“The first railroad in Kentucky was built between Frankfort and Lexington in 1834,” said Bethany Sutton, museum executive director. “It used horse drawn cars at first, then later with wood-burning locomotives.”
The Louisville & Nashville Railroad was chartered in 1850 with the first railroad tracks being laid in Louisville. The L&N’s first run was on Aug. 25, 1855. It ran eight miles at 15 mph.
“On Oct. 27, 1859, the train was able to run from Louisville to Nashville, which was a distance of 187 miles, in the fast time of nine hours,” said Sutton. “By 1861, the L&N was operating over 269 miles of track.”
The very first diesel engine was put into play by L&N in 1939, and the last steam locomotive was retired in 1957.
In 1971, the Seaboard Coast Line railroad bought all of L&N stock until 1982, when the corporate entity of the L&N merged into the Seaboard system, which ended a 132-year existence of the L&N company name. Seaboard then merged with CSX Transportation System in 1986.
Bowling Green was first settled in 1790, but its railroad history didn’t start until 1836 with a state charter being issued for the Portage Railroad. The main purpose for the railroad was to transport goods from boat landings to downtown Bowling Green.
“The very first depot was built at Adams and Main Streets in 1859,” said Sutton. “However, in 1862, the Confederates evacuated the town and burned the depot, the roundhouse and the machine shops along with the Barren River Bridge. In Oct. 1862, a new depot was built in the same place.”
As the railroad passenger traffic slowed, the depot closed its doors in 1979. As the years passed, the depot remained vacant until the city of Bowling Green and the public library purchased it and re-opened its doors in 1995.
“The final phase of restoration was completed in 2007,” said Sutton. “The building is currently being utilized by friends of L&N including the gift shop, model train display, museum and businesses offices. The lobby of the depot is used for special events such as weddings and meetings.”
The E8 Engine No. 796 was built in 1951, which was one of the four E8 diesel engines acquired by the L&N railroad.
Sutton said the engine Nos. 794 through 797 were designed for passenger service trains, and the E8 diesel locomotive was originally owned by the Chicago & Northwestern railroad line.
“The engine weighs over 33,000 pounds,” said Sutton. “The 2,250 horsepower engine can reach a speed of 100 plus miles per hour. L&N eventually sold the four engines to Amtrak, none of which are in existence today.”
The Railroad Post Office revolutionized the way mail was processed by sorting mail aboard moving trains. Railway mail service started in 1832, but grew slowly until the Civil War.
Sutton said that in 1862, mail was sorted en route as a train moved between two points and this idea proved to work successful as the postal service decentralized its operations and concentrated on sorting the mail volume while it was being carried on the nation’s rail lines.
“This required exceptional post office workers,” said Sutton. “They were tested regularly for their speed and accuracy. They had to be able to sort a minimum of 600 letters an hour, ‘on-the-fly', and not to mention they all had to carry a .38 revolver to protect the U.S. Mail and be deadly with their aim.”
One day in 1888, a stray terrier mutt wander into Albany, N.Y., Post office and the clerks let him stay on the train, naming him Oweny.
“We aren’t 100 percent sure why he was named Owney,” said Sutton. “Some say because he ‘owned’ the mail bags he was attracted to or because his owner’s last name was Owens.”
Owney began his adventure riding with the bags across state, then across the country and eventually around the world.
“He was considered a good luck charm,” said Sutton. “The railway adopted him as their mascot, and marked his travels by placing medals and tags on his collar. Unfortunately, he was killed in Ohio in 1897 by gunshot.”
Owney was such a huge part of the railway post office system that he was preserved and permanently put on display at the Smithsonian National Post Office Museum.
After many successful years of rail line mail, the railroad mail service ended in 1979.
Some of the first traveling meals in America were prepared in a space only three feet wide on a train traveling at speeds of more than 70 mph. The L&N No. 2799 — The Duncan Hines Diner was built by the Pullman Standard Company in 1949.
