Short Line to Elysian Fields: The Marshall, Elysian Fields & Southeastern Railway, 1922-1945.  
Old photos, records and memories tell the story of the "Marshall, Elysian Fields & Southeastern", Harrison County's little railroad with the big name.
  by Murry Hammond  
Texas Transportation Archive
Texas Transportation Archive
"Old Number Five" – No. 5 was the company's sole steam locomotive, purchased from the Victoria Fisher & Western Railroad at Fisher, Louisiana in the mid-1930s. Due to operating costs, the engine was fired only a few times. Here the 5 slumbers on a siding at the company's Marshall terminal in 1938. [Murry Hammond collection]
This Whitcomb locomotive carried the road number "11", but was affectionately known by the train crews as "Old Blue." Here the engine poses with one of the company's homemade boxcars in front of the building that served as the line's depot and offices at Marshall in 1938. [Murry Hammond collection]

Ever since the Texas & Pacific Railroad installed a major shop at Marshall, this county seat has been known as a "railroad town", a term that implies a certain prosperous relationship between a town and its railroads. For more than 100 years, Marshall has worn the term with pride. While much of Harrison county's history is written alongside that of the Texas & Pacific and its other major rail routes, there is a charming footnote to the Marshall railroad story that deserves to be told.

This is the story of a little line of railroad that for more than twenty years shuttled people and freight between Marshall and the little town of Elysian Fields, Texas. While those living along the mighty Texas & Pacific recall the passing of great steam locomotives, this little railroad witnessed the passing of sputtering Model-T's and Fordson tractors fitted with railroad wheels, hauling people, mail and freight for these growing communities and helping to open up that section of Harrison County. As an old railroad joke goes, it wasn't as "long" as the mighty Texas & Pacific, but it was just as "wide," and it carried for itself a name as long as its rails were short: Marshall, Elysian Fields & Southeastern Railway Company.


Early railroad efforts, 1882-1897


Efforts to connect Elysian Fields with Marshall date to the early 1880's when the Marshall & Northwestern Railway Company was chartered on March 29, 1882 to construct a line northward to Paris, and southward to Carthage. Fifteen miles were completed between Marshall and Montvale Springs in 1885, but anticipated patronage and revenues did not materialize, and the line entered receivership in 1891, by which time the company had changed its name to the Paris, Marshall & Sabine Pass Railway Company. The receiver operated the line unsuccessfully for a few more years, until the property was sold to a new company, the Texas Southern Railway Company, which chartered on March 12, 1897.

  Texas Southern Railway Company 1897-1908  
The Texas Southern's charter projected the route to reach a point on the Red River north of Paris and southeast through Harrison County to the Louisiana state line for a total of 125 miles. To reach Winnsboro, the Texas Southern purchased and improved the lumber roads of the Commercial Lumber Company between Gilmer and Ashland, and then connecting that with the Schluter-Whiteman lumber road into East Winnsboro, creating 72 miles of railroad between Marshall and Winnsboro. Locomotives and new rolling stock was purchased, and depots were constructed. The first passenger train left Marshall for Winnsboro the morning of June 16, 1902 and the mood was hopeful, but the Texas Southern soon found itself in financial straits, unable to provide cars to shippers and often going days without running a single train. A receiver was assigned in July 1904, and attempts to sell the road began in 1905. A buyer was finally found in 1908 when the property was purchased by a new company, the Marshall & East Texas Railway Company.
Marshall & East Texas
Rand-McNally's 1923 commercial atlas gives a clear view of the route of the Marshall & East Texas Railway at the end of operations. [Murry Hammond collection]
  Marshall & East Texas Railway Company, 1908-1918  

The Marshall & East Texas Railway Company was chartered on August 17, 1908 for the purpose of acquiring and operating the former Texas Southern Railway. The new management planned to upgrade the old TS properties and extend the line south to Lorraine on the Louisiana Railway & Navigation Company. If improvements and the proposed extension could be built, management hoped that a larger road -- hopefully the LR&N -- would then purchase the M&ET outright in order to have a direct bridge route into Marshall and Winnsboro.

The organizers of the M&ET improved right-of-way, bridges, installed new depot buildings, and constructed 17 miles of new line to Elysian Fields in 1909. However, like its predecessors, the M&ET soon got into financial trouble as ever-increasing highway competition of the 1910s eroded at what little patronage the line enjoyed along its 97 miles of railroad.

