Hannibal, Missouri – Mississippi River Town
Revised 11 AUG 2020 by the author Lawrence Eugene Vaughn Jr
Revised 5 November 2019 by the author: Lawrence Eugene Vaughn Jr.
Table of Contents
- River Town
- Transportation Hub
- Grain Terminals
- Spring Flooding
- Hannibal National Guard
- Seasonal Thaws
- Flood Duty
- Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad
- Pony Express Mail
- Railroad Post Office Car
- CB&Q Railroad
- The Wabash Railroad
- The St. Louis and Hannibal Railroad
- The Missouri Kansas & Texas Railroad
- Cinders and Sparks
- The Glamour of Steam
- If The Creek Don’t Rise
- Crummy Caboose
- World War Two
- POW Camp
- The Wedges
- Mark Twain Legacy
MISSISSIPPI RIVER TOWN
Hannibal MO Boyhood home of Samuel Langhorne Clemens
In order to get an idea of who I was, and why I was who I was, you have to understand a little about the culture of the family and town in which I grew up. I have related some of the content in this volume in previously published stories on various Internet sites. As I gathered them for inclusion here, I made some edits, added some content where it helped convey the story, and arranged them in somewhat chronological order. They will likely vary slightly from the original publications.
Commercial Transportation Hub
Hannibal, Missouri is a mid-western town located on the western banks of the Mississippi River, just southwest of Quincy, Illinois, and about one hundred miles north of St Louis. It had already become an important river town by the year 1859, boasting over 1,000 steamboat landings annually.
The average date for the start of navigation on the North Mississippi Region is March 22, depending on when the spring thaw arrives, and typically extends until Thanksgiving time, about eight months, again, depending on the arrival of winter. Allowing for the additional days the river is closed to navigation for spring flooding, that’s an average of over 4 boat landings every day during navigation season! That’s a lot of freight and passengers coming and going every day!
Steamboats on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers were once an extremely important means of transportation for both people and products. By 1850, river traffic had increased so much that as many as 170 steamboats could be counted on the St. Louis levee, some of which were literally “floating palaces,” decorated with chandeliers, lush carpets, and fine furnishings.
In addition to its own busy port downtown, Hannibal, with its burgeoning lumber industry, had a busy shipyard where Mississippi River and Missouri River steamboat hulls were built. Located at Soap Hollow, the valley north of town where the Hannibal waterworks pump station was later located, the finished boat hulls were towed to St. Louis for installation of engines and superstructures.
In the 1850s, well known river boats were built at Soap Hollow in Hannibal, including the steam sidewheelers Martha Jewett and the Robert Campbell. In 1852 the Martha Jewett was built in the Soap Hollow boat yard north of Holliday’s Hill (now Cardiff Hill). She ran on the Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers.
The Martha Jewett
Captain C Jewett was reportedly the most popular steamboat commander ever on the Missouri River. He was a dapper fellow, exceedingly handsome and always dressed in the height of fashion. He was a universal favorite among shippers, and being a bachelor and a great gallant, he was especially popular with the ladies.
His cabin was always full of passengers, and the deck of his boat loaded to the guardrails with freight. Captain Jewett built and commanded several of the finest boats on the river, among which were the Rowena, Lewis F Linn and Martha Jewett. He died 1855 in St. Louis from cholera.
In 1856 Martha Jewett was running bi-weekly between St. Louis and St. Joseph. She burned and was lost at Cairo, Illinois on January 3, 1859. 39 years after she burned, her roof bell was installed in the belfry of a Presbyterian church at Cairo, Illinois.
The Robert Campbell
(No. 1) 1849-56. Robert Campbell – William Edds, master. A large side-wheeler, named for Col. Robert Campbell, the noted fur trader, of St. Louis. William Edds was a steamboat captain from St. Louis during the 1850s-1860s and served on a number of steamboats including Augustus Mcdowell, Duncan S. Carter, El Paso, Iatan, New Lucy, Oceana, Prairie Rose, Robert Campbell, and William Campbell. (During the Civil War Capt. Edds mastered the Federal transports Augustus Mcdowell, Iatan, And Prairie Rose.
