First, I want to explain this recent presumed railroad craziness. I'm not really. I do have a fondness for the old and new beast which are tethered to strips of steel. I also have a fondness for exploring into places that few but the locals ever see. I also have a fondness for motorcycle riding, but not just riding, riding which demands a little more than... (I almost said "interstate ability", but then backed off knowing that is the most demanding riding of all). Reset....a little more than leisurely putting, though I enjoy the heck out of that, too, but it gets boring to ride the same roads at the same speed on rides that are all the same.
I've been fortunate to have been able to spend a lot of time here in my senior years exploring a bit of Louisiana and Mississippi. I ain't nothing but a hound dog (the mention of Mississippi spawned that). Sniffing around has served me for many years. New road after new road has been enough to get me out of the yard. Alas, there are few new roads left which I would think to, or notice to bark up. The old Garmin mapping software has come to my assistance. It has supplied this old hound with a tempting rabbit. The rabbit is the evidence of old rail lines displayed as dashes on its maps. They are called "trails". Trails are not straight, tracks are. I first discovered this when I again got interested in Longleaf's lumber mill and her railroad department.
Excuse me while I go into a spontaneous rant: I love riding old steam engined trains. If you've never done it, you are denying yourself an experience that's right up there with the big one, eating. By "done it" I mean getting up close to the engine when she's starting to pull and feel the "I think I can, I think I can, I know I can, I know I can, in each of her breaths. The steam engine is as close to human as metal can get. Forget robots, they are about as far from human as metal can get and scary. A steam engine is warm and romantic. It sings, it talks. It grunts, it shudders, it shakes, it has the power we would have and enjoy if we were born with a boiler.
I now want to return to my thesis. I follow those "trails" because they take me to interesting places, and if the place is not interesting, it can be now because of the historic cultural surroundings which can be seen or imagined because a railroad had been there. Suddenly I understand Indian mound enthusiast. An epiphany has occurred.
Now that I've given myself another shot of rationalization, I'll get on to my latest hunt of the sometimes invisible rabbit with the full understanding that I'm OK.
Pursuing Mr.Cushing's Child
Mr. Cushing was a railroad engineer. No, he didn't operate a locomotive, he built railroads for Southern Pacific down in south Louisiana. The main street in Kaplan bears his name as Kaplan was born of the railroad. That is about all I know about him. I know that when the rails were completed, finally, between New Iberia and Abbeville, Cushing was the man with the plan. He'd continue on to at least Kaplan, or his name would not be there. I suggest he continued building that line west and then north all the way to Eunice. Professor Lueck sent me this, a 1978 or so "schedule" of the towns along the way served by his employer, the Southern Pacific Railroad.
We won't start in Eunice, we'll return there, and there will be a tangible treat there waiting which should be on your "go to" list, no matter what your interest. It is true that you will have to endure some pictures and explanations which only trust can get you through, but your trust will not be in vain.
With all that I should hit you with a road hump first, just as a test, but I won't. We'll start at the very tangible Abbeville Depot.
All aboard, we'll be crossing the Vermillion River on the bridge which we should imagine as being in better shape and aligned with our rails. This picture is a prize of mine. By the way, if you have not visited historic Abbeville, you owe it to yourself to go, park and walk. Abbeville is one of our gems.
After crossing the Vermillion on the old La.14 draw bridge, I looked south to see if I could reach the "rails" on the west bank. I saw my first bump of the day. The adrenalin pumped.
Ok, how about this?
I've decided that I've asked too much of my reader's imagination, so put it away. I'll draw the imaginary parts in from now on. If you have a beef with my artistry, I can't help you.
A bi-product of this investigation was one of those hidden roads south that I've never ridden. I'll be back just for it. Now, the next picture is one of those which captured something I didn't see when I shot it. The opposite side of the train bridge is inaccessible. Shooting down the right of way I caught a glimpse of one end. Yes, Fred, it's the same bridge in the second picture.
Looking west on the GPS, I saw the rails would be hard to access. But wait, maybe not. I headed south down a narrow sometimes blacktopped road for Hump, Bump and ROW shots.