The beginning of the end for the M&ET came when, on October 18, 1915, the southbound passenger train returning from Winnsboro derailed on a long trestle and plunged upside-down in a creek bottom near Harleton. The wreck injured 11 people and claimed the life of beloved conductor Cliff Riden. The owners carried on with freight movements as best they could throughout 1916, but by the end of the year it became clear that the railroad did not have the resources to carry on. The line entered receivership on January 25, 1917, and operations north of Marshall ceased altogether on August 15, 1917. The segment to Elysian Fields operated infrequently until August 3, 1918, when, and the Marshall & East Texas was no more, and the line was put up for sale.

  Marshall, Elysian Fields & Southeastern Railway Company, 1922-1945  

By 1920 it was apparent that no buyer was interested in the former M&ET as a whole, so the receivers offered to sell the property in segments. The segment from Winnsboro to Gilmer was purchased and operated briefly by the "Winnsboro & Gilmer Railroad Company", while the segment from Gilmer to Marshall interested only scrap dealers wishing to salvage the large quantity of iron rail. The segment from Marshall to Elysian Fields fared much better, having been constructed only a few years before and being in the healthiest condition of all the former M&ET segments. A group of Marshall businessmen lead by the Furrh family of Elysian Fields, saw an opportunity in the 17 mile rail segment, and on August 28, 1922, the state of Texas approved the charter for the Marshall, Elysian Fields & Southeastern Railway Company.

The organizers were made up of Marshall businessmen Marvin Turney, W.L. Barry, W.L. Pitts, T.L. Whaley, and Elysian Fields businessmen Bonnie H. Timmins, E.P. Gaines, Jr., and Furrh family members John D., Junius M., James B., and W.K. Furrh. Capital stock was authorized at $30,000 of which by 1924 $17,300 was issued, enabling the organizers to make good on the first payment of $5,000, purchase equipment, and make a number of physical improvements to the property. The new company hired 3 engineers and 2 brakemen for the trains, 2 station agents for the depots on each end of the line, 12 bridge & building carpenters to make improvements to the bridges, and 17 section men overseen by 2 foremen to make improvements on the track and roadbed.

The new owners revived a strategy devised by the Marshall & East Texas management, that of extending the MEF&SE to a connection with the Louisiana Railway & Navigation Railway on the Texas-Louisiana border, and hopefully persuading the LR&N to purchase the MEF&SE line outright. In the meantime, they would carry on the business of hauling moving freight using lighter gasoline-powered equipment in the form of highway trucks converted for rail use and small homemade rolling stock. With minimal operating expenses the road could feasibly pay for itself until that time that the extension could be made and a sale engineered. In early 1924 application was made with the ICC for permission to extend the line from Elysian Fields to Lorraine, Texas, on the LR&N 10 miles distant from Elysian Fields. A large oil field was opening up along this section and offered good prospects for traffic. Permission was granted, but funds for construction could not be raised, ending any dream of extension or sale to the LR&N.

With no hope of disposing of the line for a profit, the owners decided to preemptively seek permission to abandon the MEF&SE, which the ICC granted December 11, 1926. Correspondence between the company and the Texas Railroad Commission during this time noted that the line was "unprofitable from its beginning" and that "the operation was continued solely in the hope of being able to sell the road to some trunk line company, but a sale has not been consummated and seems to be impossible." No rails were removed, however, and the company continued to operate business-as-usual. From Elysian Fields the company hauled cotton, cottonseed, lumber, brick, fertilizers, small freight, and in 1925 obtained a contract to haul the U.S. Mail. At Blocker a woolen mill provided the line with some business, and there were a small number of tie mills that used the railroad to move their product. The company reported some small passenger earnings in the 1920's, although throughout the 1920s and 1930s Official Guide of the Railways listings noted that the company was "freight only."

Texas Transportation Archive
The 1936 highway map issued by the Texas Department of Transportation gives a clear view of the route of the MEF&SE as it was about 1939. [Courtesy Texas State Library and Archives Commission]
  Physical Property

W.R. Wells, John Travis Wells, and Elaine Wells Briggs, children roadmaster John Wells, recall these locations on the MEF&SE in the 1930s, in order from Marshall to Elysian Fields. Additional details such as depots and other property are from the ICC's valuation of the railroad in 1933:

[Marshall]: 15' x 43' depot; 30' x 46' car repair shop built 1925; 17 ft. turntable.
1. Clay Bank (crossing?)
2. Bridge No. 1
("the longest" according to John Travis Wells)
3. Cary's Spur
4. Five Notch Crossing
5. Eight Mile Creek Bridge
6. Cargile Crossing
7. Blocker:
Depot; 13 ft. turntable built 1924.
8. Coal Chute Bridge
("the highest bridge" according to John Travis Wells)
9. Mercer Cut
10. Woodley Crossing
[Elysian Fields]:
24' x 46' depot; 5' x 10' water closet; 13 ft. turntable built 1910; wye; cotton warehouses.