(No. 2) 1863-70. Robert Campbell – Captain Joseph LaBarge. master. Astern-wheel mountain boat used in the fur trade, it burned at St. Louis. LaBarge was considered the greatest steamboat man on the Missouri River, and was among the first steamboat pilots to navigate the uppermost Missouri River in the 1830s. His long career as a riverboat captain exceeded 50 years and spanned the entire era of active riverboat business on the Missouri River.
(No. 3). 1882-83. Robert Campbell. Another stern-wheel boat in the upper-river trade. She burned at the St. Louis levee, October 15, 1883.
The El Paso
The El Paso, was built for Missouri River navigation in 1850, and gained fame from the widely reported trip during the summer of 1850 when she succeeded in reaching the mouth of Milk River. The “El Paso” left St. Louis on May 6, 1850, and made the trip up and back in 56 days.
An extract taken from an paper gives the account of the voyage of the steamboat, “We passed the point where the steamboat Assineboin had wintered some years ago–the highest point ever before or since attained by steamboats. The Assineboin, it is remembered, was frozen, and before the end of winter entirely broken up.”
The article states that the Milk River “is ‘right away in the Indian country,’ three hundred and fifty miles, more or less, above the mouth of the Yellow Stone river.”
She was also widely known for her widely reported fabled trip up the Platte River. While the El Paso was a real steamboat, her alleged Platte River Trip was a myth.
The Charles Belcher
The last boat constructed by Soap Hollow Boatworks was the Charles Belcher, a sidewheeler built in 1852, which too, was lost to fire in St. Louis on February 4th, 1854.
At three o’clock in the afternoon, the steamer Charles Belcher, which had just arrived from Nashville (Tenn.), caught fire, and in a short time was totally consumed, with her valuable cargo of cotton, tobacco, and western produce. Many of the passengers, who were in the cabin, barely escaped with their lives. Twenty negroes perished in the flames.
The fire spread to the steamer Natchez, which had just arrived, and she was destroyed, with her cargo of two thousand bales of cotton. The steamer Cairo next caught fire, and was burned, along with the steamer Sultana. The steamboat Grand Turk caught fire, but was hauled out, and escaped with slight damage.
A number of flat-boats, loaded with produce consigned to various warehouses were either destroyed or badly damaged. This was the largest steamboat fire that ever occurred in St. Louis, and $1,000,000 of property was destroyed. Twenty-five persons lost their lives.
In 1849, St. Louis suffered the Great Fire, which destroyed 15 city blocks and 23 steamboats along the riverfront. And later that year, St. Louis suffered a serious cholera epidemic, which claimed thousands of lives. The “Golden Age” of steamboating was from 1850-1860. River traffic had increased so much on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers that as many as 170 steamboats could be counted on the St. Louis levee, some of which were literally “floating palaces,” decorated with chandeliers, lush carpets, and fine furnishings.
During my youth there was only an occasional landing at Hannibal by a modern sternwheel or side paddlewheel river boat arriving for special events. Often they would provide an excursion for a few miles up or down river prior to their main event, which gave one a taste of what river travel might have been like. The riverboat then would return to their home bases. They would usually announce their arrival and departure with quick paced carnival/circus tunes played on a calliope.
Hannibal’s Excursion Riverboat, the Mark Twain, plies Mississippi River waters
A small, locally owned excursion boat operated out of the riverfront area for many years, offering frequent hour-long river cruises and daily two-hour sunset buffet-dinner cruises. The boat was cleverly outfitted with scaled down steamboat-like smokestacks, hand railings and paddle wheel housing to make it resemble a small Mississippi River steamboat.
