Interviewee: Frank Erwin with Ouida Claire Erwin
Interviewer: Patricia Smith Garretson
Date: February 10, 1991
Mr. Frank Erwin is a near life-long resident of High Springs, Florida. In this
interview he talks of his childhood, his work for the Atlantic Coastline Railroad, and his
involvement in the community as an adult.
Mr. Erwin was born in Lake City, Florida, July 4, 1914; he moved to High Springs
the following year. His recollections of childhood include his father's livestock trading
business and a great flu epidemic in 1918 in which many of the town's residents were
killed. In 1940, Mr. Erwin married Ouida Claire Willets. They later had two children.
After working several jobs, including a stint with the Civilian Conservation Corps,
Mr. Erwin was hired in 1937 by the Atlantic Coastline Railroad (ACL) for a temporary job
that was to last two months. Thirty-seven and one-half years later he retired from the
ACL. Much of the interview concentrates on his work with the railroad. At first
employed cleaning cars, Mr. Erwin later becomes a yard clerk. He discusses the type
goods that were transported by rail and the methods of shipping them, passenger and
freight service in north Florida, and some of the mishaps and adventures he
experienced during his long tenure with the ACL. Mr. Erwin also discusses the
changes that occurred with the railroad during the switch from steam to diesel power.
Mr. Erwin was also very involved in the community life of High Springs. He is
president of the Retired Railroad Workers Association, a Free Mason, and an elder in
the High Spring Presbyterian Church.
G: I am taping Mr. Frank Erwin, president of the Retired Railroad Workers and a
long-time resident of High Springs, Florida. I am in his home at 715 N.W. 3d
Avenue, High Springs. It is Sunday afternoon, February 10, 1991. I am Patricia
Jane Smith Garretson.
Frank, would you give us your full name?
FE: Well, they did not think enough of me to give me a middle name, so it is just
G: When and where were you born?
FE: [I was] born in Lake City [Florida], July 4, 1914. I moved to High Springs
sometime in May of 1915.
G: And your parents, are they also from north Florida?
FE: No. My dad was born and raised in Towns County, Georgia. My mother [was
born] across the line in North Carolina next to Hayesville. My daddy grew up
around Hiawassee and Young Harris, Georgia, which is north Georgia and next
to the North Carolina line.
G: Do you know how they came to move to Lake City?
FE: Well, my dad and my granddad drew a circle on a map and dotted in the middle
of it, and they wound up coming to Jasper and from Jasper to Lake City in, it
must have been, 1899 or the first of 1900. My dad, when he started to come to
Florida, why, he drove a part of a load of livestock across the mountain by
himself with the help of a shepherd dog. He had shoes made designed those
shoes and had them made by a shoemaker up there in the mountains. They
laced up on that dog's feet and had a hard sole on them to where his feet would
not get cut on the rocks coming across the mountain. And that was the only
help he had with that part load of livestock coming across the mountain into
G: He had his hands full.
FE: Then, of course, he bought other stock and shipped two or three carloads into
G: What are your earliest recollections of Lake City and High Spring?
FE: Not [any of] Lake City because I was too young when I left Lake City. [But] my
earliest recollections of High Springs was [when] we lived in a two-story house
out next to the Poe Springs Road [County Road 340]. It was Poe Springs Road
at that time. [The house was called] the Old Newberry House. It had a big,
wide porch; I remember that. We moved from there to out on North Main Street
in 1917. We lived there up until 1949, and that is where I grew up in High
G: Do you have any recollections of that home that stick out in your mind--things
FE: Of that home? All kinds of recollections.
G: Where were you going to school at that time?
FE: I was going to school up where the abandoned school ground is. There was one
building there at that time that was built in 1917 when I started to school. It was
built in 1917, and I started school in 1920 there. It was just the one building and
had first through twelfth grade in the one building. We would go home for lunch.
There was no cafeteria even thought of at that time around here, and we would
go home to lunch or take a lunch according to how far you lived from the school.
The house was five blocks from the main part of town.
G: Did you have a good time in school?
FE: Oh, yes!
G: You had to walk back and forth to school?
FE: Oh, sure! It was just three or four blocks from the house to school. In the
afternoons, of course, when I could, I would go down there to where my dad had
his mule barn and all. He sold horses and mules, and I would go down there
and stay anytime I could. Of course on Saturday I was down there about all of
G: What was your dad's full name?
FE: William Robert. Everybody called him "Bill."
G: Bill Erwin.
FE: He was six-feet-three inches tall in his sock feet. He was quite a livestock man.
I know during World War I, he went to Atlanta and stayed up there about six
weeks during that time. He would go there to buy livestock. And during this
particular time, why, he stayed up there six weeks, bought mules, and turned
around a sold them without putting his hand on them and made seven dollars
and a half a head off of them. [He] sold them to Owens Brothers. Owens
Brothers had a contract to furnish mules for the government, and they were
shipped overseas to use during the war. They would measure these mules as
to height, collar size, and all my dad did was to look at them. He did not
measure the first one, and out of the time he was up there, he had three mules
that they turned down and they are measuring them and him just looking at
them. So he was a pretty good judge of livestock. He had to be to do that!
G: I will say!
FE: About the next year after that he shipped in several carloads in to here by rail.
They unloaded them around at the stock pen, and he had drove them across the
closest way to get back up to the barn. He got over there on a dirt road, and Dr.