I.C.C. also noted that rail weight on the mainline was 65 lb., laid in 1909 by the Marshall & East Texas Railway.

Texas Transportation Archive
A freight train loaded with cotton is parked at Elysian Fields in 1922. Locomotive power is provided by a Fordson tractor converted to heavy rail use by the Atlas Machine & Supply Company of Louisville, Kentucky. The company had two such locomotives, Nos. 8 and 9, acquired in 1926 and 1927, respectively. Note the homemade rolling stock, with the letters "MEFSE" hand-scrawled on the side of the nearest freight car. [Murry Hammond collection]
Texas Transportation Archive
Railtruck "No. 2" was one of several highway vehicles that the company converted for railroad use. Former employee John Wells recalled that No. 2 and its siblings were used to carry less-than-carload freight to Elysian Fields, and enabled the company to maintain its U.S. Mail contract without the cost of running the larger Whitcomb or the steam engine. [Murry Hammond collection]
  Equipment of the MEF&SE  

To economize operations, the owners decided to use less-expensive gasoline power in the form of converted Ford Model-T trucks and Fordson tractors for small freight and the daily mail run. Three such vehicles are included in an inventory the company reported to the ICC in 1933:

No. 2 -- 1926 Ford truck chassis.
No. 4 -- 1926 Ford truck chassis.
No. 8 -- 1926 Fordson tractor converted for rail use by the Atlas Machine & Supply Co.
No. 9 -- 1927 Fordson tractor converted for rail use by the Atlas Machine & Supply Co.
No. 11 ** -- Whitcomb locomotive, purchased from the Caro Northern in February 1930.
No. 5 *** -- 2-6-2 steam locomotive purchased from the Louisiana Long Leaf Lumber Co.

** In February 1930 a small gasoline-powered "Whitcomb" locomotive was purchased from the Caro Northern Railway, which had just abandoned its line between Mount Enterprise in Rusk County and Caro on the Texas & New Orleans Railroad in Nacogdoches County. Upon arrival in Marshall, the little engine was assigned the road number "11" and nicknamed "Old Blue" by the Marshall train crews. The nickname stuck and photographs of it show that the moniker was even hand-painted on the front of the engine cab.

*** Sometime after the Whitcomb arrived, a 1903 steam locomotive, the "No. 5", was purchased from the Louisiana Long Leaf Lumber Company of Fisher, Louisiana. The No. 5 burned wood for fuel, but procuring large quantities of fire wood proved to be too difficult and so No. 5 was converted to burn coal. According to John Travis Wells, whose father was the superintendant of the MEF&SE, the steam engine was fired only infrequently, and mostly remained in storage at Marshall.

Rolling stock:
(1) Flat car no. 12; lettered "M.E.F.& S.E. Ry.", built 1927 at a cost of $100. Capacity 20,000 lbs., wood underframe. Noted in the 1933 equipment list reported to the ICC.

(1) Boxcar, road number unknown. This car was converted from a flatcar, possibly from the "No. 12" noted above, at a cost of $149. This is the car that shows up in various photographs taken at the Marshall terminal in the mid- to late-1930s.

Generally, the company leased their rolling stock from the Cotton Belt, the number of which fluctuating according to the need for cars. Flat cars were in demand during the fall cotton movement, otherwise boxcars were used year-round for Less-Than-Carload shipments and for supplying the Furrh's store at Elysian Fields. The 1933 valuation report noted 3 leased boxcars and 9 leased flat cars, all from the Cotton Belt.

Maintenance-of-Way equipment:
(1) Log loader, consisting of a tractor motor and a hoist mounted on a flat car. Built in 1926 at a cost of $832.

  The 1930s and the War years.  