Most river traffic during my childhood, however, bypassed Hannibal in long lines of barges being pushed by river tugs. The exception being when long strings of barges were tied up near Turtle Island, waiting to load up the grain harvested from local fields. In this photo, a powerful river tug pushes barges against the current as it passes Hannibal.
There were huge grain terminals that dominated the riverfront and the skyline. They overshadowed the nearby power plant and towered like the limestone bluffs that framed the riverfront area. In the fall, during the week of harvest, there would be a line of loaded farm trucks in the center lane of Broadway clear back to Sixth Street, or beyond, as they waited their turn to be unloaded at the elevator.
In some years, when sufficient supplies of barges was not available, for whatever reason, drastic measures had to be taken to protect the crop in temporary storage until sufficient barges could be obtained to ship the grain to market.
In 1955, with the grain elevators full, and barges late in arriving, wheat was again temporarily stored on a bed of overlapping tarpaulins laid in the center of Broadway at the riverfront, and covered with additional tarps to protect the harvest from the weather.
The parking spaces on either side became the traffic lanes for emergency vehicles only. Otherwise, the area was closed to motor vehicle traffic. Notice the block long pile of wheat.
The grain terminals were destroyed by the historic Great Flood of 1993, and had to be demolished as soon as the water receded. The nearby electric power plant, where my uncle, Joe Hoffman, a WWII Navy veteran, worked, was also demolished soon after that flood.
In the spring of most years, Uncle Joe had to use a rowboat or hitch a ride in one of the National Guard’s trucks, to reach the power plant due to the mighty Mississippi flooding downtown, sometimes up to Third Street! In Hannibal the minor flood stage begins at 16 feet and the moderate flood level is 22 feet. In 1993 the flood reached 29 feet!
On June 2, 2019 the Mississippi crested at 30.05 feet, and extensions were successfully added to the top of flood gates and levees to prevent the waters from entering downtown. The outlying Bear Creek areas, however, were under several feet of water.
Hannibal floods were common when I was growing up, and the downtown area was often flooded. Our home was on the other side of Bear Creek, on the west edge of town, so when the Mississippi flooded, Bear Creek flooded along with two other creeks that fed into it, Mills that connected near Lindell Avenue, and Minnow that joined near Market Street.
The flooding often caused Lindell Avenue to be closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic, and area residents would have to take a circuitous route through back roads until the water receded. That, sometimes, was several days, or even weeks.
Hannibal National Guard
The Hannibal unit of the Missouri National Guard was originally organized 21 February 1896 as Company F, 4th Regiment. The unit was mustered into Federal service 16 May 1898 at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, as Company F, 4th Missouri Volunteer Infantry, and mustered out of Federal service 10 February 1899 at Camp Wetherill, South Carolina. It then reverted to state control as Company F, 4th Infantry.
Built by WPA at the edge of Clemens Field where once stood Hannibal’s first baseball grandstand, the armory was situated on the north bank of Bear Creek at Third and Collier Streets.
Quarry activity for the stone began some time before construction was started on January 24, 1938. Few of the 130 men employed in the construction knew how to work stone, so the project took an unusually long time.
Laborers were paid 30 cents an hour, and the total cost for the structure was $85,000. The City of Hannibal contributed $25,000, the state $6,000, and the WPA $54,400. The building was completed on November 4, 1939 and became home to Company L, 138th Infantry, Missouri National Guard.
The unit was again reorganized, and Federally recognized 15 November 1947 as the 35th Military Police Company, an element of the 35th Infantry Division. These were the men and army uniforms of my childhood days.
The Admiral Coontz armory is where my dad worked as a full time employee of the Missouri National Guard, and was periodically called to active duty as a criminal investigator. I chronicled his military service in Chapter Fifteen of this work.
In the spring, as the thaw began and flooding appeared to be approaching, Dad would get permission from the company commander to move trucks, jeeps and other equipment out of the motor pool, which was housed in a large limestone motor pool building inside the fence on Clemens Field, 401 Collier Street, and was often flooded.
