Saturday—November 19, 2005
Location—Start: MoPac Station, Jefferson City, Missouri. End: Russellville, Missouri
This central area of Missouri is rich in history that molded and made this great country of ours. The old MoPac Bagnell Branch Railroad began at such a place, on the banks of the mighty Missouri, where Lewis and Clark passed, where the likes of Daniel Boone passed, below where the great capitol of the State of Missouri now stands. Here we begin our trek, at the old Missouri Pacific Railroad Station.
It’s a cool, crisp morning, but fair. Four fellows, all seasoned hikers stand for their picture in front of the old railroad landmark. They are: Sonny R., retired mail carrier with over 50,000 miles under his feet, Artful Dodger and Nimblewill Nomad, intrepid long distance hikers, and Josh C., a young Eagle Scout who has walked many-a-mile earning his hiking badge.
A little after eight, we’re off, first to pass the Governor’s Mansion, Old Lohman Landing, then the Capitol. In a short while, and on West Main Street, we pick up what’s left of the old Bagnell Branch line, a short stretch of track still serving a number of industrial sites along Industrial Drive in Jefferson City.
Near the intersection of Industrial and Truman the tracks end abruptly at a road barricade. From here on we’ll find only faint traces of the old abandoned railgrade. We’d sure like to hike right on that old railgrade, but we know that to do so would put us on private land; we’d be trespassing, not a very good idea, especially now, during hunting season. So we choose the next best alternative – roads that follow along nearby. First, it’s busy Truman Boulevard, then North Ten Mile Drive, and finally to get us out of town, Country Club Drive and Fairgrounds Road. At the end of Fairgrounds and near the beginning of Scruggs Station Road, stood one of the first depots along the old Bagnell Branch line, Scruggs Station. All that remains today is a short, shallow, overgrown grade-cut along the ridge.
We’re on little-used country roads now, heading west, climbing up and down through hills and valleys that fringe the mighty river, and along ridges that form the beginning of the Ozark Highlands. The day has turned quite pleasant, perfect for hiking, and we enjoy each others company as we journey along.
Next stop along the way is Plummer. As best we can tell, nothing, but nothing remains of Plummer. Lohman comes next, passed by – by the railroad, and by time. The old depot still stands, along with scattered vestiges of a once-thriving town. Some old storefronts survive, along with the grain elevator, milling company, a few well-kept homes. The bank, post office, a scant few other businesses have somehow managed since railroad times.
Out of Lohman, the old railgrade winds and climbs the valley of Logan Creek, one of many upper tributaries feeding the North Moreau. We climb by Branch Road, up and over the ridge, then down and into the next valley where the old railgrade passes again. We’re all truckin’ now, moving along, hypnotized by the smooth, repetitive rhythm of walking. While in this pleasant state, and while popping the ridge back, a strange, eerie feeling came over me, caused by a faint but familiar sound, a far away sound, as if from another place, another time. Astride the gentle breeze of the day did it come, first nudging my subconscious, then, right there within my ears did that old familiar sound reverberate. “A train whistle; it’s a train whistle. This can’t be,” I whisper to myself. But there it was again, faint, far off, surreal. “I know a train whistle when I hear one,” again, I whisper to myself. I stopped in my tracks, right then and there to listen intently for the longest time. But the sound was no more. Just the gentle lull of the wind.
By day’s end, and before reaching Josh’s home near Russellville, comes the sound of the train whistle many more times. The Union Pacific (Amtrak) still passes by Centertown, a distance to the north, and from our roadwalk today the whistle from those trains could be heard. So, that’s the logical explanation. Ahh, but that first, faint sound on the ridge today; it was distinctly different. What I heard, could it have been one of the old Iron Horses whistling down over time – from those ghost trains of long ago! Perhaps, perhaps not.
We all bid Josh farewell at his home, then Sonny, Artful Dodger and I hike on to reach Russellville well before dark. The old railgrade passes my sister, Salle’s, house, there to continue below Railroad Avenue into “downtown” Russellville. I hike the overgrown railgrade, taking pictures where I can. The hike is concluded for the day at the old Russellville Hotel/Bar, now managed as Squeak’s Place, one of a very few businesses still in existence since those glorious railroad days.
Monday—November 21, 2005
Location—Start: Russellville, Missouri. End: Eldon, Missouri
Yesterday, Sunday, was a day off but we’re out and hiking the old Bagnell Branch railgrade again today. With me are Sonny, Joyce K., and Artful Dodger. It’s another cool, clear morning and we’re moving a little before nine.
First stop is just a few yards west on Railroad Avenue, as I snap pictures of the old Russellville Depot location, where the beautiful Bank of Russellville building now stands. It’s on then to Jungmeyer Lumber for a picture with Bud, current owner, one of the few businesses still in existence since the early days of the railroad.
On the outskirts of Russellville the old railgrade remains in service – as the walkway from town to the new high school. On west and south now, we start dropping into the deeper and more rugged valley of the South Moreau. Here are numerous cuts through crowns and lesser ridgelines, deep in places. At Morgan Creek, two concrete piers that supported that span still stand, wrapped in tangled vines. This morning, and in the warming sun they remain a proud testament, a pleasant reminder of those grand days past.