Tyre had a Ford automobile a Model T Ford and he was going down this
back road. About the time that bunch of stock got over on that road, along he
came with his automobile. Those horses and mules scattered, and some of
them went about fifteen miles. One horse, in particular, was gone a year and a
half before he ever got him back. But he got all of them back even though they
scattered over part of what is two counties now. It was all Alachua County at
that time, but at the present time part of it is Gilchrist County.
G: Yes. They halved Alachua county, and the western half became Gilchrist.
FE: Well, it was about a third of it. That was back before there was a Gilchrist
County. That was not until 1925, I believe.
G: Who was Dr. Tyre?
FE: He was a medical doctor that was here in High Springs for years.
G: Do you remember his first name?
FE: Chambers C. M. Tyre. During the flu epidemic of 1918 my mother had several
milk cows. She always was going to have a milk cow where she could have all
the milk and butter that she wanted to do with as she pleased. Well, people
knew that she had these cows and all. And during the flu epidemic, why, they
recommended that [if] anybody could get a hold of buttermilk to drink, that it was
good for them [and] that it was something they could keep on their stomach.
Because it being buttermilk with the lactic acid in it, [it] was good for that and
would help [them] get over that flu get them to where they could eat something.
So people would come there, and they would beg her for a cup of buttermilk.
Well, when she found out that Dr. Tyre had the flu, she would send my brother -
he was about ten years old at that time with a quart of buttermilk to Dr. Tyre's
house every morning as long as he was in the bed with the flu. He got that quart
of buttermilk regardless of whether anybody else got any or not. When he got
over the flu and got able to go back to work, he passed our house going out
towards Traxler. My mother heard him when he was coming back, and in the
meantime I had [caught] the flu and was in bed. Well, she got out there and
flagged Dr. Tyre down, and he came in and looked at me and prescribed some
medication. I was real sick with that flu.
G: You were four at that time?
FE: Yes. But after he prescribed that, whatever it was, and I started taking that, I
came out of it in three day's time after that. It was all due to him, but my mother
got out and flagged him down as he came past her. She heard the car. You
could hear a car a good ways off, and she heard that car and got out and
stopped him as he was going back to town.
G: Did many people in town catch the flu?
FE: Oh, goodness! They died like flies. We had another doctor here at the time,
Dr. Hodges. He and his wife and a daughter all three died with the flu right
within a week's time. But the funny thing [was that] my mother never did have
the flu. Or my brother. Neither one of them had it. The rest of us did.
My dad, he had the flu, and we had I do not know a foreign doctor come in
here. The government sent him in here because we were without a doctor after
Dr. Hodges died. Dr. Tyre was here, but he was down with the flu, and the
government sent a doctor into this town. He was a foreigner, and he came out
there and gave my dad something. I do not know what it was, but he would
perspire, and they would have to change the bed clothes three times a night.
He just perspired so. Whatever it was that doctor gave him [caused it].
Anyway, they wanted to get him for me, and I said, "No. If I cannot have Dr.
Tyre, I do not want a doctor." So my dad, then, finally started getting better.
That doctor changed his medicine, and he started getting better. He had about
fifty or sixty head of horses and mules in a barn downtown and nobody to look
after them but this colored man and my ten-year-old brother.
G: What was your brother's name?
FE: Ralph. My dad went to town. He should not have gone out because it was
cold. He went to town and was not going to do anything but go up there and
stay two hours and just see about how the stock was and all. He got down
there, and people came in and started trading and all, and he stayed there all
day. It started raining, and he still stayed up there at the barn trading and all.
He came back home, and he had a relapse of the flu. Then about two years
later, why, tuberculosis showed up, [and that was] all caused from that flu. We
felt sure it was. He lived seven years after he found out he had tuberculosis.
G: This was your father?
FE: Yes. He belonged to the Woodmen of the World, and they had a hospital at that
time in San Antonio, Texas. He went out there and stayed three months in that
hospital. They taught him how to protect us, more of less, from the danger of
catching tuberculosis and all, to look after himself a whole lot, and it did a lot of
good. I am sure it prolonged his life. But if they had had the drugs and all that
they have today, why, it would have been cured in no time.
G: So you spent your growing-up years your grade school years in the 1920s
here in High Springs? I understand this was a rough-and-tumble town in the
FE: Aw, it was not as rough as people say.
G: What do you remember from the 1920s growing up?
FE: Well, all the wild stuff that went on here in the teens was over, and it was more or
less calm, cool, and collected to what it had been or [to] things I had heard.
There was an elderly man here that told me a lot about early High Springs and all
a man by the name of G. Hugh Underwood. He was Draper and them's great
G: Draper Underwood?
FE: Yes, his great uncle. He told me a lot about early High Springs history and all.
He lived out toward Underwood Hill. Not at the top of the hill but about midway
[up] the hill. And he told me about shooting deer in his front yard. He would
walk to town, and he would bring his gun with him, of course. On the way to
town he would kill a deer and carry it on his shoulder up to his brother's house,
which was there on 2d Avenue. He would bring it there and dress it there when
he got there to their house. He would field dress it, of course, in the woods and
finish skinning it there at his brother's house. [He would] give it to the neighbors.
He knew a lot of High Springs history and all. I would have liked to have had a
tape recorder and recorded some of his tales that he could tell about High
Springs and all. He was quite a man. He was a carpenter the same as his
brother was. They built a lot of houses around High Springs and all around the
community at that time.