Various members of the Guard would take the equipment to their homes where they could be protected from the danger of flooding. Dad would drive one of the biggest motor pool trucks home, so he could ford the flood waters and get to the armory.
He often pulled a very large trailer containing the field kitchen and associated equipment, which he parked behind our house at 1709 Vermont. He would later spot it close to downtown when the Guard unit was activated for flood duty.
Often, the National Guard was activated by the Governor to help with building temporary levees by stacking gunny sacks full of sand around the power plant, banks, and other critical buildings to protect them from the rising waters. They also stacked bags around the armory in an effort to protect it.
It was exciting to me to watch the troops hurriedly fill and carry bags to spots where the water was approaching. Trucks rushed in with loads of sand. Others brought loads of burlap bags. The piles of sand sometimes had to be moved up hill on Broadway and side streets as the water quietly rose. Soon, as streets became flooded, row boats began to appear to move workers and sandbags.
During the sandbagging, the local Guard unit was often activated for several days at a time. They would set up their field kitchen in a very large tent somewhere in the downtown area so the troops could take breaks, get refreshment, and get the latest updates on planned next tasks.
Their families would often congregate at the large tent to provide whatever support services they could with preparing meals, keeping coffee and drinks on hand, or just clean up of the dining area.
The guardsmen set up and operated the unit’s equipment just as they would if deployed to the field, carrying supplies, transporting support personnel, assisting in evacuations by jeep or truck, and all the other assignments that were required during the emergency.
I remember a Captain Elmer Meyers being in charge, my dad being a staff sergeant at the time, and a few of the troops . . . Delbert and Albert Tate, Bill Schenck, Webb, Tompkins, Tucker, and Robertson.
View of First and Bird Streets, along the waterfront in 1951. Note the three story buildings along the street. A railroad signalman’s shack displays warning flags on the front. Notice what appears to be a wooden caboose cupola floating near the right edge of the photo.
Railroads of Hannibal
Missouri railroads date back to 1849 when the Pacific Railroad (predecessor to the Missouri Pacific) was chartered to connect St. Louis with points to the west. The railroad was conceived by the leaders of St. Louis who had hoped to see the railroad stretched to the Pacific Ocean, hence its name.
The Missouri Pacific Railroad (reporting mark MP), commonly abbreviated as MoPac and nicknamed The Mop, was one of the first railroads in the United States west of the Mississippi River. On July 4, 1851, ground was broken at St. Louis for the Pacific Railroad, predecessor of the Missouri Pacific Railroad (MoPac).
The first section of track was completed in 1852, and in 1865 it was the first railroad in Kansas City, after construction was interrupted by the American Civil War. In 1872, the Pacific Railroad was reorganized as the Missouri Pacific Railway. Because of corporate ties extending back to the Pacific Railroad, Missouri Pacific at one time advertised itself as being “The First Railroad West of the Mississippi”.
In 1924, CB&Q had extensive yards and repair and maintenance facilities extending from Bear Creek to Lover’s Leap on the riverfront. Wabash had a roundhouse and car repair facilities located east of Wardlaw at Lemon Streets, and St. Louis & Hannibal Ry had a turntable and roundhouse located at the southeast corner of Orchard Road and Moberly Avenue in Oakwood.
At the time of this writing, only Norfolk Southern and BNSF operate through Hannibal, and neither has repair or maintenance shops in this area. Norfolk Southern (NS) is the descendant of hundreds of railroads they have purchased or absorbed over the past two centuries, including parts of the Wabash and Missouri, Kansas & Texas. Similarly, BNSF has roots in the Hannibal & St. Joseph, St. Louis, Keokuk & Northwestern, and the St. Louis & Hannibal Railway.
Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad
The railroad industry grew quickly, and in 1892 the Hannibal City Directory lists six railroads operating in Hannibal; the Hannibal & St Joseph Railroad, Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway, St. Louis, Keokuk & Northwestern, St. Louis & Hannibal Railway, and the Wabash Railroad.
