I have been sidestepping my responsibilities as chief historical railroad editor for a prestigious online rag so I better write fast because management is getting furious. I didn't mean this outing to be a partial fulfillment of those obligations, but it turned out to be, so here goes. There's no way for me to connect these pictures to one another, so I won't try. They are each a part of a different story, some you've been exposed to and the others are to come.
I left the house and felt like visiting the cross track (if there was one) of the ancient Atchafalaya Basin route of the Southern Pacific RR and the New Iberia to Port Barre route belonging to the Missouri Pacific or it was probably called the New Iberia etc, etc RR at that time. The story of the Atchafalaya route is in the making and I wanted to contribute. I have been promising Mark, a co-contributor, that I could open the doors to the ultimate pictorial portion of that story and have not. I was going to Ramah but figured it fruitless without preplanning and I hadn't preplanned as I had promised. So, the cross track had to do. He did go to Ramah and I've yet to hear that story, though I did get a email exclaiming that the trestle was still there. Yea!
The Atchafalaya route went that a way. I never start with my
best pictures. I call this portion of the write the "weeding out"
part. I usually shuck most heathens by the second picture leaving
the good stuff for the truly appreciative.
Having gotten my cross track fix, it was time to move on up the line.
Next, being in Arnaudville, I thought it appropriate that
I shoot the grain operation that once sat next to the Missouri
Pacific (Iberia, etc, etc) tracks thinking that by chance I had
never done so. Fat chance. I shoot everything 10x and forget
Reaching US 190, east of Port Barre, I looked down the tracks
toward Opelousas. I knew that I've only touched on all there
is to see in that historical town. I knew it was time for more.
The place to start is the wonderful historical park just west of
I-49 on US 190, accessible from east or west bound lanes of
US 190. It's called the Jim Bowie something or other.
I pulled in to look at the Opelousas Depot.
Seems some money is being spent here.
It appears they still have a lot of the same stuff. Where
did the rails come from? I think I have an idea.
I'd been here six or seven years ago. I had to look twice,
but, this is the same depot and the same engine.We'll look
at her new face in a bit. This was the scene years ago.
That is what it looked like. The pile of stuff was larger. Shamefully,
I did not get a full shot of the old depot back when she
was obviously in original colors and condition. The new version
might be dainty, but she's lost originality. Something happens
when you remodel. Restoration should only go so far, then......
When you smell new paint instead of the embedded cigar smoke
of old, history has been lost. I know, compromise has to be tolerated.
The "Orphan Train" story is a poignant one. Google it.
Here's the little engine all spiffed up.
She still has the whack in the back. I guess knocking that out
would be a chore. Her name is Mary Jane, ah, Sweet Jane.
Now I'm humming Lou Reed melodies.
Here's the pile of stuff. An old fire extinguisher is to the left and
some kind of press is to the right.
Rails and plates. My restraint was tried.
Here are 2 more shots of this idyllic place. It has a museum
which lends a lot of space to Jim Bowie, former resident of
Opelousas and the Boeuf Valley. By the way, during the
Civil War, Opelousas was the state capital for a while.
This place needs to be seen. The buildings have been moved
in from the surrounding area and they are a realistic look back.
I see a store here and an old home or school there, still surviving
out in the country. No where do I see this many assembled in one spot.
Possibly Vermilionville has an equal collection. I haven't been
there in a while. I don't think they have a depot or old engine.
Much more of Opelousas on the next page. Yes, I found the
the route of the Opelousas and Gulf Railroad and spoke to a man that
remembers it. I also evoked two trains to come by. My power
Mark, a lifetime resident of the area sent this:
Mary Jane used to be on display at the courthouse square ever since I was a very young boy, across from the Delta theater. The Depot was relocated from South Railroad Ave. a few years ago. One of the buildings at the "town" at the tourist center was Doctor N.C. Lafleur's office, relocated from Prairie Ronde just north of Octave Fontenot's store on La.103, you have a picture of his home. I use to see this old time country doctor in the days when a doc was a doc and didn't need umpteen tests to tell him you had a fever!
Back to South Railroad Ave. by the depot...when I was young, my dad had a tractor implement store, St.Landry Tractor Co. All the tractors, combines and International trucks would come by rail. I would tag along with "Ben" to reload them on a flat bed bob tail truck. Ben was an old black fellow who worked for the family his whole life. He was my hero, he could roll a cigarette from a bag of Kite Tobacco with one hand while he drove with the other....NO BULL!