G: Was your first job with the railroad? And how old were you?
FE: Oh, I did not go with the railroad until 1937. Before that, when I finished eighth
grade here, we move to a farm out from Lake City in 1929. We moved to
granddad's farm out from Lake City in 1929. I went to school in Lake City for
one year rode the school bus and all. I went to school there for one year.
Then in the summer of 1930 in August I had to have my appendix [taken] out.
At that time when they put you in the hospital to have your appendix [taken] out,
why, they kept you flat of your back for two weeks in the hospital. I know one
time there it was drizzling rain and had gotten cool in the room. I wanted to pull
the sheet up. Well, I reached down with my foot [and] pulled that sheet up The
nurse came in a saw me using my foot like that to get that sheet up, and she
fussed at me. [She] said: "You know you are not supposed to move like that!
You have just had your appendix out, and you are not supposed to move like
that." I said, "Yes, but I was cool, and I wanted the sheet up." She said: "You
have got a bell there. Ring the bell!" And I said, "Well, I could do that myself,
and I did!" They did not want you to move or do anything. So there is quite a
change from then to now.
G: It is different now. They get you up and get you walking around right away, do
FE: I have a scar that is, oh, at least five inches long.
FE: Yes! And now [when they do the same operation], it is a half of an inch long.
That is the difference.
They had a little boy in the ward there. I was in a ward there in the hospital in
Lake City. This boy was from up at White Springs, and a rattlesnake had bitten
him on the left arm just right at the wrist. All the flesh came off in a place about
three inches long on that little boy's arm. So they tried skin grafting. They tried
to graft flesh on there, and as quick as they would cut it off from wherever they
tried to graft it, why, it would die on account of that snake-bite poison.
So Dr. R. B. Harkness had gone off to a seminar, and he knew about this boy
when he left to go there. He talked to some doctors about what to try to do.
They told him to cut some flesh off of that boy's stomach, to not cut it off at both
ends -just cut it and slice it back about two inches wide and to sew it down.
[They told him to] use big buttons to pull that flesh back over that arm and fix his
arm to where he could not move it. The thing went ahead and grafted and
stayed alive that time because they left it attached [to its original location] at the
bottom. And that is the way they got him fixed up with that snake bite and got
flesh skin and all to go on there.
G: So when did you move back to High Springs from Lake City?
FE: [I] moved back to High Springs in 1935.
G: So you lived some time up in Lake City?
FE: For six years.
G: Is that where you met Claire, your wife?
FE: No, no, no! That was after that I met her. We moved back here in 1935. We
moved back the first of the year of 1935, and then August 15, 1935, I went in the
C.C.C. [Civilian Conservation Corps] camp and went to Louisiana. [I] went out
to Alexander, Louisiana, and stayed there for almost a year and a half. [I] came
back home then in October of 1936. I worked in a Suwannee store for a while,
then worked some at the peanut mill, and in May of 1937 I went to work for the
Atlantic Coastline Railroad [ACL]. [I] went down there to work two months and
stayed there for thirty-seven and a half years. It took a long time to make two
months to stay that long.
Then on October 11, 1940, I went to the picture show that night. After the show
was over, I went to the bowling alley. [That was] the only time I had been in the
bowling alley. They had a bowling alley across from the theater at that time. [I]
went in that bowling alley just to see who all was in there, and I saw two young
ladies sitting in the bowling alley. A younger girl was bowling, but these two
were sitting. When I started out, why, this Pierce Anderson said, "Go in there
and tell those girls that we will take them home." I said, "Pierce, I do not know
them." And I would not go! He went there and called to them, so we carried
They lived in Fort White. They were teachers there, so we carried them home.
That is how I met Claire. Then we started going together, and on the eleventh of
November, I asked her to marry me. [I had] known her a month to the day.
She said yes, and I was surprised. I said, "Do you mean it?" I did not know
whether she meant it or not, but I guess she did. [laughter]
G: What is Claire's middle and maiden name?
G: That is her maiden name?
G: And her middle name?
CE: My first name is Ouida [pronounced Weeda].
G: I work with a Ouida.
FE: You do not use it though.
G: So Claire is your middle name?
CE: Actually, yes.
FE: Really. But she has used it all the time and not the other. Well, we went
together until the end of school. We had already made our plans about getting
married and all. We were going to get married what, the next September?
FE: August? Well, then we moved it up and moved it up again and moved it again.
Then we decided on the thirty-first of May. She went to Homestead where her
mother was living at that time. I went down there on the train to Miami and went
on to Homestead. We got married and came back. We have been in this area
ever since then.
G: So when you got back you were working for the railroad?
FE: Oh, yes! I had been working for the railroad. I was working for the railroad
when I met her. Yes, we came back on [the] train all the way, did we not?
CE: We spent the night in Jacksonville.
FE: Yes, and then got a bus down here.
G: When you first started working for the railroad, did they still have steam
locomotives that they were servicing?
FE: Oh, yes. They had them up until on up in the 1950s.
G: So for a while you had both diesel and steam?
G: Or was it exclusively steam locomotives?
FE: When I started, it was all steam. They had the coal chute; they had everything
that was all for steam at that time.
CE: And the shops were all geared for steam?
