70 Years of Railroading on the 'Mineral Wells'
Compiled by Murry Hammond
These are excerpts of interviews conducted with family members and former employees of the Weatherford, Mineral Wells & Northwestern Railway. The William Cunningham interview was conducted by Bert Rollins in 1973, and the remainder by Murry Hammond in the period 1997-1998. These men are: William Henry Cunningham, engineer 1911- 1962; Robert J. Ford, brakeman 1941-1950, conductor 1950-1977; J. Lenoyd Moore, brakeman in the 1920's and 1930's; Ray Watson, brakeman 1969-1971, conductor 1971-1973, engineer 1973-1979; Additional comments provided by Mrs. Edgar Bowden, daughter of engineer Jim Hamilton, and Garner historian Robert Pond. Their recollections follow.
W. H. Cunningham: “In 1911 the man that was hostling the engines in Mineral Wells quit, so they made a fireman out of me on a coal-burner. Mr. Crow was our superintendent, he was trying to get an elder man to take the firing job, Mr. Crow thought I was too young. He finally gave in and said, “You're up against some tough guys. Try to get along without getting anybody hurt." I started firing for Gus Wicklund on the passenger train. I got $60 dollars a month freight time, and we got under, Mr. Wilson's time, .50 cent raise which made it $2.50 for fireman on passenger train and $3.00 for the engineer. Me and Gus lived up together most of the time for about 16 years. Then I was sent up to the job of running the engines.”
R.J. Ford: “Weatherford, Mineral Wells & Northwestern . . . That’s ‘Whiskey, More Whiskey & No Water.” I really cut my teeth on the Weatherford, Mineral Wells & Northwestern. I went to work for the T-P first, then I had a chance to come onto this road and I took it - same pay. I started as the head end brakeman. . . A girl asked me why I quit the main line, I told her “I could work at home, be home every night. Leave Weatherford, go to Mineral Wells and come back, tie up in Weatherford. They would pay us for a 100 miles, we wouldn’t be over at Mineral Wells maybe an hour, so we would make the trip and back home in four hours time. You made your money a little quicker on a branch line.”
Lenoyd Moore: “I started braking on the Mineral Wells June 26, 1941. Then on extra board in Fort Worth on December 7, 1941, pearl harbor day. The regular crew was Jess Shaw, Earl Bedford, Reavis Cox, and Julius Olsen. Lead engineer was Cunningham and Earl Bedford fired. If they needed another crew Earl Bedford would engineer and he’d get an extra fireman from Fort Worth. It would be different fireman off the extra board in Fort Worth.
“We called him Earl “Goosey” Bedford - you could punch him with your finger and he’d just get “high behind”. We’d chase him all over the place. Robert Ford, we called him “Walkie Talkie” because he’d talk continuously - we also called him “Model T.” There was “Swede” Olsen, and since I looked like a fence post a lot of them called me “Bones.”
Running Trains on the ‘Mineral Wells
W. H. Cunningham: “By 1922 it had fell off to where we made a combination train, freight train and passenger train as one. We kept that up a little while and we finally had to cut that out and got down to a loco and what we called a "dodger." The dodger done a certain amount of switching and helped bring cars out of Mineral Wells back to Weatherford.
“We had motor cars, just passenger and mail. They seated 72 people, gasoline operated. Mckeen put those out. They went down to Bonham and they operated them a year or two and they finally had to quit 'em because they didn't have business for them.”
Ray Watson: “About ’56, they still had some steam engines around here. We didn’t really get diesel engines until about ’48 or ’49, and it really didn’t start going until about ’54 or ’55 before they had mostly diesel engines. They still had a lot of those steam engines they used for locals. They used the diesels for fruit freight and stuff. In later years they still had a couple of cars that were Weatherford, Mineral Wells & Northwestern cars, they were flat cars. They hauled stuff off of the base.”
R.J. Ford: [Late 1940’s-1950’s] “We had an engine, the 205, we called it the “two dollars and a nickel.” That was a steam engine. It was an old one, but hell, it was a good one, not too many breakdowns. If you broke down you just walk to a phone and call.
