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Following Louisiana's & Mississippi's Historic Railroads

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Mississippi River Rail Ferries

Most of my "tracking the tracks" rides have been like this. I'd go out on a ride and see a bunch of dashes on my GPS that symbolize rail right of ways. I'd follow them and then find out what I was following. Slowly, I reversed that approach and researched what I was after, before the ride. The transition can be seen in the Torras Adventures. The last one was planned to the "T" and only needed carrying out to put the icing on the cake. I think this next one will be done that way. It will be a long hard ride to find one place, explore it if I can, and ride a long harder ride home.

What wasn't hard was getting the background on the subject of this next adventure, the Vidalia to Natchez train ferry, Mississippi River crossing. Sounds awesome, no? Here's the way it went. VH asked if I'd like to look at a couple of articles he had on the old Mississippi train ferries. I told him, "Why, sure". He cut them up the best he could and emailed them. I was so excited seeing these amazing shots I promised myself I'd post them for you.

If you don't know the river at Natchez, the picture above is not adequate.
The "Old Man" is sleeping in this one. Awakened, he can rock and roll.

First, this is where I want to be in Natchez.

I've done a little enhancement to VH's lines to further clarify the pictures.
Above, is the S.S. James Y. Lockwood and the Baysinger II, the train barge, ready to unload tank cars filled with Texas oil bound for Mobile via the Natchez Route. Ferry service at Natchez continued until 1982, though the steam powered stern wheeler gave way to a diesel towboat in 1961.

He then gave a little historical background on which railroads did what getting the trains to this momentous point, at least from the Louisiana side. Here the same railroad comes into play that crossed down at Naples and Torras Landing, though the Louisiana & Arakansas did not do the ferrying here. I'll have to reread Fair's book to get the exact association with this crossing, that later. To make it all juicier, the Texas and Pacific had a line that came from Torras to Vidalia. What connection did it have to the Natchez crossing? Here's VH's explanation which will take the trains from Big D to the Vidalia shore line.

The Natchez Route began at Dallas, Texas. The trains of the Louisiana & Arkansas RR carried the freight cars to Shreveport, La. That route was actually over the tracks of a subsidiary called the Louisiana, Arkansas & Texas. From Shreveport, The Louisiana and Arkansas trains, officially listed in the timetables as “Texas Fast Freights”, carried the tonnage to the banks of the Mississippi River at Vidalia, La.

At Vidalia, the steam tugs and transfer barges of the Natchez & Louisiana Transfer Co. (a subsidiary of the Missouri Pacific) ferried the cars across the river and handed them over to another MP family member, the Natchez & Southern Ry. The N&S carried the cars from the river’s edge up a 4 percent grade and two switchbacks to the top of the bluffs and its connection with the Natchez Route’s easternmost partner, the Mississippi Central.

The N< Co. and the N&S Ry. built the Natchez tracks and loading dock in 1900. For most of the Natchez Route years, the stern wheel towboat James Y. Lockwood pushed a nine-car capacity barge named Baysinger II. The operation was modernized in 1961, with a new diesel towboat, the Natchez, and in 1962 a higher capacity barge was purchased. These served until ferry service was discontinued in 1982.

The article mentioning the Natchez crossing had a stack of pictures of other ferries. I won't be adding much since I must save my dainty pinkies for for typing up the Natchez Ride Report which will be arduous. Let these psych up your imagination in preparation for that adventure.

This is the Pelican at Helena, AR. The other article he sent is solely about this boat and I might show more of it later. Here are a bunch of miscellaneous pictures.

The Ste.Genevieve 2 being loaded, Genevieve, Missouri. The original sank in 1918.

I'll have to show you a couple of cool pictures taken from the Pelican. Here is an engineer doing his job.

And a couple of guys bolting the thing together.

The Pelican being unloaded at Helena, 1958.

Train coming off Pelican at Helena, AR.


This one, above, is very interesting to me since I've been to Anchorage,La. Anchorage was the west side terminal for the Baton Rouge to Anchorage ferry. This is the Missouri Pacific ferry, George H.Walker. It steamed freight and passenger cars across the Mississippi until September 2, 1947, 7 year after the Huey P.Long train bridge had been opened. The crossing was one and one quarter miles across.

This is a "Russian" Decapod No.941 of the Missouri Pacific subsidiary, New Orleans, Texas, and Mexico, taking cars off the Walker at Baton Rouge, having arrived from Anchorage.

Below is a ferry bringing a Missouri Pacific train to Baton Rouge in 1907. Notice, the whole passenger train is on board.

I understand there were seven ferry operations along the Mississippi in Louisiana. The Vicksburg bridge was the first to replace a ferry across the Mississippi to Louisiana. The Huey P. Long in New Orleans was the second. When the Baton Rouge bridge opened in 1940, the Louisiana and Arkansas abandoned its ferry, but the Missouri Pacific continued using Anchorage until 1947. The last ferry operation to Louisiana was at Natchez, where I'm going. I'll show you what I found when I get back.

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