1859 is also the year the first railroad to cross the state of Missouri was completed from Hannibal on the Eastern border to St. Joseph on the Western edge, north of Kansas City.
The Hannibal & St Joseph Railroad was completed when lines being built from either side of the state met in Chillicothe, Missouri, on February 13, 1859 with great fanfare, marking the beginning of an important era in the history of the river town now turned railroad hub.
Construction of the railroad originally started during an 1846 meeting at the Hannibal office of John H. Clemens, father of Mark Twain. After land grants and financing had been arranged, track work was started in 1851 from both cities. Bonds from counties along the route, along with the donation of 600,000 acres in land voted by Congress, paid for construction.
A golden spike ceremony occurred on Feb. 13, 1859, about three miles east of Chillicothe. During its first year, the railroad was a success because of a gold strike in Colorado. The railroad was the fastest way across Missouri. A bronze marker embedded in a concrete pillar alongside the track commemorated the golden spike site for many years, but disappeared in 1982 after the rail lines were abandoned.
The marker was, years later, found in a rail car that’s part of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad Museum in Galesburg, Ill. The museum hadn’t yet placed the marker on display, and agreed to loan it for exhibitions in Missouri, the first exhibit being at the Chillicothe Historical Society in 2009.
Pony Express Mail
In 1860, the Hannibal & St.Joseph RR (nicknamed “The Joe Line”) began carrying westbound Pony Express mail across the state on a test basis, to win a contract from the postal service. On the very first test the messenger carrying the mail from Washington and New York missed a train connection which made him two hours late leaving Hannibal. However, men of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad met the emergency with one of the most famous “fast mail” train rides in history.
In preparation for the high speed run, the main track was cleared of traffic all the way from Hannibal to St Joseph, and all switches were aligned for the main line and spiked in place. No one was allowed to cross the tracks for half an hour prior to the train’s scheduled arrival.
Station Agents telegraphed reports of the train’s progress as it passed their location. Engineer Addison Clark made history that day as he high-balled the locomotive, “Missouri,” pulling one coach, the entire distance for a run that was to stand as a speed record for 50 years.
Railroad Post Office Car
The H&StJ RR railroad shops in Oakwood, on the western edge of Hannibal at Orchard Road and Moberly Avenue, constructed the first railroad post office car designed to allow clerks to sort mail while the train was en route to its destination. The original mail car was a converted baggage car that made it possible to expedite the transfer of sorted mail to the Pony Express, and won the “Joe Line,” a much coveted mail contract from the U.S. Postmaster.
The “Joe Line” shops also built the first railroad locomotive manufactured west of the Mississippi River. It was a 34-ton locomotive named the Colonel Grant, in honor of the army colonel who was assigned at that time to protect the railroad and Pony Express mail during the American Civil War. In Civil War years, the majority of Hannibal citizens favored the Confederate cause, but the city was occupied by Colonel U.S. Grant’s union soldiers throughout the war due to its importance as a railroad center.
At that time nearly all that portion of the State of Missouri through which the railroad ran, was in a state of rebellion against the United States. For some months previously, armed bands of rebels had committed frequent depredations on the railroad by firing into trains, burning bridges, trains of cars, and station-houses, destroying culverts, and tearing up the track.
Over the years, the lively river traffic and the continual expansion of railroads combined to bring great prosperity to Hannibal, and by the 1940s it had grown into a good sized industrial center, with factories of many types located along the Wabash Railroad and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad that followed Bear Creek through town.
As the economy moved from industry-based to service-based, Hannibal’s prosperity began to wane as businesses began to close down or consolidate with other companies. By the mid-1950s population began to decline, and once grand buildings and entire neighborhoods began to experience deferred maintenance, and eventually, disrepair. Hannibal business leaders began to shift toward attracting tourist dollars by promoting itself as the boyhood home of Mark Twain.