“We worked five days a week, sometimes on Saturday, but very seldom. They come out from Fort Worth to diesel us up. They sent a truck out from the Lancaster yard. The diesel run all the time. We set it out, it would run all night. If it was down to three days it would run day and night, sitting there. We never turned it off, I don’t even know where the switch was to turn it off!”
Ray Watson: [re: the 1970’s] “We worked three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We’d call Bill [Lasater, longtime Weatherford agent], ‘What time you gonna run that train?’, he’d say ‘Well, the local guy’s not here yet’ but most of the time the local would get here in the middle of the night and we’d be ready to go seven o’clock the next morning.
“The engines, we’d keep them over there sometimes three or four days. . . We’d put them on the transfer track, then send them to Fort Worth to have it refueled and inspected and all that stuff. Same way with the caboose, we’d keep a caboose over there, then about every week or so we’d send it to Fort Worth and get it resupplied, cleaned out, put new coal oil in it and everything and they’d send it back over, and we’d keep it over there for two or three days.
“We had different engines, mostly they tried to put those little goats on there, those little 1200’s. They switched a lot better, you could switch a lot faster with them. They responded to the throttle a lot faster. Those other ones, the road engines, it took a long time to get them to wind up and get to moving. You couldn’t hardly kick cars or nothing with them because it took so long to get ‘em started, and by the time you get ‘em started you’re trying to stop. The biggest ones were them 2000’s like that big one on the bicentennial train, that was a Geep.
Lenoyd Moore: “You got started different times. Most times the local would be there by 7am unless there was something special, something that needed to be spotted. In the late 30’s you had the feed mills, corn, different stuff, down on the team track you’d have brick, telegraph poles, gravel for highway department, and the peanut mill was on the J. R. Fleming place on Palo Pinto street. Most of the time you went out at 7am.”
Franco & Lemley
R.J. Ford: “We had a grade to pull up going out of Weatherford up to Franco switch. Going up that first grade out of Weatherford we’d have a close call with deer that’d jump the fence into that big ranch there.”
Ray Watson: “They had a big ol’ cistern there built out of rock that they caught water in, they dipped it out and put it in them steam engines. . . Coming down there off milepost 7, that was right up there by Franco, you drop down in there pretty good.”
Lenoyd Moore: “Lemley was a hill in both directions. It was a pretty good pull. You got pretty slow. Sometimes we’d have to double it coming east. We would have to cut the train off and take it over in sections. The Lemley siding held around 20 or 25 cars. Pull into the siding and cut the train off, then go back for the other half. They loaded some watermelons there, just like they did at Lambert siding on the T-P.”
Lenoyd Moore: “Uncle Ed Moore was the Garner agent. Uncle Ed always wore a vest, always run that watch chain in his vest. He had a nail in the privy with a 90 degree bent just for that watch. He’d hang that watch on that nail, then re-thread it back through and go back.
“Garner shipped a lot of rock out of there. Before I graduated high school I worked at the rock quarry for Mr. Egbert Throckmorton, my boss at the quarry. They loaded a lot of that Millsap building stone, flagstone, wasn’t about 1 ½ thick, and we’d lay it into a coal car by hand. Edgar Throckmorton had a grape vineyard. He said if he didn’t brew up a 55 gallon barrell of wine, he’d cut his throat. He’d bring the wine to the rock quarry. He was in his 70’s then.”
Robert Pond: “There was another house that served as a depot, is still there on Vance Road, last house on the road, half mile west of Garner. That was the original Garner depot, operated by the Bumgarner family. They moved it further up to Garner because it was a steep grade there and when the trains would stop they’d have a time getting started again.”
Blue Hole trestle (1/2 mi. W Garner)
Lenoyd Moore: “They would have washouts at Blue Hole. What happened at Blue Hole trestle was that farmers up the creek cut timber and pushed it into that creek, where it washed down and hit the bridge and knocked it out.”
Ray Watson: “Used to be people swimming there all the time . . . Some of them camp out under that bridge. One old man and woman stayed under that bridge for about two years, had a tent under there. They lived there. Just lived under that bridge.
“When Southern Airways trained them Viet Nam pilots over at them heliports on the other side of Garner, they’d drop them little ol’ round flour sacks on us, you know, them helicopters would dive at us. . . there’d be spots all over that train from where they were using us for target practice.”