Then Andy added this about the Jim Bowie connection:
I think it was in '94 that two friends of mine and I went to Washington , Arkansas to find and check out Black's Blacksmith. This place was one of the ones that developed the Bowie Knife for Jim. They had a roadhouse duplicate of where the travelers used to stay when coming through. Really neat. What was funny was that we were trying to find this place in Washington and ask at a local convenience store and the girl working there didn't have a clue about who Jim Bowie was, or where Black's or the roadhouse were.
We met the guy running and restoring the blacksmith place and it was very interesting hearing about the history of the knife. He even brought out some he had made for show (2000 bucks a hit). I never did ask him what it would cost for a common one. He asked where we were from and what kind of work we did. When I told him I was offshore Louisiana, all he wanted to talk about then was a few charter fishing trips he had done. I got evil looks from my 2 buds after that. Have not been back that way since so need to check it out on one of my excursions up there.
Thanks for bringing back some old memories!
Leaving the museum /park, I crossed 190 and headed for the Union Pacific tracks. History can be found around rivers, bayous and railroad tracks. Opelousas was founded in the early 1700's without the aid of direct water travel. This left me with only one sure source, the tracks.
The tracks have been here since 1882. That would be a giant leap forward from the founding, but they would have to do. I spent 6 hours yesterday trying to find where three of the rail depots had been. If I had tacked on another 160 years of history, research could have eaten my day. I was barely able to sneak the Saint's game in. Go Saints.
After crossing over 190, it was obvious that I was in a "mixed" neighborhood. Opelousas is a salt and pepper spill sometimes. If you made racial predominance a factor while wandering the inner city, you'd never get anywhere or see anything. Try to stay away from obvious pistol activity and it will go all right. Hitting the tanning salon prior to a run can't hurt. Don't go overboard or you might find yourself being watched in the salty areas, too. Why is life such a balancing act?
I was definitely on a pepper street. I saw a large church up ahead with a historical marker by its side. I stop at all historical markers, plus there was a young fella mowing the yard I knew could augment its information.
The young fella approached me wondering what I was doing.
I made the comment that Opelousas sure did have some history.
He replied that yes it did and that Rev. Boswell was his great
grandfather. This would be the first personal connection of the day.
There would be another. Never underestimate a potential source
The 2 close to horizontal yellow lines at the bottom are
the east and west bound lanes of US 190. They are important.
You can see the museum and the 1st church which I just
mentioned. From there I'd move north and jag west to cross the
tracks. When crossing the tracks I saw this.
Sometimes I get a sense that I'm in the groove. I was overcome
with that warm and tingly feeling right about here. See the gravel
between the tracks and the "loading" platform. It is important, also.
I made the block. Do you say that where you live? I don't know
colloquialisms from generic English anymore. On the next corner
was this, an obvious neighborhood store / home of years gone by.
Opelousas is still a treasure to be discovered. Did I just say that?
I approached the old building from the north, got off the
bike and started jockeying for the right angle to get this
huge building in one shot. It was impossible.
There was an older fella sitting on the back steps of his house
nearby. I approached him and after introducing myself, I quickly
asked if he remembered a rail company called the "OG". That
was the local short name for the Opelousas, Gulf and Northeastern
Railroad, one that stretched from Melville on the Atchafalaya River
to Rayne and Crowley on the Old Spanish Trail, aka, US 90.
He said that sure he did and that it loaded potatoes right there at
that "potato shed". Not only had he identified the building's purpose,
he had put a location of the railroad in the inner city, a huge question
mark which Mark and I have contemplated.
Tingles were going into high gear.
I told him how much his information had added to my investigation.
I couldn't think of any more questions and I had a gold mine source
sitting there. I think I was too busy grinning. That's been my downfall
during previous opportunities of all kinds.
I crossed the tracks going south and realized that I was going too far
and turned west, then north as quickly as I could. I found myself on
US 167 headed across the tracks. I turned west at my first opportunity.
I rode a block and then turned south back toward the tracks. Upon
almost reaching them I came on this unexpected scene.
RR Stuff was everywhere.
Look Everett, a switch. The dumpster was full of ties.
I could have snagged a souvenir, but I didn't. There is
something about grandeur that makes one rise above
petty self fulfillment. I jerked my gaze from all the booty
and saw this.
