amazes me that more of my enthusiasm for railroading does not rub off on others
like it did on me. I can remember nights as an adult staying up till the crack
of dawn working on an HO layout that consumed my entire den. Several guys I knew
at that time had layouts on a grand scale and it was a joy to watch their slow
and methodical progress. With each move I made with my family, the new layout
would change a bit, or I would try a different scale. I guess I always had a
rail project going on in my head.
I was named after an agent for the
Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis in Memphis, Tennessee.He would ride the
line between Nashville and Memphis looking for new freight sources. It was
reported that he chased a would-be train robber away with his pistol sometime in
the early 1900's.
My dad made twin beds for my brother and I (me?) as youngsters that had a
loop of Lionel O27 track on a board that slid under one of the beds. It was
wonderful! For the next fifteen years I made buildings, cut in switches, and
eventually had a larger table built, by a local carpenter. Too bad I had not
mentioned the project to my mother. She was a bit upset when the carpenter
presented her with a bill for a couple of hundred dollars!
Christmas and birthdays consisted of presents in the form of engines and cars
for the Lionel. I had one uncle who had a large layout in a room upstairs in his
house. I was never allowed to actually enter the room, but was able to stand in
a chair at the door and gaze.
All this time I was learning about electrical circuits. Little did I know
that the knowledge learned was to be the foundation for a business I started in
the 80's. Installation and repair of lawn irrigation systems and later, low
voltage outdoor lighting systems.
We lived in Bruceton, Tennessee as a youngster. Bruceton was a division point
for the old N,C, & St. L, later the L & N. I spent a few summers staying with
one lady whose husband was an engineer on an old steam switcher. She would take
me to the yard around lunchtime with his lunch pail and they would swing me up
on the engine and I would ride while he ate and worked. That was the last days
of steam in that area, sometime in 1953 and 1954. There still exists an old
three stall engine house at the yard that the locals are trying to keep up as
best they can. I haven't been by in a couple of years. I hope it is still there.
From Bruceton , we moved to Newbern, Tennessee, where my dad was a school
principal and later superintendent of school for Dyer County. Little did I know
my rail experiences would be heightened with the presence of the Illinois
Central mainline and its heavy traffic in the 60's and 70's. The City of New
Orleans made its presence known at 70 miles per hour in the area and every night
I could hear the sounds and rhythms coming from the track, a mile away. We would
ride the local to Dyersburg to visit relatives for a dime and sometimes make
trips to Nashville and Memphis. My summer excursions were rated on how far the
relative I was visiting lived from a model train shop. In Memphis, the Lionel
shop on Highland Ave. was the best! My aunt lived right across the street so I
was there a lot.
It was about the age 10 that I was introduced to riding gauge trains. The
Memphis Zoo had an oval of track and a big F7. The lions and tigers were good
but the train was best. Another train was in Tiptonville, Tennessee at the
Civitan Park beside Reelfoot Lake. The area around the 110,000 acre lake was
prime cotton country and every time I ever went there would be a small group of
farmers working on the track and engine. I guess it was their way of giving back
to a poor farming community. It made a huge impression on me in the years to
come to see the same guys running the train and how their weekends for all these
years consisted of generating ear to ear smiles from the kids and adults alike.
My college and young adult years were spent railfanning (?) and exploring
trackside. One fascination I had was for tunnels. West Tennessee is pretty flat
so when I moved to Nashville a whole new world was presented. The old L&N
descends the Cumberland Plateau north of Nashville with a flurry thru the Twin
Tunnels at South Tunnel, Tennessee. My great-great grandfather served two stints
with Nathan Bedford Forrest in the Bells Rangers and Forked Deer Rangers during
the Civil War. These were the same tunnels Forrest burned out on a regular
basis. They would commandeer boxcars north of the tunnels, set them on fire,
roll them into the tunnels and run! Their efforts to slow Grant from Nashville
were effective but little more than a nuisance to chief engineer Mike Fink of
the L&N, who would have the route back open in no time.
Visiting the site would revel a 50 yard hole in the ground 75 feet deep where
one tunnel ends and another begins. It was fun, but dangerous to sit above the
exit of the north tunnel while a southbound train pushed air out of the tunnel
into this area before it entered the other tunnel, all at 60 to 70 miles per
hour. On one visit, our curiosity got the best of us and we decided to walk thru
the south tunnel. Bad plan! Midway thru you lose sight of light at either end,
and are faced with the decision to jump into 3 feet of stagnant water on either
side of the tracks at the slightest hint of a vibration singing from the rail.
Luckily, we made it out the other end only to be faced with the decision to go
back thru the tunnel or climb a formidable mountain to get back to the car. We
After college I spent years experimenting with HO and N gauge layouts. On a
tour of layouts one year I met a gentleman from Columbia, Tennessee, who invited
me to visit his HO layout. While there, he took me to a 7 1/2" gauge track
belonging to the Mid-South Live Steamers. I was hooked! It took me twenty five
years after that to get started, but I got started. I have 400 feet of track
down, one twelve foot bridge finished and am approaching my first switch that I
will attempt to build. Man, ain't life grand!
Written by Craig Pendergrast