Camp Wolters and World War II
Lenoyd Moore: “My first day’s work on the ‘Mineral Wells’ was on the bridge gang, putting crossing boards in on Highway 180 going into the new Camp Wolters, on November 20, 1939. We checked all the bridges. We replaced pilings, braces in some places, reinforced or replace headers. There were going to be a lot of trains and we were expecting heavier engines. We had to check all the piling for rot, cross braces and caps, headers on each end to see that they were all solid. There was going to be more than one train a day and those passenger coaches were also heavy. They run a lot of 300’s most of the time. They run 400’s when the army went in, they even run 500’s.”
Ray Watson: “This track up here [pointing to longest spur track going north through Camp Wolters] went straight for a quarter of a mile and wyed off. They had some ramps up there where they could unload. Troop trains would just go up there and turn around and go back to Weatherford. They had a little ol’ yard up there. . .and a lot of times they’d keep an engine up there for pusher, they’d use it to shove ‘em out, shove ‘em in, move ‘em around. A lot of times they’d build those troop trains up there and when the crew got there, they would just jump off one and get on the other and take off.”
W. H. Cunningham: “They started Camp Wolters in 1940, and I went back to regular turn as engineer. It really did get good then. When the first train went out to Camp Wolters, it wasn't anything but a corn field.
“We had a lot of trains and a lot of engineers come in from other parts. These men had hired out from railroads all over the united states, conductors and engineers. They come off big railroads, long railroads, where they handled big, heavy trains. But they all came off a railroad where they had rock ballast. And the Mineral Wells railroad didn't have anything but a dirt ballast. We had the T-P engines that were 400 class and few that was 300 class engines.
“Well, they were pretty heavy for this dirt track, so Mr. Oliver wanted to know what I really thought the speed I could be under the conditions that were in. I told him I believe twelve and a half miles an hour was ample speed for the track that we were pulling such loads over, and he put his bulletin out to that effect.
“But it was hard for a man who had been used to higher speed trains to slow himself down to a 12 1/2 mile an hour train. And we had considerable hills to handle these trains on, and it was a problem for them fellows because they never had to railroad on such tracks. So it was customary with us, who were used to railroading on this kind of railroad, to put a little air in under your train before you started downhill. Running with the brakes on with about 5 or 7 pounds of air.
“Well, these men had trouble of trying to get down the hill and letting them rock off. Especially one man who had been hired off the Florida East Coast line and he was asking about the conditions and we told him what we did. I said to him, "please get you a little air under 'em when half your train's over the hump."
“So he's to take my job on Sunday morning and I was to have a day off. They taken the job out about 4am Sunday morning and went to work. When I came home that night, Saturday night, I said to my wife "don't you wake me up, you let me sleep all day. I want to catch up some sleep." About 7am the next morning, Sunday morning, the phone rings and Mr. Reed says, "Cunny, how soon can you be down here?" He didn't tell me what was going on, just wanted to know how soon I could get down there. I said, “I'll be down there in 15 minutes." I got down there and they had an engine ready for me. The man had gone out eleven miles from Weatherford and rocked off five cars and this man left and to this day nobody knows where he went.
“Well, I was all day getting those five cars back on the track. Then we had to pull that outfit back into Weatherford so that they could still do business in the camp. Circumstances like this was happening quite often. You've got to slow 'em down. If you don't, they ain't gonna stay on the rail, brother.”
Lenoyd Moore: “You took the troop trains in there, they had platforms for unloading armored tanks, you backed the trains in. They had a separate place for unloading troops, they had a paved or concrete place for people to unload. There were three or four team tracks over there. We was running a lot of troop trains but we was also hauling a lot of supplies, you had army equipment coming in.”
“Most of the time, army personnel guarded the bridges on the WMW&NW and on the main line. They’d go ahead of the troop train. There’d be someone placed at a bridge and they stayed there until you got by. They were guarding against explosives. There were no attempts to blow up the bridges that that I know of. On the Brazos River bridge of the T&P we had a watchman there through the whole war. He wasn’t army, but he was on up in the profession somehow.”