How's that working for you? I'm experimenting with rail colors. Al likes brown, I don't. I prefer a charcoal black. Black is too black. Look, I didn't put a lot of effort into perspective and such. I didn't want to make them too desirable, you know what I mean?
As on most local roads, the inevitable contact with the sugarcane harvest comes into play.
Please no emails, I know I derailed this one and it's coming across the road. I should have drawn in some rails, I wasn't thinking.
Back on La.14, a prize presented itself. I think these rails were ripped in the late 70's or early 80's. They missed these pilings.
The evidence was scarce so I had to take several shots of each to fill out this article.
Build one. These railroaders had attitude. All over this country stuff got in their way. Stuff didn't have a chance.
And, one more to get us to Kaplan.
The next shot is of some industry that was supplied by the railroad. It is probably a feed store. I think of Kaplan as the dividing line between sugarcane and rice farming.
About this time I was getting into a little funk as I did not have the interpretive drawings that you are enjoying. I headed on into Kaplan. Then I saw something that would revive my enthusiasm. I did a bat turn in the middle of La.14, straightened the bike and pulled it up into a twelve o'clock high wheelie leaving a spray of sparks as the rear fender drug as I headed to this. I thought I was just seeing stacked railroad ties probably meant for flower bed boarders. The business was long closed.
No, they were ties linked with rails. Mercy, was this the SPRR stacked up? How bizarre could this be?
What was the deal?
They were prefabricated cushioned road crossings probably never installed in Kaplan. I assume they were delivered and sat as the word came down that the rails were going to be removed. I'll guess they were made about 1978, 30 years ago. I had to climb that stack to figure this all out. Sometimes altitude helps with figuring. Please no comments about the figurative skills of us lowlanders. We get enough grief.
The picture of the bike and rice field behind was taken from that vantage spot, a spot few visit, but may now.
At this high point, I'm closing this one down for the day. The next page will contain maps and many more interpretive displays to help you along to points west and north. I count this ride as one of the most productive and satisfying I have ever taken. I have looked at the map of what I supposed this route to be and always had my doubts about it north of Iota. I can say, without perjury, that I have ridden within spitting distance of most of that rail bed all the way into Euncie. All that will be on then next page.
Before we leave Kaplan, you need to see the day the SP began service. May1,1902.
The first passenger train followed the next day. Thanks, Donella.
Donella LaBry, a life long Kaplan resident, just sent me some pictures and an excerpt from her new book on Kaplan. It deals with Mr. Cushing whose railroad we are riding. This is from her book:
"Cushing Avenue was named for Edward Benjamin ‘E.B.’ Cushing. E.B., was born 1862 in Houston. He married, in 1888, Florence Abbey Powers, born 1863. His family included: Mildred Granger, born 1889; Annette Eloise, born 1893; and Converse Salma, born 1891. Thirty-two years after his graduation from Texas A&M University, he became a member of their board of directors. The years in between were spent working for the railroad. He worked his way up from ax man to surveyor, then to General Superintendent of Houston, East and West Texas Railway Company. At the beginning of the century, he was appointed Southern Pacific’s Maintenance and Way Superintendent. E.B. died in 1924 employed in Granger, Texas by First National Bank".
"E.B. purchased lots in 1902 and 1903 in Kaplan".
Small world, I was in Granger,TX, this summer. It is a neat old town.
Donella just sent an e-mail in response to a question. In it she answered another question I had not asked but had wanted to. Here's her answer to how Kaplan got started. It is a railroad town, but why? Here is what she said:
"Early articles differ on who wanted the town named after Mr.Kaplan and who established the town. A 1902 news article gives SPRR credit for establishing and naming the town and other later articles claim it was Kaplan himself who established it and named it for himself. I also read that Kaplan sent a committee to Houston to convince Southern Pacific to run a line and he or his committee did the leg work for the line such as getting the landowners to give the right of way for tracks, etc."
Donella estimates the last car was removed from Kaplan in 1986. Here's its picture. It was hauled out by a trailer. Evidently the rails were gone or not fit for service at that time.