The economic stresses of the Depression era of the 1930s were catastrophic for the MEF&SE, as they were for so many small businesses. Highway competition, which was already in full swing when the railroad was organized in 1922, dominated almost totally by the onset of the Depression. In 1933 the company applied to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation for a $60,000 loan to make improvements and to satisfy outstanding debt, but with no assurance of new patronage for the line, the loan was denied. Management carried on thanks to a few cotton and lumber shippers along the line, and at Elysian Fields the Furrh's still operated their store, the cotton gin, and the public cotton warehouses, all of which used the railroad almost exclusively. In correspondence with the Texas Railroad Commission in 1938, W. K. Furrh noted that 90% of the line's freight service came from the Furrh interests at Elysian Fields. There was some additional traffic related to the new oil fields in Panola County, but in all, the MEF&SE operated irregularly, and discussion among the management turned once again to the idea of abandonment.

The company made its last annual report to the Texas Railroad Commission in 1937, and its last monthly report in April 1938. The directors of that year, which included long-time members J.D. Furrh, W.K. Furrh, J.B. Furrh, B.H. Timmons, J.B. Gaines, E.P. Gaines, Jr., and Hobart Key, voted to exercise the right to abandon that the ICC had already been granted in 1926. The company entered into an agreement in June 1940 with the Commercial Metals Company, Ltd. of Dallas to salvage the surplus locomotives, rolling stock, and all iron rails between Elysian Fields to a point just inside the Marshall city limits known as "Cary's Spur," leaving 1-1/2 miles of the old MEF&SE inside Marshall intact. For this work, the salvage company paid the railroad $29,000, which management used to satisfy its outstanding debt.

Listed in the 1940 salvage agreement was the following equipment:

*Approximately 18 miles of railroad (65 lb. rails)
(1) 40-ton steam locomotive
(1) 14-ton Whitcomb gasoline locomotive
(1) 12-ton gasoline locomotive
(1) pile driver (built in our shop)
*metal parts of (8) 60,000 lb. capacity freight cars
(1) Ford truck with flanged wheels
(2) small flat-cars (not standard size)
(28) extra railroad rails
(9) heavy flanged wheels
(1) gasoline locomotive frame
(8) pairs small flat car wheels on axles
(10) track jacks
(2) Fairmont gasoline section cars
(3) Fairmont push cars
(1) Fairbanks-Morse gasoline motor car
(5) rerail frogs
*miscellaneous scrap material

Despite what was an "abandonment" in every other sense of the word, the MEF&SE as a railroad actually carried on for another five years utilizing its remaining 1-1/2 miles of track in combination with highway trucks to move freight to and from Elysian Fields. The MEF&SE would now be essentially a highway trucking company, with the ability to load freight onto railroad cars spotted at the MEF&SE terminal at Marshall, which would then be switched to the Texas & Pacific for movement over the interstate rail network. Describing this arrangement, the Texas Railroad Commission noted in correspondence dated September 1941 that, "A gasoline-powered locomotive capable of transporting two loaded cars simultaneously is kept in readiness, although it is seldom, if ever, used." The letter added that, "one gasoline-powered locomotive is the only rolling equipment that is owned by the Marshall, Elysian Fields and Southeastern Railway Company at this time, according to Mr. Furrh."

The company operated in this fashion until May, 1945 when W. K. Furrh informed the Texas Railroad Commission that as of June 1, the company wished to cancel all railroad tariffs, and get out of the railroad business entirely. The company once again used the authorization to abandon that it had obtained from the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1926, almost 20 years prior. That fall's cotton season saw 2000 bales of cotton delivered to the Marshall Compress by MEF&SE motor trucks, and while they were billed via the railroad, nothing moved over the line's remaining track. That year the last locomotive was sold and removed from the property, about 3 miles of rail were salvaged from the last 1-1/2 miles of track, and what wooden ties that could be salvaged were sold to local farmers, bringing to a close a brief but colorful chapter of Texas' railroad history.

