I recently ran across a copy of an article written 33 years ago and published in the Montgomery Advertiser. My mother-in-law, Wilsie Vail, had saved the article and I found it in a folder that she had kept along with other important news articles and events. I enjoyed reading about the Seaboard Railroad's proposed closing of the line that ran through Fort Davis along with a little Fort Davis town history. I hope you will enjoy reading it too.
TOWN SAW END WAS COMING
RAILROAD TO SEEK CLOSING OF LINE
BY CHUCK CHANDLER
ADVERTISER STAFF WRITER
September 30, 1985
FORT DAVIS: Longtime residents of this tiny Macon County town see Seaboard Railroad's proposed pullout as the probable end of the line for their once-prosperous community.
Seaboard System spokesman, Owen Pride, said the nation's second largest railroad will file a federal application Monday to end service along a 72-mile line extending across central Alabama from Montgomery County to near the Georgia line. He said the line is losing money and Seaboard can no longer afford maintenance costs.
Apparently few people in the string of tiny communities along the line will fight the closing. Stations at Hardaway and Hannon long ago saw their best days and many people say they have anticipated the closing for years.
In Fort Davis, Lucy Reynolds Davis remembers when passenger trains regularly pulled in and out of the now-weathered depot next to her mercantile store. Since 1929 she has watched the steady decline of the town named for Fort Madison Davis, her late husband's father.
"This used to be a real fine little town," she said. "People just died and their children have left the buildings to rot. There's not much here anymore."
Seaboard has 1,700 miles of track and 2,700 employees in Alabama. Pride said increasing competition from truckers is partly responsible for the decision to abandon the Fort Davis route. No other company uses the tracks.
Pride said people affected by the closing have one month to complain to the Interstate Commerce Commission. The commission will investigate complaints, but if no protests are made, the closing could be approved by early December.
"I haven't heard anybody object", said (I can't make out what this word is - article is worn but looks like a J?H?) Rob Kirkland. "I don't see how they operate it now. I know they're losing money, can't help but be."
Kirkland, 80, worked several years for Seaboard in the 1920s but for the past 55 years has operated Kirkland Mercantile next door to the Fort Davis depot. He has lived in the town his entire life and remembers when there were six stores, several saw mills, and two cotton gins. Like Kirkland, most of the residents worked farms.
The depot between Mrs. Davis' store and Kirkland's closed nearly 20 years ago and only one or two trains now run through town late each night.
"Fort Davis is just about dead," said Kirkland, pointing toward the Davis store. "It's down to that one store, and this half, and I'm getting out of it too."
Kirkland's father built his wood frame store more than 100 years ago and both he and his son had a thriving business. Mrs. Davis' husband built her brick store in 1939 and they simultaneously had good fortune with another wood-frame store.
"Shoot, yeah," said Kirkland, leaning back in a rocking chair next to a pot-belly stove. "We sold a lot of stuff, course stuff was cheap back in those days."
"It's a sad situation," said Mrs. Davis. "I would get out of the business today if someone had the money to lease it. But nobody wants these old country stores."
Some people believe the beginning of the end for the Seaboard line came about five years ago when the company diverted many of its trains to Troy. They say traffic has since been cut to a trickle.
The Braswell Wood Co. sits along the tracks directly across from the two stores and a single worker loads three to five cars each week with wood purchased from local pulpwooders. Braswell transports the timber to Brewton on Seaboard cars.
John Braswell said that if the railroad line closes, the small pulping operation will be moved about seven miles away to his main office in Union Springs.
"I haven't really made any plans to file a formal protest," said Braswell. " I would if I thought it would do any good."
Braswell has leased the Fort Davis facility from Madison Davis for the past 14 months. Davis, nephew of the town's landsake, operated the pulpwood yard for 20 years before retiring in 1980.
"I'd love to see the railroad stay here, no question about it," said Davis. "It's been here since about 1891, but I don't feel like I have enough interest in it anymore to complain."
Mrs. Davis believes the pulpwood business might have become big once again in Fort Davis, keeping the town alive. But she doesn't believe either will do well without the railroad.
"There's not much we can do to keep it," she said sadly.
I haven't seen 5 am in a long time, but I did see it today. The day started early with the Historical Society hard at work unloading all that has been donated for the yardsale to benefit the Depot Restoration Project.
This picture was taken before the sun was up. As you can see Mrs. Frankie and Mrs. Bobbie were already hard at work. These ladies lasted all day long. Boy, I tell you, I had to have a break. I don't know how they did it in the sweltering heat we had today. Bobbie's son-in-law, Randy, brought his generator and gave us some light inside the building. Without this, we would not have been able to start as soon as we did.
There were other such faithful workers today and I tell you, we couldn't have done it without any of them. I don't want to name names as I'm sure to forget one.
When the sun finally came up, we started getting customers. Bobbie had a goal in mind and we were praying it would come true.
About 1 pm, I just had to go home for a break. But it was looking good at that point and the goal was only a couple hundred away. I told them to give me a call when it was time to call it quits and I would be back to help pack it all back up. In the meantime, Jan, Frankie's daughter, brought pizza from town to all the workers.
Coach Jimmy Wilson was doing a little metal detecting today around the depot during the yardsale. He found many depot treasures from long years ago. I'm not really sure what all he found as I did not get to speak to him very long but here is a track relic.
Around 4 pm I got the call that it was time to start packing up, so Walter and I went to help load trailers up with the leftovers. All the stuff fit on two trailers.
And what do you think we will do with all these leftovers? According to Mrs. Frankie, it's another yard sale next month. Oh dear, I just hope it is cooler than it was today.
And good news! The goal that Bobbie was hoping for, was met!
If you couldn't help out this time, please consider helping next month, Nov. 4th.
Thank you to all of our yardsale shoppers, donators, and workers. It was great to fellowship with you today.
Debbie Vail is the author of this blog post.