People still push for return of passenger trains

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, March 17, 2010

By By Lowell McGill
Allan Thomas, a well-informed advocate for restoring passenger rail service to our area, took his campaign to New Orleans last week.
Speaking before the New Orleans city council he formally urged the Louisiana congressional delegation to work for funding the restoration of passenger service east of New Orleans. He says New Orleans plays a key role in getting this service back into operation.
Thomas said delegations from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida should urge Amtrak’s Government Affairs “to interface with state and local governments and MPOs to identify D.O.T and new Federal Transit Administrations Livable and Sustainable Grants that are applicable. The station stops, including Atmore, along the route need not support the entire financial burden for station repair as applied in Amtrak’s Gulf Coast Service Plan,” he said.
Let’s hope the efforts by Thomas will help bring rail passenger back to our part of the country. It has been an uphill battle for the rail company since Hurricane Katrina roared through here, particularly, west of Alabama. Damage to rail tracks and beds was tremendous.
Before Amtrak came on the scene Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company (L&N) served our area with “the Hummingbird,” the first real modern passenger train with rail travel to states east of New Orleans.
This popular train had its beginning in 1946 when L&N inaugurated it as an all-coach “streamline operation between New Orleans and Cincinnati,” according to the Hummingbird Web site. In later years the silver and blue colored train began routes through southern Alabama and other southern states. But interest in passenger rail travel subsided and the train was finally discontinued in 1969.
One contemporary passenger train carrying Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Johnson, made a stop here during a campaign trek to let her cousin aboard and continue onto Mobile. Her cousin was the first wife of Dr. Jim Thomas.
Speaking of trains, and taking a look at some news from 1970, the old L&N Depot was dismantled to make way for parking near the city hall. After Amtrak came on the scene, Atmore erected a modern mini depot, which is still standing today.
In Amtrak’s “heydays” the Geyman boys would broadcast from that site chatting with passengers as they waited to board the train. Radio listeners were always treated to interesting conversations with passengers as they spoke to Dale, Jerry and David Gaymen.
Another interesting story from 1970 was the celebration of Will Adams 120th birthday. Born in 1850, Mr. Adams was entertained by hundreds including Mayor Tom Byrne who presented him with a plaque recognizing him as one of the oldest living residents in the USA. The kind gentleman told of his working days with W.T. Smith Lumber Company, Swift-Hunter Lumber Company and Carney Mill Company.
In other 1970 news, three local cotton ginning companies announced the names of farmers who brought in “first bales of cotton” that year.
A.D. Sanders of Bratt grew his first bale for Atmore Milling and Elevator Company. Claude Peacock produced the first bale for Atmore Truckers and Mrs. J.R. Crowley and her farm manager Johnny Dread furnish the initial bale for Frank Currie Gin.
Betty Kemp Farrar of Canoe was selected Miss 1970 Escambia Maid of cotton.
Ernest Ward High School head football coach Joe Latham was elected spokesman for north Florida District 1 coaches association. He joined other state-wide coaches in suggesting and voting on rules for Florida’s high school varsity football teams.
Atmore’s Little League Major League coaches and managers included: Bank of Atmore- Gene Akins and Bobby Middleton; Lions Club-Roger Dixon and Bill McMurray; First National Bank-Tom Bradberry and M.L. Ledkins; Rotary club-William Gorum and Maxwell Haley-Wesley Long and Mickey Kemmer.
And, finally, we are not getting that Air Force Tanker contract, just like I predicted last year.
Northup Grumman has decided to withhold a bid because it is obvious “the deck is stacked” against them.
The Chicago Connection, Air Force Secretary Robert Gates and a long list of politicians, including Senator John McCain, came to the decision that a split contract between NG and Boeing was not feasible.
The irony in all this maneuvering is that the late Congressman John Murtha, a liberal, was fighting for our getting that contract. His untimely death in February ended his efforts.
McCain, the unsuccessful presidential candidate, was quoted by Government exec. com saying the bidding process was legitimate. Those are strange words from him because in the past he has been one of Boeing’s toughest critics.
What’s that old saying? Politics has strange bedfellows.
More next week.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at

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