The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad leased trackage rights from the Hannibal & St. Joseph railroad for through traffic from the west to Chicago almost from the very start, and in 1883 bought the “Joe Line.” The rail connection between Hannibal and St. Joseph remained in place for about 125 years.
On March 2, 1970, the railroad became the property of Burlington Northern, later BNSF. Seasonal flooding of the Mississippi River and Hannibal’s creeks caused heavy damage to the railroad and the factories that lined the tracks, over decades, and caused the CB&Q to eventually abandon their operations in Hannibal.
The historic rail complex included two yards for assembling trains headed in both directions, an estimated 42 double ended tracks for making up the trains, numerous stub tracks for temporary storage, large roundhouse with turntable, machine shop, carpentry shop, wheel shop, and numerous other support facilities, as well as the District Headquarters office building.
The Wabash Railroad
There was a Wabash Railroad switching yard located along Bear Creek just west of where the creek crossed Lindell Avenue. My mother used to tell the story of how she couldn’t trust me to stay in our fenced yard at 1505 Vermont Street when the nearby Wabash railroad switchyard got busy. I would slip out the gate and hurry the few blocks to the bridge over Mills Creek, near the switchyard, to watch freight trains being made up.
I always enjoyed the engines hustling back and forth in the yard making up trains, and it was exciting to watch the trains as they pulled out of the yard to begin their journeys to faraway exotic-sounding places. And, I knew how far back to stand so the engine wouldn’t scald me with steam as it chuffed across Lindell Avenue. The freight cars and cabooses were always painted with eye-catching lettering and symbols, and stirred the imagination as they passed by.
3,000 foot long Norfolk Southern Railroad ladder-track switch Yard in Hannibal MO (Google Earth image)
St. Louis & Hannibal Railway
The St. Louis and Hannibal Railroad was originally incorporated as the St. Louis & Keokuk RR on February 16, 1857. The American Civil War and various depressions and recessions prevented its actual construction until 1871. Beginning in its early construction, it was largely financed and (later) owned by John Insley Blair, Blairstown, New Jersey (1802–1899), and Moses Taylor, New York banker (1806–1882). Taylor died in 1882 and his protégé Percy Pyne remained on various boards.
On February 7, 1884, the St. Louis, Hannibal & Keokuk went into receivership and was sold to Blair on December 8, 1885, for $370,000. At that point it became the St. Louis & Hannibal Railway Co. The Perry Branch was surveyed and graded in the 1870s but was not built until 1891-92. The first train reached Perry July 1892. This was a dual expansion in that track was extended from Oakwood into Hannibal and a brick depot was built at 501 S. Main Street in 1892. This would be the final configuration; Mainline – Hannibal to Gilmore, Missouri, and Branchline – Ralls Jct. (New London, Missouri) to Perry.
In 1893 the St. Louis, Hannibal and Kansas City (Perry Branchline original name) merged into the StL&H Railway. The railroad was eventually known as “The Short Line,” so called because of the branch to Perry from New London, which served the plentiful coal mines in that community. Railroads were the primary consumers of the coal, but eventually, because it was so high in sulfur, better grades of coal were found, and the Perry mines began to close. The Perry Branch was abandoned in 1943 and the main line was abandoned in 1944, and the entire road closed March 12, 1945.
The Short Line
The final railroad configuration was mainline from Hannibal to Gilmore, and branch line from Ralls Junction in New London, to Perry. The railroad was never very profitable as it served a largely rural area with little industry and small revenues. The building of hard surface roads, particularly U.S. Highway 61, the ever expanding Foster Bus Line routes, growing trucking industry and finally the personal automobile spelled its demise.
The depot at Center, Missouri was preserved and donated to the Ralls County Historical Society. And, in August 19, 2003 a dedication service was held at New London naming Missouri Highway 19 between U.S. Highway 61 and the edge of Perry as the Short Line Route.