Union Pacific truck with rail riding option.
I was at the center of the railroad world in present day
Opelousas. I started connecting the dots. This was railroad
property, obviously. There was a trailer house office on
the lot. The obvious could be assumed. I was at the
location of the Missouri Pacific Depot, probably the one that
now sits in the museum / park unless it's the T&P Depot
or the SP Depot. That question occupied the six hours of
Across the street, still on the north side of the tracks was this
building, the back side of AS&S Inc. I'm sure they suffer with
Between the UP property and the AS&S property was this.
That led to this proceeding west:
I think you are looking at the old "OG" rails.
I parked and took a shot back toward the UP property.
About this time I decided to do my train dance. That
usually summons, you guessed it, a train. Zooming way down
to US 167, I saw her coming up the hill.
The "hill" part of the last statement is important. Opelousas
sits on top of the escarpment which borders the Atchafalaya Basin.
It's down hill from here going east. The Mississippi roamed the Basin
a bunch during the past. I know the geologist out there appreciate
my exactness, so did my professors. Nevertheless, you can see the
relief lines range from 49 feet to 66 which is probably incorrect but
it says "up hill" anyway. This picture says it better.
I tried for a full frontal shot but couldn't click fast enough.
This sucker was moving. It either had 4 or 5 engines.
I shot down the alley toward N. Railroad Ave.
Was that stop sign for trains of the past or cars? The
tracks going to the right joined the old Southern Pacific tracks
which were headed to Washington and up La.29 to Cheneyville.
Further down, the Texas & Pacific crossed these rails headed to
Ville Platte and Bunkie. Suddenly I can hear the wheels of your
mind whirling, "Uh, they would have to cross, huh"?
Yes and I've been there. It is a magical place.
Before I left this magical place, I took one more shot which I
know will support my OG thesis, the one that says that those
unused tracks were the OG/T&P.
On this building you see rail loading doors with no visible rails.
I next went north and passed another historic Black church.
Soon, I was back on North Railroad Avenue, named so because
it followed the Southern Pacific through town.
As a final treat on this page, I'll leave you with an unofficial guess
at the locations of the Opelousas train depots. The source is below.
There is one little question. Below it says that the T&P was
on Landry and Lewis Streets. Lewis is US 190. I can't find
Landry so I'm guessing it was where I put the blue flag with
T&P Depot on it. That info came from the Federal Writer's
Project, 1943. It was the only source of this knowledge I could find
after 6 hours of looking, using every search phase I could think of.
There will be more to this ride later.
It's Later. CLICK HERE for page 3
Wednesday, I was in Prairie Ronde at 10:15 setting a new record at being "fast and furious". I'm usually leaving my driveway at that time. Here comes a J.L.Burke sentence. The morning sky was threatening with dark clouds hanging low as if a suspended fog, or was that my condition? I don't' believe the sun ever breaks through in his books. Maybe that's why I relate?
Crossing Mark's cattle guard, I was hoping to take a break having driven damn near 40 miles to get there, but no, out of the house charges Mark doing a Tonto mount onto the back of his bike. "Ready to go? Oh, here's some brown sugar from the mill, you got room?" Adding the sugar to the trunk brought its weight up to 95 lbs. I heard my rear suspension moan in disbelief.
Off we "roared". Actually both of our bikes are very quiet, a requirement for where we go. We like to see stuff and not be the center of attention. The fact that we went the wrong way on a one way street is another matter. That did solicit a bit of attention.
That's pretty much the ride report. Oh, I forgot to tell you why I was there, which may have been a purposeful oversight. My wife had asked what I was doing, like she cared. I told her I was going back to Opelousas to meet a guy and we were going to ride around the inner city looking for the route of a long gone railroad. We've been married for almost 43 years, or more, and I can still make her eyes bulge in disbelief. It's a gift. She knows better than to resist the inevitable and simply extended her wishes that I be safe and try not to get arrested this time because she was turning her cellphone off. With a warm and fuzzy feeling I pulled a 12 o'clock high wheelie slamming into my gate. It was an auspicious beginning to the day. Oh, why was I going to Opelousas, the same reason I gave my wife. Now pop your eyes back in.
Here we go:
I'm posting these shots as it's the easy way to share Mark's and my findings concerning the historical route of the Opelousas, Gulf and Northeastern Railroad as it crossed Opelousas in the early part of the 20th Century.
