Location: Mackeys, Washington, North Carolina, United States
I was born at the beginning of the Great Depression and money was tight. My father, W.B. Davenport, and a partner, Mr. Will Swain, operated a general merchandise store under the name of Swain & Davenport. The store was located across the state road fro mthe mainline of the Norfolk Southern Railroad (approximately 60 feet) in Mackeys.
The railroad had two branches operating from Mackeys; the Belhaven branch and the Columbia branch. I barely remember the Belhaven branch.
In this time frame the railroad operated two passenger trains, #1 was southbound from Norfolk, VA to Raleigh, NC and #2 was northbound between the same two points. Most of the time these trains met in Mackeys, Westover, or Plymouth.
Numbers 61 and 63 were mainline freights southbound. Numbers 62 and 64 were freights running north. Number 63 and 64 passed through Mackeys during the night, most of the time. Many times I would wake up during the night and hear #64 waiting for #63 to come off the Albemarle Sound bridge. I always enjoyed hearing the generator and water pump running. Numbers 61 and 62 were later changed to 98 and 99.
My father kept the store open until around 10:00 pm and he would let me stay at the store with him when it wasn't school nights. During Irish Potato season in the Creswell and Columbia area, the Columbia branch train would come in the early part of the night, and often I heard the conductor tell my dad they had close to 100 cars of potatoes. During this season there was a storage track for empty refridgerator cars, most of the time it was full. there was a storage track for loaded cars waiting for the northbound to pick up. There was another storage track for the branchline, called Blount's Siding about one half mile from Mackeys. It usually was full of empty refrigerator cars. There was no electricity in the Mackeys area until 1937 and residents in the area would get leftover ice from the empty car bunker and haul it home in wheelbarrows, wagons and burlap bags. Many did not have enought money to buy ice. When the Belhaven branch track was taken up, the railroad left the wye that was formed between the mainline and the branchline. The steam engine of the Columbia branch train always turned around on this wye. I remember there being one passenger coach on the Columbia train. I don't know when this was discontinued, but it was several years before the branch was discontinued in the early 1950s.
The passenger trains ran seven days a week and on Sundays after church, many people came to watch the trains. The Post Office was beside my dad's store. Mail service seemed to be much faster then than it is now. One could send an order to Sears Roebuck in Greensboro on a given day and receive their merchandise on the third day. Large items were even shipped by express or freight. Express was much faster but more expensive. During World War II meat and many dairy products were rationed, along with many other items. My father ordered meat, cheese and butter from Washington, NC and it usually arrived on Thursday, iced up. Due to the short supply, he had to accept what they shipped. In the summer months while school was out, it was my job to haul the products on a hand truck from the station to the store. Many items arrived by express including puppies, baby chicks and corpses.
The railroad maintained a full time maintenance force on the Albemarle Sound bridge. Mr R. I. Collins (Capt. Raymond) was foreman of this crew for many years until he was promoted to Bridge Supervisor for the railroad. Many times an extra crew came in to help with bridge repairs.
The pile driver also came in ever year for several weeks to replace pilings. The pile driver and ditcher were operated by Mr. Arthur Bray, who was a fine man, and who always had time to talk to small boys. I always considered him a very close friend. I would receive railroad post cards from him when he and family were on vacations, even after I was grown. Al these crews had shanty cars and at night they would gather in my dad's store. I thought they had some of the most interesting conversation concerning their experiences on the railroad. There was a section crew stationed in Mackeys headed by George Whitfield, later by Mr. Dick Bunch and Mr. Alton Harris as one would retire.
During World War II, troop trains came through pretty often and would have to stop in Mackeys for water. If the train came through during th eday and was traveling north, part of the Pullman cars were stopped in front of my dad's store. When I was in the store my dad would load both of us up with popsicles and Dixie Cups of ice cream to take over to the troops on the train. My parents were a good influence on me. You could usually tell if a troop train was coming through at night; the station crew always went out to inspect the track. The railroad always had two bridge runners on the bridge at night for security. They usually crossed the bridge before all trains. One man lived at Mackeys and he used a speeder (velocipede) to go to the bridge draw and meet a man from Edenton who was assigned a motor car. It was a big thrill for me when he would let me pull the speeder to the draw while he sat on the back due to hip problems he had. One Saturday afternoon I pulled the speeder out to the big draw for the bridge runner, Mr. Arthur Britton. While we were at the draw the Columbia branch train came by on its way to Edenton to tie up for th enight. Mr. Britton flagged it down and we rode the caboose to Edenton and met Mr. Joe Northcutt with the motor car and rode back on it. From the time I first remember and for several years, the railroad only employed two draw tenders on this particular draw. They each worked 24 hours on and 24 hours off. They both lived in Mackeys and useda speeder to go back and forth. Their names were Mr. Newsome Davenport and Mr. Columbus Riddick. Mr. Davenport was father-in-law to Mr. Riddick.
I rode the passenger trains several times. Sometimes it was to Plymouth, sometimes Edenton, and sometimes to Shawboro. I remember one day riding the train to Shawboro with my mother. She had several family members in the Shawboro area. On one of these trips the train stopped on the sound bridge and the weather was stormy. My mother did not let me know she was worried. After the train started moving, the conductor came through and told the passengers there was a piece of temper washed up on the bridge.
Mr. R. H. Chesson was agent/operator at Mackeys and many days I would be in the agent's office and hear the Arlington Time Signal come on the telegraph at 12:00 noon. Mr. Chesson would always pull out his pocket watch and check his time.
On July 5, 1957 just after midnight, a portion of the bridge north of the big draw collapsed under the locomotives of the northbound freight. The engineer and conductor lost their lives, a very sad event. In 1960, Hurricane Donna destroyed a major portion of the bridge. The bridge was rebuilt and trains had to be rerouted over the Atlantic Coast Line, getting back on the Norfolk Southern track in Plymouth. When I was small the two night freights hit head on in Plymouth. I went to Plymouth on Sunday afternoon with my mother and dad to watch them picking up the wreckage. A 600 and 500 were involved. When the railroad received the 600s, I thought they must be the largest and prettiest steam locomotives that existed. A relative of mine took me to Suffolk VA in his truck to pick up a new Benthall peanut picker. He parked his truck close to a Norfolk & Western passenger station while he attended to some buiness. He told me to stay in the truck while he was gone, and I got a chance to see one of large steam locomotives of the N&W. It didn't take long for me to learn that I was mistaken about the 600s being the largest. It was a real treat when one of the crews let me ride a few yards on one of those engines.
The Baldwin diesels came and then the EMDs. They didn't quite come up to the steam locomotives to me, but it was railroading just the same, which I have always loved. The type of job I had with Weyerhaeuser Co. gave me the opportunity to know many of the train crew and station personnel of both the Norfolk Southern and Atlantic Coast Line (later Seaboard Coast Line). By knowing the crew members, I had the opportunity to have all three of our sons ride on the switch engines. I expect I hto as much thrill out of it as the boys did.
It was a sad time when the later Norfolk Southern decided to abandon the Albemarle Sound bridge, and then in 2003 abandoned the track from Mackeys to Plymouth. Just a sign of the times all over the country. The Norfolk Southern certainly was not a large railroad, but it has provided me with many hours of pleasure. I once heard Mr. W.C> Jones, who was station agent in Plymouth, say the Norfolk Southern Railroad wasn't as long as most railroads, but it was just as wide, and so it was.
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