  After the railroad.  
Throughout the 1940's and 1950's Elysian Fields benefited from nearby oil and gas deposits, but by the 1970's cattle-raising and farming formed the main economy. As of 2010 Elysian Fields has a population of 500 and several businesses. Blocker declined after the closing of the railroad, disappearing altogether from maps of the late-1940s. By the 2000s all that remained at Blocker were a few scattered houses and the cemetery. Much of the former MEF&SE right-of-way is hidden by thick forest undergrowth, but traces of the old roadbed can be seen near Blocker and southeast of Marshall along Five Notch Road. Inside the Marshall city limits, a one-mile section of the old T&P-MEF&SE transfer track has survived, but as it is with so many of Texas' historic rail lines, remnants of the MEF&SE are found mainly in preserved records, photographs, and family stories.
  Known employees of the Marshall, Elysian Fields & Southeastern Ry.  
  Name   Duties  
  Barry, W. L.   Secretary and treasurer, 1922 - c.1928  
  Bibb, Joe H. T.   Company attorney, 1922-1928  
  Cox, Charlie   Agent at Elysian Fields; worked for the Furrh's cotton gin.  
  Demmer, Charles J.   Auditor 1929.  
  Edwards, Ruben   Section worker, maintained track.  
  Edwards, Taft   Section worker, maintained track.  
  Edwards, T.C. "Chief"   Section crew.  
  Edwards, Wade   Section crew.  
  Fields, Ben   Section worker, maintained track.  
  Fields, Ozzie "The Ape"   Fireman on locomotive no. 5.  
  Furrh, James B.   1922-1926; vice-president, 1927: president until at least 1934.  
  Furrh, James M.  

Furrh Store, postmaster; shows up in records dating 1896, then all years between 1922-1928, then again in 1940;

  Furrh, William Kirk "Pat" (Jr.)   President of the current Marshall Elysian Fields and Southeastern Ry. Corporation.  
  Furrh, William Kirk (Sr.)   General manager; vice-president; 1922, 1940  
  Gaines, Edward P. (Jr.)   General manager (1926), vice-president, 1926 - c.1934.
  Gaines, J. B.   Administration, c.1934. Lived in Dallas.  
  Greer, Peru   Section crew.  
  Greer, T. A.   Director 1922 - c.1928  
  Lacy, W. L.   Secretary and treasurer, 1922.  
  Martin, Johnny   Section crew.  
  McGlothlin (?), Henry   Section crew.  
  Morris, George M.   Superintendent, 1928.  
  Oney, James Albert "Buddy"   Section crew.  
  Parrish, Arthur   Section crew.  
  Pitts, W. L.   Administration 1922, 1928  
  Ritter, Johnny   Bookkeeper, drove motor cars in later years.  
  Rocket, "Rock Island"   Brakeman, engineer, 1930s. W.R. Wells recalled that he lost his life on the railroad, in a night accident coming back from Elysian Fields.  
  Timmins, Bonnie H.   Administration c1922-c1940.  
  Turney, Marvin   President, 1922-c1928  
  Wells, Alvin Oasler "Piggy"   Locomotive engineer, c.1935-c.1940  
  Wells, Burley Richard   Section foreman, 1932-33; Drove Fordson tractor that hauled fuel.  
  Wells, Elmer Dutch   Train crew, miscellaneous duties  
  Wells, James Richard "Jim"   Roadmaster, locomotive engineer, 1930s.  
  Wells, John Monroe   Engineer, mechanical department, auditor, Marshall depot agent, c.1928-c.1939  
  Westmoreland, R. "Hall"   Depot agent at Marshall, 1932-33; Bookkeeper, superintendent, Elysian Fields depot agent c.1932-at least 1941.  
  Whaley, Thomas L.   Administration c.1922-c.1928.
  Wood, Wilbur H.   Superintendent 1926.  
Do you have any stories or photographs of the Marshall, Elysian Fields & Southeastern? Depots, equipment, customers or employees? If so, I would like to arrange a telephone call or a personal visit. I have preserved items of interest on the MEF&SE and other East Texas railroads for over 20 years. Thank you in advance.
  I can be contacted at:  
  Murry Hammond
626-429-8200 or
hammond.murry -at-
  Bibliography and Further Reading  
  Fordson Farmer magazine, unknown issue, c.1923.  
Interstate Commerce Commission. Finance Docket No. 2970, application for construction of extension by Marshall Elysian Fields & Southeastern Railway Company. Decided Feb. 9, 1924. U.S. Gov. Printing Ofc., 1924.
Interstate Commerce Commission. Finance Docket No. 5852, Application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity, etc. to abandon line. Decided Dec. 11, 1926. U.S. Gov. Printing Ofc., 1927.
Interstate Commerce Commission. Valuation Docket No. 1139, Marshall Elysian Fields & Southeastern Railway Company. Final Engineering Report and Decision, May 31 1933. U.S. Gov. Printing Ofc., 1933. Copy courtesy the National Archives II, College Park, Md.
  Interviews with Elaine Wells Briggs, John Travis Wells, and W.R. Wells.  
Text and images were digitized and proofread from the original source documents by Murry Hammond. Contact Murry for all corrections and contributions of new material.