“This car was assigned to the overland route and traveled between Chicago and San Francisco,” said Sutton. “Our car carries its name in honor of the original car named ‘Duncan Hines,’ which was scrapped after an accident in 1969.”
Unlike Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines was a real-life native of Bowling Green. He became famous by traveling and highlighting reviews of restaurants, hotels/motels, and vacation destinations.
“In the 1950s, Duncan Hines sold the rights to his name to Proctor & Gamble to be used on a line of grocery items,” said Sutton. “The car (named for him) is 85 feet long and 10 feet wide and is able to seat 48 people.”
In order to serve 48 people, the Pullman diner car was staffed with one steward, four cooks and six waiters. Each railroad featured local food and menus typical to the area of travel.
“Because of the small working area in the kitchen, cooks created a mixture of flour, lard, salt and baking powder that could be made into biscuits quickly,” said Sutton. “A traveling salesman for General Mills learned of this idea and took it back to the company, for which they developed Bisquick for the convenience of cooking at home.”
After the Civil War, traveling by train became prevalent. By 1855, George Pullman developed the concept of sleeper cars called Towering Pine No 3467.
“Most people think that the sleeper cars were owned by the railroad,” said Sutton. “In fact, they were owned by the Pullman Company, which leased them to the railroads. Since the owners name was George, all the porters on the train were called George, regardless if that was their name or not.”
The Towering Pine was one of the 22 luxury sleepers delivered to L&N in 1953, and each car was named after a native southern tree. After WWII, the traveling public expected more comfort and accommodations. Interior improvements were made to better accommodate demanding travelers.
“Legend has it that the phrase ‘giving someone the brush off’ dates back to 1949,” said Sutton. “The ‘brush off’ was something the Pullman porters did to customers who tipped poorly.”
Railroad porters used to brush departing passengers’ clothes in the hopes of receiving a decent gratuity. If the porter sensed that the passenger was not going tip well, they would give a light flick on their suit and move on to the next passenger.
The L&N No 353 — Presidential Office Car was one of the oldest intact passenger cars built by L&N.
“The car was built in 1911 and is one of the few wooden cars in existence,” said Sutton. “The car was remodeled in 1942 with steel sheeting and the roof was reconstructed and given the modern rounded look.”
The car contains two staterooms, a galley, steward's quarters, a meeting room and the rear sitting room. The outside platform was used by dignitaries and politicians over the years, which contained two Murphy beds and sofa that turned into a bed in the sitting room.
The L&N Caboose No. 6497 was donated by CSX Transportation to the friends of L&N in 2002. The car was built in 1978.
“Caboose is a Dutch word for ‘ship galley,’ which happened to be fitting for the railroad refuge for the train crew,” said Sutton.
The caboose was home for the crew since they spent the majority of their time traveling. The caboose contained oil-fired stoves for heating and cooking, a restroom, sink, closets and a bunk bed. The caboose was also used to store flares, flags, lanterns and carried extra cans of oil and spare parts, said Sutton.
The Hospital Car No 89456 was a 200 Unit Hospital Car that was commissioned by the U.S. Army in 1942.
“There are only four unit cars known to remain,” said Sutton. “It had a kitchen, ward for wounded soldiers and a med staff. It also had its own generator underneath.”
The Jim Crow Car No. 109 was a large wooden car behind the hospital car, which was known as the combine car. On many of the Jim Crow cars, the white section would have been second class and many men used it to smoke, drink and chew tobacco.
“There is a baggage area in the center of the car, which separated the whites from the colored passengers,” said Sutton.
The car was last used in 1955.
Inside the museum, visitors have the opportunity to see the Model Rail Exhibit, which the Show Modular Model Railroad Club of Southern Kentucky has constructed and operates the model railroad layout in the museum and two floors of railway history.
Sutton encourages people to come out and learn the history behind the railway of Kentucky.The Historic Rail Park and Train Museum is located at 401 Kentucky St., Suite B, Bowling Green, Kentucky. For more information, visit http://historicrailpark.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/HistoricRailpark.
SurfKY News Reporter
Photos by Amber Averitt
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