One of my earliest personal memories is a visit to my grandparents’ house in Bevier, Missouri. My grandfather, William Thomas Vaughn, was pastor of the Baptist Church there. My family had traveled by a Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad steam powered passenger train, from to Bevier. The tracks were on the same roadbed as the predecessor Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad, part of the original Pony Express route.
Bevier, at the time was a bustling coal town, with active coal mines all around the area. I loved hearing the big steam engines pulling the heavy coal trains from the mines through town. This visit to Bevier must have taken place in the spring, because I remember my grandmother, Beulah, had just dug up some roots to make fresh sassafras tea for us. Sassafras tea, served steaming hot in a china cup with a touch of real cream was a special event the entire family enjoyed.
I can remember several times we would hear a train approaching, and I would run to the sidewalk along the street, to gaze the few blocks toward the railroad tracks to catch a glimpse of the engines chuffing through the intersection. I always enjoyed the noise and drama of the “working” end of the train, and admired the men in the cab of the locomotive who made the train “go.”
The original operator of the Bevier & Southern Railroad was the Kansas & Texas Coal Railway, which was reorganized in May 5, 1898 as the Missouri & Louisiana Railroad. The Missouri & Louisiana divided on September 26, 1914 with the northern portion adopting the name Bevier & Southern, with the slogan “Have Train Will Haul.” During 1915 the company operated 63 miles of track in bringing coal from the many mines along its route to the CB&Q siding in Bevier for shipment to markets all over the Midwest.
Headquartered in Bevier, the railroad had its general offices located near the roundhouse, which sat just below the CB&Q siding. Records indicate that B&S employed over 40 employees at one point with an annual pay roll amounting to $135,000. The railroad was very important to the coal mines all along the line, and it was a primary transportation link for many of the residents of the communities that sprung up around the mines.
Miners would gather at the Bevier roundhouse each morning to catch the 4AM passenger train and ride to work. School children would then ride the return train to Bevier so they could go to school. After school the children would walk down to the train station and wait for the train home. The return trip brought miners home from their day’s work.
The passenger train usually consisted of seven miners’ coaches and coach number 204 for other passengers and the mail. Many people relied on the B&S not only for transportation, but also for jobs and to ship coal out that was mined in the Bevier area. The passenger service was discontinued in 1926 after post offices at Ardmore and Keota closed, and the postal contract was cancelled.
In 1943 it was necessary to construct additional tracks to serve new pits at Southern mines, and the railroad tried electric locomotives to reduce the cost of operation. The experiment lasted only two years, however, due to the severe grade between Ardmore and the Southern mines. Frequent burnouts of traction motors proved the locomotives were ill suited for the task, and the electric operation was discontinued.
Over time, as mines depleted their veins of coal and the operations were closed, the railroad was forced to abandon unused sections of track until it finally reached its final length in 1961 of 9.18 miles, from the CB&Q (now Burlington Northern) siding, adjacent to their yards in Bevier, to Binkley where the last working mine was located.
The B&S went out of business in 1982 after seventy years of operation. Their general offices were moved into coach #204, parked on a siding behind the roundhouse. One of their locomotives, #109, a Brooks 2-6-0 that was originally Illinois Central Railroad #560 is now on display at the Illinois Railway Museum. Another of their engines, Baldwin 2-6-0 #112, is on display at the post office in downtown Bevier.
According to Wikipedia, the free Internet encyclopedia, the railroad was reopened in the late 1990s under the ownership of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad, now known as BNSF Railway so it could serve a large coal-fired power plant at the Thomas Hill Reservoir. The new line is approximately 25 miles long and is still in use today.
I was fortunate to make a couple of motor car trips on the abandoned railroad in the mid-1980s, once while the roundhouse was still fully equipped with its steam powered tool shop, and then again after the equipment was sold to Steamtown Museum . On the first trip the owner arranged to have some of the former employees meet us at the roundhouse to show us around the property, and they later agreed to ride down the line with us in the motorcars.
We had a splendid fall day on that first trip, and we enjoyed the former B&S employees as we ran the two motor cars down the line, listening to their stories about past operations on the line. I made tape recordings of several of the conversations as we toured the grounds and roundhouse, and we also acquired a large number of 35mm photos of the equipment, buildings, roundhouse and scenery. It was a delightful experience, and a day I will always fondly remember.
The roundhouse was subsequently moved to Steamtown Historic Site Pennsylvania as a fine example of a steam operated repair and maintenance facility from the steam era. It is difficult to imagine the complex web of massive drive belts that operated each of the gigantic drills, saws, and presses, but if you should have the chance to visit Steamtown this is one exhibit you won’t want to miss.