June 20, 1988

Born of Rails, Maintained by Strength

 By Clay Weir

 The town of Hoxie came into existence in 1888 when the Lawrence County Court granted a petition submitted by Dr. G.W. Parker, F.M. Lee and A.C. Rogers in which an area to the south of Walnut Ridge was known as the incorporated town of Hoxie.

  History of the town, however, dates back to the period between 1880 and 1883.

  A document possessed by Boas E. Gibson of Little Rock states that a survey was undertaken by the Kansas City, Springfield & Memphis Railroad. The survey took the railroad through Walnut Ridge, but officials were unable to secure sufficient land in Walnut Ridge for a Depot at prices railroad authorities felt was considerate and reasonable.

  The late Mrs. Mary A. Boas induced officials of the railroad to her 450 acre farm immediately south of Walnut Ridge. She offered them a right of way and all the additional land that you may require without the cost of one cent to the railroad. The proposition was immediately accepted. In addition to the right of way,  she gave then 20 acres of land. Her husband, Henry Boas, took a contract for a large part of the railroads construction. 

 The roundhouse

   The  economic boom at Hoxie began in 1901 1902 when the Iron Mountain (Missouri Pacific) installed a roundhouse and divisional repair shop in Hoxie.  The roundhouse was a huge structure partly surrounding a circular turntable, which was large and strong enough to hold the largest locomotives. From the turntable, locomotives would be swung on a pivot and then run off onto any one of the several tracks leading away from the turntable. The entire setup resembled a wheel with spokes leading to the center. This enabled a locomotive to be placed in one of the stalls for repair.  When first installed, the turntable had 12 stalls and was operated manually. With the installation of electricity about 1904, the turntable was power-operated. Skilled workmen, including machinists, boiler makers, steel workers, blacksmiths, carpenters and laborers were employed at the site.

  In the yards was another unit called the "rip" track, where cars of all types were repaired and inspected. It consisted of a dozen or more sets of siding tracks each a mile long, an office building and store rooms for parts and tools. On some occasions the tracks were full of parked cars for inspection and repair.

  The yard office

  In addition to the rip track and the roundhouse, the center of activity in the terminal complex was the coal chute and yard office. The latter contained communications facilities to all local railroad offices and offices up and down the line. It was in constant contact with dispatchers in little rock and Poplar Bluff and the superintendent, J.C. Cannon and the trainmaster, H.P. Galbreth. Telegraphers were on duty around the clock.  Others headquartered in the yard offices were the chief yard clerk, seal clerk, call boy, and switch engine foreman.

  Just to the east of the main yard tracks were the stock pens and an ice plant. In the early 1900's cattle from Texas passed through Hoxie enroute to the East St. Louis stock yards. Some trains were unloaded for cattle to feed, water and rest as required by law. Confinement of the animals was limited to 36 hours.

  The ice plant, in addition to supplying ice for Hoxie, had a contract to re-ice refrigerator cars carrying perishables.

  The Missouri Division operated north out of Hoxie. The Arkansas Division operated between Hoxie and Little Rock.

The lamplighter

  Prior to signal lights being operated by electricity around 1910, a lamplighter looked after the lights on all switch stands. There were 35 to 40 stands in the Hoxie yards. The lamp lighter used a small push cart and daily cleaned, refueled and lighted the lamps and made the necessary repairs.

Immigrant cars

  Nearly every freight train had one or two cars called "immigrant cars" before 1930. They were filled with household goods and livestock of families moving from one place to another. Household goods were placed in one end and cows, horses or chickens in the other. The railroad required a man to ride in the car and look after the live stock. Trucks and moving vans eliminated this business with the advent of good highways in the early 1930's.

Railroad YMCA

 The three-story Y.M.C.A. building, erected soon after the terminal was established at Hoxie, provided necessary services for hundreds of railroad men who moved through Hoxie each month.   It's 20 to 30 beds or cots were rented for 15 cents each. Bathrooms and showers were located in the basement, there was a reading room, pool table and restaurant, as well as a nice library containing thousands of books.

 Miss Gould at Hoxie

The famous railroad tycoon, J. Gould, born in 1836, owned nearly 1/10th of all railroad mileage in the U.S. by the time of his death in 1882. His holdings included the Missouri-Pacific. His oldest daughter, Miss Helen Gould, born in 1868, spent most of her life in philanthropic and welfare work. Her special interest was the Railroad Y.M.C.A. organization. Rev. E. H. Watkins, then secretary and manager of the Hoxie Y.M.C.A. received a notice that Miss Gould was coming to  Hoxie on an inspection trip and was asked to arrange a suitable welcoming program. The late Senator Harry L. Ponder and his gracious and talented wife were asked to help. Senator Ponder gave a splendid welcome speech, and his wife rendered a vocal solo that was most pleasing. Miss Gould gave a short talk. the occasion was a very pleasant affair.