The Missouri Kansas & Texas Railroad
Established in 1865 under the name Union Pacific Railway, Southern Branch, the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad, colloquially known as the Katy Road, grew to serve an extensive rail network in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri from 1870–1988. As its name implies, the MKT linked its namesake states with key connections to St. Louis, Kansas City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Waco, San Antonio, and Galveston/Houston.
The 1873 Hannibal City Directory states that the MKT office was located on the northwest corner of First and Bird Streets.
Much of the Missouri MKT roadbed has been adapted for use as the Katy Trail State Park, including a spur to Columbia, a Missouri State Park which runs along the Missouri River for the major portion of its route.
Cinders and Sparks
It was always a thrill for me when we visited my great-grandparents, Tony and Nona White, at 2421 Market Street in Hannibal. To me, they were “Mom” and “Pop.” Their backyard ran right up to a railroad siding leading to a lumber yard just two houses away. I could stand at the back edge of their yard and be only ten or twelve feet from the cars stacked high with lumber as they were being shoved through the open lumber yard gates.
We played outdoors in those days, before homes had televisions or any type digital device, so, it seemed, we were always in the backyard or, “down the street,” within range of mother’s voice. When I heard a train coming, I would hurry to the back edge of their yard, near the tracks, to watch it pass by, or, even more exciting, watch it deliver or pick up cars at sidings up and down the three or four blocks I could see.
Beyond the lumber yard siding were two other sets of tracks; the CB&Q branch line from which the lumber siding came, and the Wabash branch just a few feet beyond. Often, I would get to see a road switcher go by with cars for local delivery at the same time the lumber yard was being switched! That was a thrill!
Off in the distance, to the west, was another CB&Q track, formerly a freight siding for the St L & H Railway, that went out Lindell Avenue to the Camery Coal Yard on the west edge of town, near where we lived at 1505 Vermont Street. I didn’t often see any trains on it, but when we did, it was a special treat!
Trains had cabooses at the rear end where the brakeman and conductor rode. I always thought it was rewarding to have a crew member wave back as they passed by. Some of the local crews carried penny candies that they threw out to children along the line. But, the wave back from a crew member was always more valuable to me than the candy. In later years, when I became an engineer, I always made special effort to return waves from those we passed by. I guess, based on mom’s remarks, I was always a rail fan!
The Glamour of Steam
Growing up in the steam era, I greatly admired steam locomotives, and the men on the crews. I recall, as a young school age boy, how I would patiently wait for a train to clear Lindell Avenue as it entered or departed the Wabash switch yard. Occasionally CB&Q would pass by with a few cars they were delivering to local industries.
When a train was passing, I knew just how far back to stand on the bridges to keep from getting drenched by the clouds of steam as they condensed. I liked to stand close enough to feel the heat of the steam without getting my clothes wet. And, I enjoyed reading the slogans on the freight cars, and daydreaming, I suppose, about those exotic sounding places the slogans proclaimed in such huge letters.
Common railroad slogans were “Old Reliable” (Louisville & Nashville RR), “The Western Way” (Western & Pacific RR), “Mainline of Mid-America” (Illinois Central RR), “Heart of the South” (Seaboard Airline RR), “Everywhere West” (Burlington Route), and there were many more. It just stirred one’s imagination with mystical names, locations and journeys.
And, keep in mind that this was in the days before television, so it was like a travel brochure being paraded in front of you. I always noticed the freight cars that had heavy coats of dirt above the wheels, noticed the color of the soil, and wondered at all the magical places the car had traveled.
For more than a century the bright red caboose was a fixture at the end of every freight train in America. Along with its vanished cousin, the steam locomotive, the caboose evokes memories of the golden age of railroading.
In those days the caboose usually carried a conductor, and a brakeman. I patiently waited for the freight cars to clear the street because I knew that at the end there would be a caboose with colorful messages painted on it. Maybe, even, the “radio equipped” lightning stripe style logo on the caboose, promoting the newly emerging two-way radio technology! And, perhaps, there would be a friendly railroader that might wave back.