FE: Yes. The shops were all running a big operation and all. Well, when I first
started, why, they were shipping livestock by rail. Horses and mules were
coming into Gainesville, dairy cows were moving through here going to Tampa
and south Florida, and fruit and vegetables [were] going north in refrigerator cars
and all. We would have train loads of bananas come through here not just car
loads but a full train of banana cars. [There would] be anywhere from seventy to
eighty cars of bananas.
Years ago they used to have a man traveling with those banana cars. He would
go through and look at them to see if they were ripening how they were
ripening and all. The ones that were getting real ripe, why, he would sell those.
They were on the stalk, and they would sell a whole stalk of bananas for a little of
nothing to get rid of them because [otherwise] they would be too ripe when they
got to the destination. They had people that rode with them and inspected them
and all. I know a man came in here that had come in here for years with
bananas. He said that he had traveled in here since the early 1920s. [He] said
he was working banana trains then. Then they got to where they did not send
anybody with them. Everything seemed to change. They were moving faster
than they had before and all, and they did not have the time to ripen like they had
done. Everything was changing.
CE: What about the fruit growers?
FE: I am going to get to that. From the late 1930s on, for years, we would have the
fruit season. When they had the watermelons and all they would move the
watermelons [by train]. There would be ten to twelve sections of a perishable
train, which was with the engines they had then anywhere from forty to sixty
cars according to the type of engine. They would run that many sections ten
to twelve sections of the perishable train. It would be watermelons, fruit, and
vegetables that would be moving at that time.
Some of the fruit and all of the vegetables had to be moved in the refrigerator
cars. They had the icing plant for them, and they would ice those refrigerator
cars. They were heavily insulated, the cars were, and had a bunker at each end
that you put the ice in. [With] the thickness of them and the way they were
insulated, it was just like an icebox, that bunker was. They put the ice in there,
and the air would circulate inside the car because at the bottom of the bunker
was a screen about a foot and one half high that would let the air circulate in
through that car. It would be just plumb cold in there.
Then the meat cars the cars they hauled meat in well, they would put salt in
there with that ice, and that would make it that much colder in those. But it was
a different type car. It was a heavier car that they hauled the meats in. That
was usually going south, the meat cars. But those going north they would ice
them. Well, the meat cars, too, they would ice here. They would have to go
down there at night and ice a car on the train that would be going to Tampa.
Then the others, of course, most of that was in [the] daytime. The perishable
trains were mostly in daytime, and they would ice all of those here. And then
some of them they would have to re-ice in Waycross. If they were not iced here,
they would have to re-ice them in Waycross, and the clerks would have to mark
on the lists what was to be iced and all. They would get that list and go ahead
and start switching on the train before they ever got to look at the waybills. They
would go by what was on the list to see about icing them. Sometimes you would
make a mistake on one. I know I made several. One time the train master
come up here and said, "You ordered a car iced that was not supposed to be
iced in Waycross." He said, "You got anything to say about it?" I said: "Yes. If
I did it, it is done and passed, and that is all that can be said."
G: It would be better to err in that direction than it would not to ice a car! [laughter]
FE: Yes. Anyway, he said, "Do you want somebody to represent you when I ask you
all of these questions?" I said: "No way! There it is in may handwriting. What
could anybody say, or what could I say?" And he said, "Well, I do not think you
will hear anything too bad from it," which I did not, except I was a little more
G: What was your job with the ACL?
FE: When I first started down there, I had a crew that cleaned cars and did just
general everything under the agent's directions. Then in 1940 the seventeenth
of December of 1940 I transferred into the yard office as a yard clerk. They
were needing clerks and all, so I knew the yard and knew all the different kind of
cars and all, and they needed somebody to go to work right then. I was the one
that knew all of this stuff where they would have had to train somebody. I knew
it already, and they asked me if I would like to transfer. I told them yes because
it paid more money than what I was making and was a chance for a better job. I
transferred, and they said, "Now you might not work but six months out of the
year." But it turned out that one man died, one quit, and I worked the whole year
around. [I] was off about two weeks and fell right into a regular job. So I stayed
as a yard clerk all the time I was with the railroad.
G: What were the responsibilities of a yard clerk?
FE: You checked cars. You called crews called and told them what time the job
was going to go to work. You were in the yard checking cars, and you would get
back in the office and write up the switch list after you checked the cars that were
going to be put on any particular train. You got the waybills ready and gave
them to the conductor.
Some of them said something one time about my writing. They said, "We
cannot read it." I said: "Well, I am getting paid to put it down; you are getting
paid to read it. That is your problem." [laughter] You know, [if] you write in a
hurry, sometimes it would not be as plain as it should have been. They were all
the time going on about something, and that was one of the things, and that
would be my answer to them.
We would call a crew and try to get a train out an hour and a half after we called
the crew. Most of the time we would have them ready to go and all. The
engineer, he had to go get his engine. He and the fireman would go get the
engine and all, in the steam engine days, out of the shop. [They] would go on
down and put it on the train, pump up the brakes and all, and then it was up to
them. The car inspectors would have to inspect the air on it and all. Then
along towards the last they did not do all of that like they had done before. They
would inspect a train coming in, then try the brakes on it, and that was it. Then
they got to where they did not have any car inspectors at all. They would
inspect them every 500 miles, which was a big difference than what it was when I
G: They checked them much more frequently when you first started?
FE: Yes. Sure. Yes. [They] had more men working.
G: Did they do that just to save money?
FE: No, I do not think that the railroad did. They said with the newer equipment that
they could run them 500 miles without an inspection. So that is what they were
doing in later years.