Turning from the flats along Enon and Settlen Roads, we enter the little berg of Enon, the old grade-crossing hardly noticeable. To the left lean the moldering remains of an old grain storage building, a rusting “Dixie – Better Feeds” sign now serving more as a structural support. A bit further along stands the weathered remains of an old general store. As to the railroad days, that’s about it for Enon.
From Enon to Olean the old railgrade pretty much follows South Moreau Creek. We climb, to pop up, down and along the bluff before descending once more to the valley north and east of Olean. Father Time has treated the little village of Olean kindly. Numerous structures in fair repair survive from the railroad era. Among them, the old depot, grain elevator and milling company. It’s lunchtime, so we take a break and treat ourselves to the special at the Hut, one of the long-thriving local businesses.
As to Olean’s railroad days, there’s much pride within this little community, a prime example being the old 1880s depot. It’s been maintained over the years, a labor of love that glows – and that shows in the well-kept condition of that fine old structure. Today, you’ll find it all decked out in true 1930s and ‘40s MoPac colors – colonial yellow with brown trim. Oh, and if I may, a note here as to the keen interest amongst railroad buffs concerning the old Bagnell Branch line. Take a minute now, and if you would, click here onhttp://www.mopac.org/models_duckworth.asp. This page, Charlie Duckworth’s, is one among many in the “MoPac Modelers Showcase Gallery,” featured on the Missouri Pacific Historical Society website. His beautiful, true-to-scale HO models of the old Russellville and Olean depots are absolute delights to behold – please take a look!
From Olean, Joyce K. continues with us and Joyce B. joins along as we make the gentle climb toward the city of Eldon. The old railgrade, along with a number of concrete culverts can be seen along the way. The grade’s all overgrown, of course, except where businesses stand directly on the old grade. A good example, the Eldon Ford dealership. The old railgrade goes right straight through the place! Ditto for numerous business structures in Eldon. Through town, the old grade cuts about a forty-five, so it’s easy enough to follow, through the Capital Region Medical Clinic, then in the front door and out the back of the IOOF building. We end the day at the old caboose, near the former site of the Eldon Depot. It’s been a fun, memorable day.
Tuesday—November 22, 2005
Location—Start: Eldon, Missouri. End: Camp Bagnell, Missouri
Another fine day for hiking, the final one along the old MoPac Bagnell Branch line. Sonny, Artful Dodger, and the old Nimblewill Nomad move out from the caboose a little after ten. We’re still cutting a forty-five along the old railgrade, straight through Eldon. Just across SR52 the old grade crosses the now abandoned Rock Island Line. We struggle through the vines and brush to reach the crossing. I had so looked forward to getting here, to locating this spot, but as I stand in the tangle now, it proves totally unimpressive. I had hoped to find the old “X” section of rail still here, since most of the Rock Island iron and cross-ties have remained in place. But no such luck. What I hadn’t figured was: the old Rock Island Line didn’t shut down through Eldon until 1982, fully 18 years after the Bagnell trains ceased to roll. So, apparently, somewhere during that time, the Rock Island folks replaced the old cross-rail section with straight iron. I take a few pictures – through the briars, brush, and tangle – from here to fight my way back out to the streets of Eldon, and on toward rail’s end at Camp Bagnell.
On Cender Road, near West Aurora, we’re back on the old railgrade, literally on it. For, through here the road has been moved almost directly over the railgrade. It appears dark with coal dust and cinders, castaways over time from the old locomotives. I collect some souvenirs: a few clinkers, the remains of an original spike from the 1880s. Here, next Cender Road, a house trailer sits square on the grade. Ho boy, I bet folks living here experience some really unsettling shudder and hear some bewildering sounds from time-to-time!
From West Aurora, which stands at near 1,000 feet, for the next eight miles, and as we hike south toward the Osage, the railgrade will drop nearly 400 feet. The old 4-6-0 wheel-configured locomotives that plied the Bagnell line most assuredly had their work cut out for them as they lumbered (no pun intended), loaded with railroad cross-ties up, up and up some more, from Bagnell to Eldon. The later lugging of construction supplies and materials for the dam, during the ‘30s, down the grade to Bagnell, would certainly have been an easier haul. We’ve got an easy haul now, on down and in to Camp Bagnell. Just south of West Aurora, Rita R., Sonny’s wife, joins us. Our last obstacle, crossing, then hiking along four-lane US54, is soon behind us. From the highway to Bagnell, we’ve got the longest and most pleasant hike right on the old railgrade, a gravel, then cinder treadway on in. We reach Camp Bagnell before three.
So now we know the mystery of it all. Ahh yes, the mystery! For now we know from where the old trains came, whistling and clanging, to the where of it – the far away places they rumbled, leaving only trailing silence – and that faint, haunting whistle in the wind. I am contentedly pleased, and I must tell you – now that I know the mystery, I am no less captivated by the excitement of it all. That little barefoot tyke is still here, alive and well, deep in the heart of this old man. And that childhood bewilderment and wonderings I’ve spoken of from so many years ago? Well, that excitement is still fully aglow, as strong and bright now – as way back then. Thanks, dear friends all, for coming along. It’s been a journey of fulfillment. Oh yes, it’s certainly been a happy, memorable time!
Waiting For A Train