For those who are wondering where the maps to this ride are. Stop moaning. Here they are. The numbers in them refer to where pictures were taken. At this time I am not going to assign those numbers. The paying folks get that version.
All these maps look small but they are large. If one interest you, click it and it gets large. Choose to open in a separate window and they will be there for you to follow along as we really go up on some roads you probably haven't been on yet. Much to my surprise, most of the route can be travel. At times I thought I may have been on the rails. Probably not, but that's an interesting thing to say.
Here's my whole ride. Pictures 19 to 24 were taken before Kaplan (La.35 and La.14)
Here's the breakdown:
Leaving Abbeville I was pleasantly surprised to be able to follow along pretty well.
West of Kaplan, the rails were right there, just to the south of the road.
I stopped to walk back to this bridge to see if I could find a trestle. There was none. The bridge was still marked with the name of the water it crossed. This is getting to be a rare find since the names are being cemented over. Why, sure, it's a conspiracy. It was the Vincent Canal. Vincent is a prominent name in Kaplan. References to our history are being snuffed out. Geological references, like that of this canal are being erased. The result, people don't know where they've been, where they are going or where they at. I imagine you'll see an increase in cemented bridge abutments in the near future.
Below the abutment, I saw this. I tried ripping it off but couldn't. I'm kidding.
Wright, LA, was named for Wilbur Right. (W.Right), the period was dropped and it's been Wright ever since. You did believe that, didn't you? The road is pretty straight right here.
The sign on the rice dryer says this. "If you lived in WRIGHT, you'd be home now". That sign is always mentioned when the conversation turns to Wright. West of Wright the Prairie continues. In actuality, it was time for a picture with my bovine friends in it. Vermilion Parish is cattle country despite several recent hurricanes. Cattle are smarter than you think. I saw a whole herd sitting on a porch waiting for the water to recede.
Next was a bayou that needed spanning. Getterdone.
The rails were getting ready to turn north to Gueydan. I expected the moment to be awing. The east view was not. I went into south Gueydan and turned south on La.91 for these shots. No interpretive rails need to be shown. Maybe a choo choo?
Above is the ROW on its northerly swing preparing to enter Gueydan.
I've covered Guyedan in another write so I did not go into the business area. This strip of La.91 is the industrial area of Gueydan, or was. I just looked a little closer at my map program and it, to my surprise, shows the sidetrack seen on the road. Where you see "Moon Island Canal" is where the hump was shot. I hope I've answeredd all your questions.
It was getting late but I was headed north and making progress. I saw some small blacktop road entering the highway. For no reason at all I turned up it. Bingo. No drawing here.
Next was beautiful Bayou Queue de Tortue (Tortue is turtle, the queue I don't know)
Morse was next. I wish I knew the rest of the story on Morse. The rails ran right through town, now a park.
Great water tower.
Great old store.
I rode north. Approaching Midland I followed the rails as La.91 had veered west. Chester Lee Drive (heavy gravel) had to have been the main road at one time. It hooks up with Old Spanish Trail. The SP connected to the east west main line here. But it continued north also. This is the approach to the western main line and the continuation north hump.
I heard a horn. Timing, I have timing.
I rode west on the somewhat paved OST (south side of tracks, US 90, north side of tracks, worlds apart.) Sure enough, there was the hump of the west and north bound rails.
I topped the hump and looked north along their route. Timing.
I went back to Chester Lee and checked on the old stores. Man, they take me back to another day.
Crossing 90 is entering another LA. I stopped on the tracks to shoot the stopped train.
Across the road was a warehouse. I shot it and then went behind it to see what it looked like.
It looked the same, more loading doors. I was sure there was a siding here.
I looked across the street toward the mill and sure nuff.
Above Midland, Bayou Plaquemine Brule is an obstacle. The rails crossed it but no road at this point. I'd have to go to Esterwood to cross there. Esterwood is a photo rich subject. The ride got more interesting and the hunt became more intense. The sun was sinking but I would not relent. I only gave up on one short stretch which I've been on before. There is so much more.