G: Well, it sounds like they ran a lot of refrigerator cars and a lot of livestock cars
through the yard. Was that the predominant type of cars to come through there?
FE: Well, no. We had everything.
G: Were there passengers?
FE: When I first started, they had a passenger train from Waycross to Lakeland [that]
was in through here one each way. They had a mixed train that would go to
Burnets Lake; from Burnets Lake [it went] to Newberry; and from Newberry [it
went on to] Trenton, Cross City, [and then on] in to Perry. Sometimes Perry
would be the end of the run, and then at certain times of the year they would run
it through to Thomasville [Georgia]. It was a mixed train, they called it. That
was the three passenger trains when I started to work. Years before, they had a
Lake City short that just ran between High Springs and Lake City. Its terminal
was in Lake City. Of course, this mixed train that went to Burnets Lake, it made
connections with the passenger train at Burnets Lake one passenger train.
They had two, but it did not connect with both of them. There just was one.
G: What were your working hours? I know that the railroad yard went around the
FE: Well, we had a seven-to-three shift, a three-to-eleven, and an eleven-to-seven.
Of course, they would change. Sometimes you would go to work at three and
sometimes four. It would vary between the two. I know when we were first
married, I was going to work at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Claire was teaching,
and she would get off at 3:30, was it not?
FE: And I usually would go to the school and see her. [I would] be there about the
time she got off from school, we would have a few minutes, and then she would
take me down to work. That was when we were still living at the old place
before we moved here. We moved to this house in 1949.
Well, there is one thing that I left out [and that is] about our two kids. Our boy,
Bill, was born November 12, 1943, and our daughter, Ellen, was born December
29, 1945. Bill was born at the Whitlock Clinic, which was across from what is
now the Masonic Lodge. Ellen was born in Lake Shore Hospital in Lake City.
[The] funny thing about her [was] she was to be born at home because there was
no more Whitlock Clinic and we had a lady that was going to be with Claire at
home. Dr. Witt was going to be the doctor and it turned out that this lady's son
was going to be home, and she told us several months ahead of time that she
just could not do it on account of her son being home. We did not blame her at
all. [We] went down to Dr. Witt and told him that our plans were falling through.
He said, "Well, the best thing for you to do is to go up there to Lake Shore
Hospital and Dr. Harkness" who was seventy-five years old at the time "would
be the doctor." He would make the arrangements with him and all, and he
would be the doctor. So that is what we did, and Dr. Harkness delivered Ellen.
G: Do you recollect his first name?
FE: Robert R. B. Harkness. Claire said that she did not never see Dr. Harkness
because they had given her something, and she was out when he got there. But
I saw him; I knew he was there. But she said she did not see him.
During the time Claire was in the hospital there, she was in the room with several
other ladies. They had another doctor besides Dr. Harkness, and they were
doing exercise and all. Claire asked the nurse: "What about that? They are
doing exercise and all." She said: "No. You do not have to fool with that. You
are Dr. Harkness's patient. They do not do it. They do not have to do it." Of
course, they [Bill and Ellen] both went to school here. Bill was in the first
seventh grade class that went to Santa Fe [High School], was he not?
FE: Of course, Ellen when to Santa Fe [High School] when she got ready for seventh
grade. They both graduated there. They both went to FSU and graduated
there. Of course, that is a dirty word where this is going to be sent. [laughter]
G: No, I have got some Seminoles in my family, too: my sister.
FE: When Bill went to FSU, we went to the motel and operated the Sunset Motel here
for six years.
CE: In addition to your working at night.
FE: Claire did that, and I was still working my night job.
G: And you had two kids?
FE: We had two kids in college fixing to go to college. Bill was in college and Ellen
in her last two years of high school. One income was not enough to cut it. We
went out there, and I kept working for the railroad at night. Claire operated the
motel with my help during the day. We moved back home, then, after Bill and
Ellen graduated from FSU. In 1967 Ellen graduated, and we moved back home
then, which made it mighty nice. Claire decided [that] she wanted to do
something, so she went up to the school as a paraprofessional and worked there
for, how many years?
FE: About ten years. Then Bill went in the air force after a year of graduate work at
the University of Texas in 1966. He just enlisted and went in because he was
afraid he was going to be drafted. So he went ahead and enlisted in the air
CE: In officer training.
FE: No. He did not go in officers' training school to start with. He just enlisted in the
straight air force to start with. Then after he was in Niceville, Florida, at Eglin Air
Force Base, why, he had a chance to take the exam for officers' training school.
He took it and passed it and went to officers' training school. After he came out
a second lieutenant, why, they sent him right back to Eglin, which was unusual
for an enlisted man to go to officers' training school to be sent back to the same
place. But, anyway, he was, and while he was there he met Shirley Cauthrin.
They started going together and married, then, in 1969. They were sent then to
Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas.
CE: And then Denver.
FE: Yes. While they were out there, we went out there to visit them.
G: Why do we not talk some more about you here. It sounds like you are mighty
proud of your children.
FE: Well, we are, and we lost Bill January 5, 1985. He had cancer. He left three
G: I am so sorry to hear. I did not know that.
FE: The youngest one (Elizabeth) was three, Ann Marie was eight, and Rebecca
G: Do you get to see your grandkids very often?
G: They are nearby?
FE: They live in Tampa. Shirley has remarried after -
CE: Four years.
FE: Well, almost five. We have a good relationship with her and her new husband.