That railroad extended from Melville to Crowley. Mark and I know all of its route except for inner city Opelousas. That void, when you have done so much research and travel in order to understand it, was simply, "troubling". We attached the city fast and furiously.
First stop was the location of the OG depot, between
the east and west bound lanes of US190 seen on the
map on the previous page of this article.
This was either the depot spur or where the OG turned east
after coming up from Crowley and Rayne through Church Point.
Below is looking south at the same evidence. Those rails crossing
190 are where the T&P continued north, after buying out the OG.
The T&P would go up the back side of Louana Oil and then head
northwest to Ville Platte, eventually reaching Bunkie after crossing
the Southern Pacific which also came up from Opelousas. Pretty
dramatic picture, huh? Yea, I got tingles, too.
Mark and I rode around to see if we could find the continuation
of these rails further north. We didn't but we did ride up that one
way street the wrong way and were yelled at, so that portion of
the ride was not a total loss. I did the same thing up Louisiana
Ave. in Houston one time. Dude, that was a rush. It was one
old van vs. 6 lanes of manic Houston traffic. I think I experienced
what a quarterback feels when there is no protection. Both kids
and the wife screamed. it would not be the first or the last time
I'd hear that. Now I just take situations in stride. At first I though
of riding back past the person that yelled at us, then figured it
would be better to keep going. Of course as I was deciding I
was circling in the street and Mark was following me. The list
of tickets would be confusing. Back to football. I think the judge
would have thrown out the lesser penalties and only hit us with the
big one, like, maybe "endangerment".
Next we went to where I'd seen the train on the previous page.
Actually, we didn't go to the previous page, we went to the place
where the train was on the previous page. That didn't help. Forget it.
It was across the street from where the MP depot had been. Mark
noticed that the warehouse was angled away from the main line and
surmised that this might be the place where the OG changed directions.
We again rode around and around very slowly looking for
a grain of evidence and found none. We had no map and were
basically sifting sand looking for a button.
Mark suggested that we head for the Indian Hills Golf Club area
and see if we could pick up the rails from the east end of town since
nothing was working here in its center.
We rode out to a road right off of I-49 mysteriously named "Short Line".
In a ditch we found this. No BS, it's a trestle timber.
Across the way the ROW continued. We plotted the ROW
lining up known points outside of town. RR's like straight
lines where possible and that fact made finding what was next
possible. Sorry, below is not a sincere effort.
But, it gives you an idea of the task at hand.
There was also this mysterious cement near the trestle timber.
I was inclined not to show it. But, someone out there might know
what it is and help in this archaeological investigation.
Yep, buttons in a pile of sand.
Here's the part that the straight line rail projection led us to.
Mark had noticed what looked like "fill" on the edge of the
He was right. We took out our shovels and began to dig.
Several grounds keepers approached and asked what we
were doing. I presented my Walmart Toy Dept. fireman's
badge and suddenly it was all "si senor, have a good day senor,
if we can help, senor". Best two bucks I ever spent. Evidently,
there had been another witness and they had called the police.
Soon there were sirens.
Below is what we uncovered. No doubt we could have uncovered
more if we hadn't had to hide.
Looking the other way, as we ran, the club was still using the trestle:
And, look what we found while laying low in the ditch.
No, those were not bought at the garden supply place.
I thought I had another rail plate, but it was a wooden
shim. Very interesting. I bet the shim was used to level
the rails placed under the rail plate. I should have gotten
a better picture of the pattern.
After being missed by several tracking dogs, I carry a can of
Dog-Away, we headed further east and went north of 190
to try to trace the line as it headed to Port Barre where a
street is named OG Line. The next pictures are of our wanderings.
Only one place is surely the line, the rest are guesses.
This is out Rachal which is near I-49. It's the "for sure" one.
The next one is a "pretty sure" one, location, a secret.
Here's a "maybe, maybe not" but still a pretty road down
a rail type cut. But, it's not straight. I'd show the lovely
lake but that would pinpoint our location.
That's it. I headed home, fast and furiously, just missing
the beginning of the afternoon monsoon.
One day I'll gather all the pages and information and put
it together. I can't see doing that until the final piece of the
puzzle is found. More sand, one button.
Possibly that button was found. Click Here to see what you think.