“At Camp Wolters they had an engine steamed up for switching. If they didn’t have another crew, you’d do your own switching. They had two crews at Weatherford at that time, and some extra men, too, or they would run a crew out of Fort Worth. They kept at the roundhouse one or two engines there all the time. They didn’t keep a hostler when I worked, it didn’t take long to steam them up if they weren’t already steamed.”
R.J. Ford: “I think we were done with Camp Wolters about ’48 or 49. Most cars we ever had was when we was loading stuff out of Camp Wolters. Flat cars - we’d have a string of them things.“
Ray Watson: “Deacon Pass was just a little ol’ passing track there - it was the only passing track we had between here and Mineral Wells [after Franco was taken up in later years - ed.]. Coming out of that bottom, there’s a slow hill coming around and it’s a pretty good grade. Them steam engines used to have heck coming out of there, they’d have to get a run at it going back to Weatherford. They’d come out just blowin’ and going, having ‘er lined up where they could make that curve and go up that hill, so they could make that hill without laying down. . .they had to doublehead some, they had a pusher that stayed at the end of the base, where I told you they loaded passengers and everything.”
Rock Creek mines
W. H. Cunningham: “The Rock Creek mines were operating number 3 when I started working. We would go in there and take coal out of the elevator on our engines at number three. The number one was the slag dump. Number 2 was next to Rock Creek under the hill and number three was back there where the highway crosses the track now, about a half a mile or maybe a little further than that north, that was number three. That was the last one they operated. It was a pretty poor grade of coal. They were getting pretty far back where they were going to have to put another shaft in to get down to it, it was too much of a drag to get it from where they was mining it to where it came out of the earth.”
Ray Watson: “The old trackbed is still out there. They got them big old places where they was digging that out. Had too much sulfur in it, reason they quit using it.”
R.J. Ford: “We would get over there about eleven o’clock, we’d eat lunch over there at a little café right up the street from the depot. We didn’t go 20 mph, but it didn’t take an hour and we’d get paid for a hundred miles. You get over there, we’d just park the train down at the depot, walk half a block to the café. It was home-cooking type food. I’d get me a bowl of chili.”
Lenoyd Moore: “There was a lot of business at Mineral Wells - we’d come out of there with eight or fifteen cars of brick and tile a day. There was two brick companies and a tile outfit there because of all the shale. We’d usually eat lunch at a little café just north of the depot.”
R.J. Ford: “We worked both brick yards, the box factory, we had special refrigerator cars for beer - Falstaf, Milwaukee, Schlitz. Sometimes we’d get two or three cars, beer mostly. Jax, Budweiser, Falstaf. There was a Coors later.”
Lenoyd Moore: “I remember making a student trip . . . We was switching Mineral Wells. We’d kick them cars loose and ride ‘em. This boy didn’t align the switch right and I was heading toward the back of a row of cars pretty fast. I set the brake as tight as I could and got braced and hit the rear end of the train - and Reavis Cox and Julius Olsen figured I was hurt or dead, but I got down and wrapped my arm through the ladder between the cars and hung on for dear life. It was going to have to tear my arm off before it threw me off that car.”
Salesville, Oran, and Graford
Mrs. Edgard Bowden: “Originally, these trains originated in Graford. The trains went from Graford to Weatherford, and either turned around and went back to Graford for the night or sometimes the train would switch onto the T&P and go to Fort Worth, then come back. Everyone lived in Graford, and Graford had a wye. They just stored the engines outside along the tracks for the night. They had a night watchman that took care of them. Then they changed the schedule and moved everyone to Weatherford.”
W. H. Cunningham: “We had oil business come in at what was first known as Dalton City, northwest of Graford about where Possum Kingdom Lake is. That give us a whole lot of business. Everybody got to making money and working pretty regular. Also at that time there was a right smart business off the G.T.& W. out of Seymour, they had some oil business up there. We worked a deal of the time at night.
“Well, this all played out. Our merchandise train that hauled merchandise to Mineral Wells, Graford, Salesville and on up the G.T.& W. was losing out on that because trucks were picking up that stuff and delivering it right off the truck.”