They act just like we are, instead of in-laws, their parents.
G: That is nice to hear.
FE: It could have been a bad situation, but it is really good.
CE: You did not say why I did not go back into full-time teaching.
CE: You did a lot then to hold the family together.
G: I want to know some more about the railroad.
FE: Alright. What?
G: Was it dangerous dealing with the livestock? When you and I were walking the
yard back in November, you told me a story about how a lot of Brahman cattle
got lose one day. It sounds dangerous to me.
FE: Well, anytime you mess with livestock, if you are not careful, you can get hurt. It
does not matter whether they are alive, dead, or what. A lot of times you have
to go down there at night to unload livestock. Well, there is always a danger.
And, incidentally, there was a law that you could not unload sheep between
sunset and sunup.
G: Was there a reason for that law?
FE: Yes! It was a law with the railroad because [with] sheep, you get one started,
and all of the rest of them will follow that one. Well, if they get into some trouble
run into something and fall down the rest of them will pile up on it, and there
is no telling how many of them would get killed. It was a law that you did not
unload them between sunset and sunup.
G: Did you have many problems with livestock or was it pretty much routine?
FE: Well, it was routine most of the time. Now one time we had some trouble. We
had four cars of Brahman steers that came in there, and they would weigh 1,000
pounds apiece. They looked like every one of them was the same identical size
[and] had the same size horns and all on them. We unloaded those things down
there because there was one or two dead in each of the cars, and several others
were down on account of being crowded. There should have been five carloads
instead of the four, which we made them [into] five here. [Even] with the number
of dead we took out, they really needed a little bit more room than what they had
in the five cars. If we had those dead ones alive, we would have needed six
Those things had never seen a man on foot. All they had seen was a man [on]
horseback [and had] never seen nobody on foot at all from the time they were
born because they were from a big ranch down state, and they [had] always
worked them on horseback. That is what they were used to seeing.
Well, we unloaded those things down there and were cutting them out to load
them back into the cars after we got the dead ones out and all. They would just
run at you. And, I mean, as big as they were, if they would have gotten to you,
they could have hurt you. We had one old colored man there that was on up in
years, and he just shuffled along as he walked. Well, one of those Brahmans
took after him there, and that old man, he got to the fence, and he almost jumped
over that fence there at the stock pen because that Brahman was right on him. I
mean, he got over the fence in a hurry. [We] never had seen him move like that
[and] did not know he could, but he did!
We made five carloads out of them, and we had trouble getting them reloaded.
There were some of them that were down in the car, and you would think, "Well,
there is something bad wrong with them." You would go up there and get right
at them, and they would come up from there making for you. But we did not
loose the first one of them; that is, not a one of them got away. If they had tried,
they could have gotten out of that pen because it needed reworking. After we
had them we did get it reworked because we were afraid that they would get
away. They had some a couple of years after that got away from them.
G: Did they ever get them back?
FE: Yes, but not to go in that car. They got one of them back and sold it to a local
market. The railroad had to pay for it. They got him back and sold him to a
local market. [That was] all they could do with him because they could not hold
the train up for that one. He was out and gone!
G: Your dad had mules that he rented to the railroad?
G: Was he a part of the railroad?
FE: No. He shipped livestock in here on the railroad, but he did not rent any to the
railroad. The railroad did not have any use for livestock. Years back, they tell
me, they had one mule that they hauled between here and Waycross because
there was a law that they could not run a freight train on Sunday unless they had
livestock on it. They had these two mules. They kept one in High Springs and
one in Waycross, and they would load them in a car and ship them to where they
could run the train because they had livestock when they had that mule on there.
The railroad owned those mules, and that is all they did with them was ship
them back and forth on Sunday. [That] was what they told me. It was not
during my time; it was before that.
G: Did they not bring some large draft horses of some sort from up North?
FE: Oh, they brought some old big Montana horses old feather-legged draft horses
in when they built the coal chute. When they were getting the ground ready to
build the coal chute and put in two tracks down there in the yard, why, they
brought about five carloads of these old big Montana horses in here. It was hot
weather, and those horses could not stand the heat, and they could not stand
that sand because their feet were as big as a dinner plate. They would bog
down in that sand, and the man started losing them.
Well, my daddy being a livestock dealer, he was a pretty good horse doctor, too.
He had to be. This man came up there and asked him: "Will you come down
here and look at these horses? I want to see what you think about them." So
he went down there to look at them, and I went with him. He told this man:
"Well, if you want any of these horses, the best thing for you to do is to load them
in a car and ship them back up the country. Either get trucks or mules in here to
work in this sand because these horses cannot stand it, and they cannot take this
heat down here." So he loaded up about three carloads of them and shiped
them back to save them. [They] worked some mules and some trucks to finish
G: Was there a problem with hobos and drifters down in the railroad yard with so
many different tracks?
FE: Well, you would see along and along, but I never paid any attention to them or
had any problem with one whatever. I know I was down there one day, and this
convict had escaped down at Dade City from a road camp down there. He still
had his uniform on and had blood on it where he had been hit with some
buckshot. He was riding the train back in the yard on one track, and I was riding
back on another track there and was pretty close to him not on the same track
because he was across over on another track. But he went in through the shop
yard, and some of them got pretty close to him in there. He went on down to the
coal chute and caught this engine of a train that was going out to go to
Waycross. He rode it to Fort White.