I am fighting the tendency to rush through this chapter. Possibly in writing this shadow of the actual ride, I am assuming the same need for speed. Being that this was the last weekend before the time change, I would have that precious afternoon hour of light to help me finish.
A big map is next. Open it in a new window to follow along.
At Midland I rode up into the neighborhood to see if any roads followed the tracks. None did. As you can see, Bayou Plaquemine Brule looms large to the north. The closest crossing would be Esterwood. I continued following 91 which now rode the back of US 90 to where 91 turns north. Just before the new one lane pontoon bridge, there is a virtual museum of interesting old buildings. Someone keeps the area manicured to perfection. This is a spot. Across the bayou is a boat landing and a great place to sit, eat, whatever. But first the buildings. Coming from 90, you follow 91 north. Along that stretch there is a large open space to your immediate left (west). Something was above the ground here or below it. More on that in a minute.
This one I have pegged as an old irrigation pump house. It is close to the water. I have never checked it for pipes running into the water, duh.
Another picture of it.
This one looks like a pipeline compressor station. The broad open space backs that theory. What was it compressing or pumping, gas, oil, water?
And, what is that thing?
C.Alphonso de LaSalle has just piped in with added information. There are few places that Al has not lived or that Al does not know about. There will be more of his additions to this ride report down the page. Here's what he had to say about this area:
"There was a very large irrigation canal running right alongside the road to the bridge at Esterwood (La.91) until 10 to 12 years ago. It ran right to the pumping station. I think that cement what-is-it structure is the pump outlet into the canal. I don't really know which building is the pump house but the one with the ventilators on top seems logical...maybe both. I'd like to look into them, might still be the old machinery in there".
I don't want to be with him if he gets to look at the machinery. He lingers until he has it all figured out and working. If he was let loose at Longleaf, all those engines would be tooting out the gate.
I crossed the bridge. Where you see the curve in the road above the bayou, there is a very pretty tree covered section of the road which is now climbing at an alarming rate. Any climb in this area is a surprise. I think Brule marks a geologic transition zone. But, that's me.
Next, I needed to commune with the rails as it had been a while and absence makes the heart grow fonder. I left 91 and went west on Primary to where you see no.28, the location of these pictures. Timing is everything.
I backtracked and went north toward Egan where I didn't find much, and I did look. Map time.
I made a mistake earlier which I want to correct now that it has become apparent that I was not that close to the tracks leaving Egan. They could only be visited by side roads which I did not have time to venture down. I'll save that for another trip. You cannot discount these opportunities. There is stuff down each which may or may not be rail related. Remember, the old rails are just a rabbit. What else you catch along the way may be more valuable. My apologies to the Rabbit family. I was getting into the area referred to as the Northern Plains or High Plains. Possibly picture 29 was taken where you see 29? See my shadow? The sun was at my back making it an east shot. East shots are good in the evening. West shots stink.
I saw the rails were accessible south of town down this small road. It went to the sewer plant. I've found a lot of sewer plants on my rides. I also found these shots which need no augmentation. (30)
That was the south shot, this is the north one, going into town.
I had been anticipating getting to Iota. Al's grandfather lived north of town. The lumber for his house had been delivered by this railroad, thus giving this stretch of the line a personal identification.
I have been in the Iota Depot. It is now in Lafayette on Hector Connoly Rd. It was moved there by Chester, last name unknown. I'll move it back and install a new culvert and driveway for today.
Al added this poignant comment, "My grandfather's footprints are probably all over that depot".
Here's a look inside what was once a depot, now a grocery. The craftsmanship of those days is evident. The design was cookie cutter. I've seen the same ornate curved support pieces in other SP depots.
Looking around the railroad district of Iota, these are a few scenes.
I searched Iota for a road that would take me a little further north on the rails. There was none and a detour from the tracks had to be made. I'd rejoin them on the Acadia Canal Road, a very dusty and featureless long stretch of deep gravel, and it was getting late. I really had the feeling I was pushing too hard and asking for trouble. I ignore such feelings. I get that from my Uncle Fred.