Union Station 

 Activity at the Hoxie Union Station increased tremendously during the early part of this century.  Another active unit was the Frisco Freight House. Excitement prevailed when it was learned the terminal was coming to Hoxie. For a number of years, Hoxie was a boom town, with a population growing from a couple of hundred to over 2,000 in a few short years.                                            Business boomed and attracted many new enterprises.

The Brotherhood

  The Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen Local was organized at Hoxie soon after the terminal was established. Over the years dedicated men who yielded great influence over their Local and the community, were named secretary of the Local.

Death of Yardmaster Keys

 About six o'clock the evening of September 20, 1916, Yardmaster Charlie Keys finished his day's duties and boarded  the electric streetcar at its southmost point on his way home. A light rain was falling and darkness was closing in. The street lights had not been turned on. Mr. Keys knew the location of the street light switch on a pole near the car stop across from the old Hoxie Post office. He stepped off the street car to throw the switch and was electrocuted. He was highly regarded and had server many years as Yardmaster.

Watch Inspector

 Railroad engineers, conductors and trainmen were required to carry expensive watches which were carefully inspected and adjusted to ensure their trains would run on time.                              H.L. Jones, a jeweler, moved his family from Illinois to Hoxie soon after the Mo-Pac established the terminal and was employed as a watch inspector. At specific intervals all trainmen were required to turn their watches in for inspection and to register them in a record book.

Coal Chute

 The operation of the coal chute was a very interesting process. The chute was about 15 to 20 feet high, with a 100 yard inclined track providing access to it. The chute had a capacity of three cars of coal. To push these heavy cars up the incline, the switch engine had to get a running start of about 100 yards. By the time the top was reached, the running start would diminish to a creep with the old switch engine puffing for all it was worth.

Activity Center

Activity never ceased at the Hoxie terminal. There were night crews to staff the shops, offices and many operations. The trains dominated a way of life at the time. On hearing a train, people in households throughout the two towns might comment as to the train's punctuality. Engineers had their special "signature" when they blew the train whistle. One man had one, known to all the citizens. As time neared for the passenger train arrival, a crowd of people would gather at the Hoxie Union Station. It would consist of boarding passengers from this area of the state, a well as relatives and friends gathered to see them off or greet arrivals. On Sunday afternoon, young men would get their horses and buggies and take dates to Hoxie to watch the trains come in. Later on, as cars became more   numerous, they would line the west side of the Mo-Pac tracks for more than 200 yards, and park on the east side wherever they could see the trains. Waiting for a train was exciting . One knew the time of arrival of the train, but there was much conjecture as to whether "she's on time" or not. Youngsters would feel the rail to pick up the vibrations from the oncoming train and there were frequent checks with the bored ticket agent. One really knew that train was coming in when the baggage and Railway Express carts loaded with outgoing packages, mail, baggage and trunks were hustled alongside the tracks. You could see the northbound trains a little after they came through the town of Minturn, but the southbound trains surprised you. All of a sudden they came around the curve from Walnut Ridge. In came the train, discharged passengers who were greeted with laughter, hugs and kisses, and took on new passengers. "All Aboard" shouted the conductor to late boarding passengers as the train prepared to leave.

Good-bye terminal

Some of the contributing factors to the moving of the railroad terminal facilities were newer inventions which needed fewer workers, and the establishing of fewer terminals along the lines.   Most of the facility was moved in 1927 to Poplar Bluff, to Ilmore, Ill., and to North Little Rock.

The move had a devastating effect on the whole town of Hoxie. It caused Hoxie to lose 450 to 500 railroad jobs. it also meant the loss of almost that many families. Most wage earners (R.R.) were receiving $4.00 to $6.00 a day as compared to local laborers earning $1.00 to $1.50 per day. This resulted in local businesses either moving, going out of business, or going broke, while a few struggled to stay in business. The fact that the terminal had been here, however, left its mark on the town by leaving some beautifully constructed homes, culture brought here by people of other states and the existing railroad lines which have kept Hoxie on the map.

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The following is a partial list of persons directly connected with early railroading in Hoxie:

Andrews, Avance, Banks, Blackwell, Boone, Brasfield, Brown, Burton, Cannon, Cinochio, Cochran, Coffeen, Cooper, Darnell, Dawson, Derringer, Ebberts, Foster and Fulkes.              Also Gaines, Galbreth, Gallagher, Gatlin, Glover, Grant, groves, Hawn, Harris, Hassie, Johnston, Jones, Keys, Kopp, Krauser, Leas, Ledbetter, Lore, Lytle, McCulley, Mcgraw, and Moore.      Also Oldham, O'Mera, O'Shea, Pace, Parsons, Pendergrass, Post, Poulter, Powell, Reney, Reed, Ring, Ringle, Ripley, Robinson, Schmidt, Scott, Shrewsbury, Spears and Steed.                             Finally, Stone, St. John, Thirwell, Tilley, Vaughn, Warner, Watkins, Whaley, Wilsey, Wisdom, Wooley, Wyigel, Young, Youngblood and Zimmerman.

 

Weir, Clay  "Born of Rails, Maintained by Strength." Centinennial Edition 1888-1988 HOXIE, ARKANSAS. 20 June 1988