Well, they called ahead and got the operator to look out. There was a bunch of
people from Fort White [that] got out there, and they stopped the train in Fort
White and thought they were going to get him. But he got by all of them and
went in through by Ichetucknee Springs. There were some colored fellows that
were cutting timber up there, and he passed by where they were working and
talked to them. [He] asked them about something to eat, and one of them gave
him something to eat. The other one had a new shirt laying there, and he said:
"You know, if you all had not had been as good to me as you was and gave me
something to eat, I would sure take this new shirt. But as good as you all were
to me, I will not bother it," and he went on.
The deputy sheriff up there in Columbia County lived pretty close there. He
figured where the man would be that night and went back there and got him that
night. He went to this house that was close there. He said he knew good and
well that he would be there. And, sure enough, he was.
But I never paid any attention to [drifters]. [I] never was alarmed about anything
but one little fellow a one-armed man at that that would weigh about 120
pounds. [He] stepped out between some cars and scared me the worst I ever
was scared in my life. I had drawn back to hit him and realized that he was
one-armed, and that as small as he was I did not need to be afraid of him
anyway. So I did not hit him, but he scared me the worst I ever have been. I
used some fancy words and told him to get out of that yard and get over there
and showed him where the train would be made up. He wanted to go to
Jacksonville, and there was a local that was going to Jacksonville. I told him
where to go and [where] he would find a car he could get in that was going all the
way to Jacksonville. [I] never did see him anymore. But, I mean, he scared
CE: Well, what did those police like Mr. Bedenbaugh [do]? Did he ride the train, or
was he just in the yard?
FE: He was in the yard; he rode trains. They had a thief that would break in box
cars, and they said he would find out some way what cars had merchandise in it.
[They had] what they called the local merchandise car that would have stuff for
different places. There would be anything [in them] from cigarettes to radios and
all such stuff as that going to different places. [In] some way he would know
about those things. He caught a train that was coming in here out of
Jacksonville. He caught it, evidently, at Burnets Lake, and he knew what car
had this stuff in it. He got on top of that car and came down the side of it [in]
some way and opened the door and got in the car and was getting stuff out.
Mr. Bedenbaugh caught him around there at the "Y" and was going to arrest him,
and the man took his gun away from him and beat him. Oh, he beat him up
badly! The old man was off for two or three weeks. [He was] beat up side the
head and all. But they finally caught him, and that is the way he was doing. He
was coming down the side of the car [in] some way. How in the world he could
do it I do not know, but he would come down the side of those cars and open it
with the train moving.
G: What was Mr. Bedenbaugh's first name? Do you recollect? With a last name
like that we ought to be able to figure out who he was.
FE: Bloomer W. Bedenbaugh.
G: What did you wear? Did you have a uniform that you wore?
G: Just whatever work clothes you picked out?
FE: Yes. I wore overalls.
G: Did you take a lunch with you or your dinner? Was there a cafeteria there?
FE: No. There was a restaurant up the street.
G: At the new Florida -
FE: No. Right up there. You know where the two-story building is?
G: Yes, on 9th Avenue.
FE: Alright. Right across the street down there Ms. George had a restaurant there.
G: What was here first name?
G: Geneva George's [restaurant]. OK.
CE: She is still living.
G: That is what I figured.
FE: Up there that two-story building was the Thomas Drug Store. They had a soda
fountain in there, and they stayed open. Upstairs was a rooming house. Then
there was another house across from the old depot the old passenger station
down there. There was a big two-story house there that rented rooms and all.
A funny thing [was that] there was a fellow [who] came in here from up in North
Carolina, and I was up here at this body shop. He pulled in there and he said,
"Is there anybody around here that would know anything the railroad back in the
late 1930s and 1940s?" I said, "Well, I guess I would know a little bit about it."
He said, "Well, my daddy used to run in here from Waycross." And I said, "What
was his name?" He said, "Henry Chamblis." I said, "Yes, 'Big Henry."' I said:
"I knew him well. He was an engineer, and I called him many a time." He said,
"Well, can you show me anything down there about where the roundhouse office
was where Daddy roomed and all?" I said, "Yes, I can show you all of it." I
said, "The place he roomed at has burned down, but I can show you where the
old outside steps were and the room your daddy was in was about twenty feet to
the right of where those steps are now." And he said, "Well!"
He was really surprised to run right up to somebody that knew as much as I knew
about his daddy and all. He said that he knew he ran down here and everything
and had come down here one time with him to the office, but he could not
remember anything about where it was and all. He said he just wanted to know
something about it and all and see if he could get it straight in his mind as to what
he remembered. He was really glad he ran into me there.
G: Are many of the retired railroad workers Masons? I know that you are a Mason.
FE: Yes. There are a good many. Yes. A good many of them are Masons.
G: How long have you been a Mason?
FE: Since 1945. There are a lot of them who are Masons; a lot of them are church
workers in different churches and everything. But as far as the retired railroad
workers, they are fading out fast. They are dying out. [In] this retired group we
have we lose some every year.
G: I guess that is like the veterans of foreign wars.
G: It must make you sad?
G: What do you do with the Masons?
FE: What do I do?
G: Yes. What position are you with the Masons?
FE: I am the tiler. I am the man that stays at the door outside the door.
G: To keep people out?
G: Do you get to participate in the meetings, then, at all?
FE: Oh, yes.
G: So this is a social function that you enjoy? My grandfather was a Mason.