Lenoyd Moore: “In the spring you’d get grain... when the season was right they’d move those boxcars in and load it right off the truck fresh from the field and into the boxcar. Possum Kingdom Lake generated some traffic, and in winter time they had feed stuff coming in and out. They went up there more in fall and winter than in summer because it was mostly feed and farm stuff, sometimes something for the grocer. They used to have a lot of cattle business but that was pretty well gone by 1939. Freight and farm equipment, regular freight, some LCL. We’d go out only when they had something to go up there. They’d notify you at Mineral Wells what you had to do.
“I was on the last train that went on the Graford branch. We took a boxcar load of sack cement for unloading for the Possum Kingdom Dam. They picked up the boxcar as soon as they got it unloaded, next day we come back took the empty, and that was it. That was the last freight that went in there.”
Final Years on the WMW&NW
Ray Watson gives some interesting insight into some of the practices that facilitated the abandonment of the ‘Mineral Wells:
“How they do it is, and they’ve done it with the ‘Mineral Wells and everywhere else, is they overcharge them, they don’t furnish them with the cars they need, they just give them bad service, there’s no other way around it. They run this business off because they don’t want to have to stop and switch it. They say there’s no money in switching local stuff, they want to hook up onto a coal train in Wyoming and take it to Houston, never unhook from it, make a circle and go back. Coal train, grain train, chemical train. That’s the reason they’re scabbing all these railroads off. Whenever they’ve got any switching to do they scab it off.
"They found these “losses” on everything. Every time we had a derailment, that just tickled them to death, they didn’t investigate us or nothing, the more track you tore up the better they liked it. They’d have the hoister and everything, a caterpillar, to re-rail them old cars, you could see they just messing around, they just wanting to spend money to show a loss on that railroad, where they could justify shutting it down. They was doing that for four or five years.
“There were things happening like they cleaned that yard over there in Fort Worth, you know had to sweep it out and everything, didn’t have a place to dump it, so they’d come out here and dump that old seed, grain, old ballast, stuff like that, just old trash, they come out here and dump it out on the ‘ Mineral Wells and charge ‘em for a load of ballast! And it was just the sweepings out of the yard. They did that to run the price up.
“Centron, a place they had down there during the Viet Nam war, they was making shell-casing containers to put shell casings in. We was spotting ten or fifteen cars in there a day. The loads were going to red river and Arkansas. We was working almost everyday then. They got where they couldn’t get no cars, they’d have stuff piled out there they couldn’t get no car to, and they wouldn’t give them a car.
“Mineral Wells clay, down at Deacon Pass, they used to send seven, eight, ten loads of brick out a day. Well, they wouldn’t bring ‘em no cars. They’d order cars in and it would be a week before they’d get them. The customers just put them on the trucks.
“That Brazos Brick up there, they wanted about ten or fifteen cars a day to start out. They put a new microwave kiln in up there, it was part of acme brick, they made brick, I mean they could make it fast, microwaved them, didn’t have to put it in them kilns. They wanted seven, eight, ten cars a day and the railroad wouldn’t guarantee them no cars, and they wouldn’t give them no cars. They’d bring them some old raggedy car up there they couldn’t even load, and stuff like that, but you know, you could tell, everybody knew what they were doing to start with, they were trying their best to run all that business off. You know, they’d kind of get upset with us on the train crew about it, but “man, you know it ain’t us, if there are cars there we’ll bring ‘em to you, but if they ain’t there we can’t bring ‘em.”
“Mike Wallace of the U.P., when the U.P. and the ‘Mop’ was merging, we had a town hall meeting at Mineral Wells . . . People just asked him about why they was running all this business off. He said, “Well, I’ll tell you what, the “business” is hooking onto a coal train in Wyoming and taking it to Houston and never unhook from it, just make a circle around and go back to Wyoming, without doing any switching. All you got to is change crews and no terminal switching or nothing.” He said, “That’s where the money is, there’s no money in stopping, calling the crew to switch these places out for one or two cars, there’s no money in it.” Not enough money for U.P. to justify it.
“You know, there wasn’t anything real complicated about running over there, no hills are that bad that will run away with you . . . I wish I was still working on the ‘Mineral Wells.”