Thursday, July 5, 2012

Oil Belt Railroad - Part One

In the 1990s the Lawrence County Genealogical Society published a newsletter. The following article is from the October 1995 publication; the author was not identified.

“The Oil Belt Traction Company was a railroad that ran from Oblong, Illinois to Bridgeport, Illinois by way of Oil City, Hardinsville, Cranston, Rodrick’s Corner, Applegate and Petrolia. A group of individuals formed the company to start construction of the railroad in 1909, after the oil boom had been going on a few years. The original directors were from Bridgeport, Mt Carmel, Moriah, and Oblong. They were going to haul supplies and workers between the two. This first spade full of dirt was turned on July 23, 1909, and the first train arrived in Bridgeport on September 13, 1913. The Bridgeport leader ran an article stating that it would be a convenient method of traveling to and from school, but most days pupils would be late, as the train was really on time. It was a narrow gauge line, so was therefore unable to transfer trains, or cars from the tracks at Bridgeport or Oblong to the other tracks already there. They also neglected to construct a turnaround on either end, so the train would come to Bridgeport, and then back all the way to Oblong. They owned one engine, one passenger car, six boxcars, six cars, and one caboose. Thomas E. Walsh said that the people called it a Tri-Weekly. It would come to Bridgeport on Monday, and try all week to get back to Oblong. It rarely made the trip either way without derailing. It was also called the “Pumpkin Vine” Railroad because of the crooked tracks.
The train ran on the track as it was completed, hauling oil field supplies, as well as hay and grain for the farmers along the tracks. Before the track was completed, the train increased the trade in Oblong, since the farmers in Martin and Southwest townships in Crawford County could ride the train to Oblong to do their shopping. The Company’s finances were depleted when the segment between Oblong and Hardinsville was completed. They arranged for the Mississippi Valley Trust Company to finance the railroad from Hardinsville to Bridgeport. There were never but  two depots selling tickets to ride on the train. Any other stops were supposed to be prepaid, although it was a common practice for anyone wanting to ride to jump on as it went past. The speed was never very fast, 20 miles per hour, at most.
All of the timber with the railroad was sawed under the Baker – Paddick sawmill located in the Embarras River bottoms, just east of Cranston. They were instructed to only use poor quality timber, since it was cheaper. The ties were also spaced too far apart, leading the tracks become un-level. This was part of the reason for all of the derailing. The rails installed were also bought used. It would seem that some of the people involved in the formation of the company didn't intend it to be successful. It was rumored at one time that some of the early partners took part of the money for development and left the honest partners holding the bag, but that was never proven.
(To be continued Wednesday April 25)