FE: Well, it is a fraternal organization is what it is. The Masons take a good man
and make him a better man. It is an organization that I have met people [in] that
I would not have met otherwise. I go anytime I can. For the past several years
I have gone to Grand Lodge, which meets once a year. You see people there
that you have not seen in a year and all, and it is something I enjoy doing. Like I
say, I have done it for several years now been delegate to Grand Lodge from
our local lodge.
I had the pleasure of something here the first of the year. I went to an
installation of a master and saw this man installed as master of Cross City lodge.
[His name was] Jimmy Moats J. E. Moats. [He was] a conductor on the
railroad, and I have known him for a number of years. He used to live here and
work out of here years ago. He moved to St. Petersburg. Then [he] moved to
Cross City about the time he retired. [I] saw him installed as master in Cross
City. [I] went to Newberry and saw Larry Keen installed as master of Newberry
Lodge. He used to work here as a telegraph operator. Of course, I worked with
him a number of years in the office here. Then in our local lodge "Turk" Thomas
Glenn R. Thomas was installed as master here. So I got to see three men
that I had worked with on the railroad installed as masters of three different
lodges during about ten day's time. That is something not many people ever get
G: I know you have attended the First Presbyterian Church here in High Springs,
went to Sunday school there, and have been a member there but for the period
you were in Lake City. What do you remember of the church in its early years?
FE: Well, it was a small church. It was a wooden building and had a big old hickory
tree out there right close to the road that was almost in a C shape the way it was
bent. That thing was there for years, years, and years. When it was taken
down I do not know. That church was built in 1896, and I think the first service
was held in 1897. No, no, 1898. The Gradys were married in that church. [It]
was the first wedding that was held in that church, and they were married in
1898. When the church was built, why, it was just after the big storm.
G: That was in 1896.
FE: The lumber was hauled in there from out at O'Leno [Florida]. They had the
sawmill and all there at that time.
G: That is out near Mikesville Presbyterian Church.
FE: Right. Yes. Well, Mikesville Church was the sponsor of this church here in
High Springs. Those people out there in Mikesville were the sponsors of it.
The Whetstones and Means and all [of] them had the church in Mikesville. Then
my earliest recollection of it is in about 1918. I can remember going to Sunday
school and all there. Of course, [the] only place I did go to Sunday school was
here in that church out -
G: Were you and Claire married at High Springs Presbyterian?
FE: No. We were married in Homestead in their home.
CE: By a Presbyterian minister.
FE: By a Presbyterian minister, yes! Her mother is Primitive Baptist, and their
minister was to marry us. Somebody died, and he had to go to a funeral. So
we had to hunt a minister after I got down there. We called this Presbyterian
minister. His name was Ricks George Ricks. He came around there and
talked to us a little bit and said yes, he would preform the ceremony--which he
G: Has the Presbyterian church here grown High Springs Presbyterian?
FE: Oh, yes! Claire was Baptist before we were married, and after we were married
I was already a deacon. So she joined the Presbyterian church after we were
married because with me already being a deacon and all she felt like she should
join with me.
G: How fortunate we are! [laughter]
FE: We, of course, attended church there. Well, it was right after Bill was born, was
it not, that I was made an elder? Yes. It was in 1944. It must have been in
August or September of 1944 that I was made an elder. After a few years, why,
I had been an elder in the church longer than any of the elders in that particular
church. Of course, Bruce McChesney had been an elder in Virginia before he
ever came down here. But in that particular church I had been an elder longer
than anybody in that church longer than anybody that was in it and was the
youngest in age. I was the eldest elder and the youngest elder [laughter].
I attended more Presbyterian meetings than anybody that was in church for a
number of years and had the privilege of going to general assembly in Montreat,
North Carolina, in 1949. Buster MacDonald was our minister at that time, and
he and I were both fortunate enough to go to general assembly at the same time
as delegates. We had had a presbytery meeting here, and I was the elder
elected from the presbytery to go, and Buster was an alternate. The man he
was an alternate to could not go, so he got to go too, which was unusual and
something that I thoroughly enjoyed his being there with me, you know, at the
We had quite a thing happen coming back. We went up on the train and, of
course, came back on the train. Coming back instead of getting a berth like the
rest of them did, we went into town one afternoon about three days before it was
over we went into Asheville and we went down there to the railroad and made
a reservation for a Pullman coming back. We got the only compartment left on
the train at that time. Of course, there were two beds in this compartment, and
we had a toilet in ours.
Well, the rest of them, they got there, and they got a berth, and there was one
toilet in the other end for all of them, see. And we had a private toilet in our
compartment there. Oh, we would call them and tell them, "Come see what we
have got in here." Now we were something on that train coming back!
[laughter] They had a place where they cooked there for the ones on this
Pullman. They had a corner cut off there that they fixed the meals for the ones
on the Pullman that wanted to eat on there. So it was there right at us. We did
not have to wait in line or anything. We could just get right out there when the
time was right and all. We did not have to do any waiting. Oh, they said, "What
did you all do to get this?" Buster told them, "He works for the railroad; he
knows how to get things" [laughter]
CE: That was not Amtrack [laughter].
FE: No, it was not Amtrack. That was Southern Railroad we were riding.
G: Well, Frank and Claire I want to thank you very much for opening your home and
your memories to me here. I appreciate the time you have taken to share this.
FE: Well, I am glad to do it, and if you need more, why, come back.
G: Thank you very much.