*Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Historical Museum

201 E. 4th Street
870.541.5405 (fax) (e-mail)

The Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Historical Museum offers visitors a glimpse into the past of Pine Bluff and surrounding Jefferson County. Within this fascinating museum, you can discover displays and collections of Civil War and World War II artifacts, Victorian furniture, clothing, quilts and antique dolls, plus tools, relics and cotton farming implements. The Museum is located in the Union Station train depot, which has been restored and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Admission is free.

Monday-Friday: 9 AM-4 PM

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Blogger Merelyme said...

wow...what a youngest son has a passion for trains. nice to meet you.

February 15, 2008 at 8:38 PM  
Blogger Irrelephant said...

*g* I think ALL little boys have a passion for trains, Merelyme! I know the little boy in me is the one that is still dragging me from pillar to post to chase them around.

I didn't realise my sign-in was directing people to this blog...this is my slow traffic one, the speciality side of me. *G* Hope he enjoys the photos--I've, oh lord, probably several hundred on my Flickr account. You're both welcome to go enjoy!

February 15, 2008 at 8:44 PM  

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