For all that trouble I was rewarded. The road returned to blacktop and CROSSED THE GRADE. Past Iota, it was all a guess. The stretch to Eunice was high adventure since on the map there were only the trail dashes. This stretch must be older than the southern part that still retained the rail markings (++++).
Much to my pleasant surprise, I popped out on La.368, a wonderful motorcycling road.
I first chose to go west, then decided east would be better. I would have to detour again as the rails crossed private property heading for Bayou Mallet.
The Bayou Mallet trestle must have been a big deal as the bayou drainage is wide here. Above Mallet, I shot down 3132 for a quick glance, took a few shots that don't rate this write (that bad) and returned to La.13
Map time: The purple line is the grade. 33 was the shot of the cut through the forest south of Mallet. La.13 follows the AKDN short line into Eunice. The two grades only converge in north Eunice where you see "Switches".
This shot was taken standing on the SP grade at E.Arcoin St. looking toward La.13 and the AKDN rails. See the crossing warning down the road? It is at the AKDN tracks. The next picture is looking toward the mill district of Eunice. I cannot believe I hadn't seen the rails at my feet. I wonder how much further south they exist? Road trip!
Next is the Eunice Museum. Notice the roof supports. I know this was a Southern Pacific station.
And the back side.
While I was in the back I shot the mill across the tracks.
The rails might be the AKDN but maybe not? The AKDN could be to the east. These are probably the SP rails seen further south. I just didn't think to check it out since it was so late and I wanted to make it to the junction and the grand finale.
Here's a picture of what my software shows.
There's also a little red caboose there. I wish it had been open but I understand why it wasn't.
Here are some shots inside. I have no idea what I'm looking at.
I left the depot and went north to see if I could find where the SP had merged with what is now the AKDN. On the way I took a picture of one of what I call my castles.
Al added more here. Personal additions add so much to these simple travelogues:
"One of those picture in Eunice of the dryer building with the white elevated tanks on the right side was Fuselier Oil Co. and was [my wife's] dad's business from the time he was a young man...... Her brother, the only boy, bought it from him and has now sold it to Pumpelly Oil.... I worked there with him for a couple years delivering fuel and oil all over the area....whatcha' know about that?"
I wrote him back exclaiming that "I knew" what I had said before about him living everywhere and knowing everything. I have often wanted to test him with a made up place and see what he has to offer.
Below it, on what I believe to be a remaining section of the old SP tracks was this very worn looking AKDN diesel. I always see it there. I think it's dead. Everett, maybe they'll let it go cheap? Somehow, I don't think it would meld with Longleaf.
My suspicions I feel are correct about the old diesel being planted on the SP. Moving north, here are the two lines before they converge. I don't know how far the SP goes into town, to the depot? Probably so. The rails seen in the mill district seem to confirm their existence. It was late then and I was too tired to even think of those questions.
Converging: Oh my goodness, what a moment. The sun was sinking and I was here for it all. Romance was in the air. I could hear chapel bells. No, steam engine bells.
Looking back toward town and the bike. If I'd brought Mz Guzzi, she would have been hollering to hurry up. The little DL is very quiet and happy to sit for a moment.
Maybe this explains it better than I can write it. I know that it is hard to imagine that this is the grand finale of the ride, but it is. I still had 60 plus miles to go in the dark. That worked out OK as I'm here writing about it. Winter hours stink and that will cut into my rides. I guess it's early to bed, early to rise time. Later.
One more thing: Al wanted to add this to make me crazy. There is yet another stretch I had surmised above Eunice. He knows I'll go looking for it.
"There was a track headed north alongside 13 and crossing Bayou DesCanne, but the track has long been ripped up and even the ballast salvaged. Then the land was sold to the adjacent property owners".
Then he goes on:
"The switch brings back memories of a Rubik's Cube", and then he laughs," he he, rather puzzling".
You see, you see! If he'd been along this time, we'd still be there figuring out how that switch worked. We stood in the heat and skeeters at Longleaf while he figured out how the switch worked there. He sees everything and has to know it all. I am satisfied with the casual tourist approach, a failing, I know, but it is the way I actually finish a ride. Nevertheless, a picture of Al standing there looking at that switch in the dark would be priceless.