The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad officially termed their caboose a “way car,” while the Pennsylvania Railroad used the term “cabin car.” Railroaders, though, had a variety of distinctive nicknames for the caboose, including “buggy,” “chariot,” “crummy,” “shack,” and “shanty.”
Normally, at least in early days they were painted bright red so the end of the train was highly visible to any other train that might be approaching from behind. The caboose typically had bunks on either side that were often long boxes that held tools, with a mattress pad laid on top.
There was a desk area for the conductor to do his paperwork, a toilet of sorts, more of a chamber pot that was never rinsed out well enough. A small stove that provided heat and a cooking surface, and there was a ladder to the cupola where the crew could sit and observe the train. An exception was the bay window, as seen in the second caboose above, which eliminated the need for the cupola, although the crew couldn’t “look over” the train, but rather, “looked along” the string of cars.
If The Creek Don’t Rise
On the east end of the Wabash switchyard, on Lindell Avenue, the Mills Creek bridge was only a block south of the Bear Creek bridge, with the Wabash running along Bear Creek, and CB&Q (former StL&H Ry) running along Mills Creek. For several blocks east of Lindell Avenue, Wabash ran on the north bank of Bear Creek and CB&Q ran on the south bank.
Mills Creek was a branch of Bear Creek, splitting off at Lally Street, and when Bear Creek flooded so did Mills Creek. The adjacent streets were under water for several blocks, depending on severity of the the flood, sometimes for several days. Houses close to the creeks were often invaded by rising waters. That’s when the row boats came out, to provide transportation, and sometimes rescue.
As the flood waters rose, the Wabash would pull cars out of the switchyard to branches and sidings, where they would be safe from the rising waters. Trains would stop running, because the position and condition of switches could not be seen underwater, which made operating treacherous and very unsafe.
World War Two
The Hannibal shoe factories were providing a substantial boost to the local economy as they were working full tilt to meet the deadlines of government contracts for combat boots and shoes for our troops.
The International Shoe Company was one of the first industries in Hannibal to convert to wartime production. In 1940, International Shoe employed twenty-five hundred workers. In 1941, it began to convert its shoe production to the use of wooden heels (as rubber was needed for the war effort). Up to fifteen thousand shoes were produced per day.
The Bluff City Shoe factory, above, also converted to defense manufacturing by producing men’s shoes. In 1943, it began rebuilding used shoes for the Army, employing more than eight hundred workers who could refurbish as many as six thousand pairs per day.
Dura Steel, which had retooled in early 1940 to produce lawn furniture, instead began filling an order for more than 100,000 M47A1 chemical bombs in 1942 and then went on to produce metal canteens. Of Dura Steel’s one hundred employees during the war, thirty-seven of them were women. Many members of my family worked in these local businesses that supported the war effort.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Hannibal joined the rest of the nation in supporting the war effort. Civilian defense measures were practiced, including the use of camouflage. To prevent light from being seen during blackout drills, Hannibal housewives hung heavy, dark drapes and blinds in their windows.
Many local citizens joined the military services to take part in World Wars I and II. Their names are memorialized here, in Central Park in Hannibal. Among those whose names appear are my father and several uncles and cousins.
The Red Cross raised funds, and defense savings bonds were purchased from local banks. Rationing of sugar, coffee, meat, canned goods, butter, tires, typewriters, shoes and nylons was instituted. Victory gardens were planted. Metals for ammunition and rubber to make tires for military vehicles were donated to the war effort.
In the fall of 1944, 265 German prisoners of war were brought by train to Hannibal from Clarinda, Iowa, for a six-week project. More than two million shoes had been donated to the war effort from all across the country, and the Germans were brought to Hannibal to aid in sorting the shoes and preparing them for repair.
Bluff City Shoe Company had received the army’s contract to refurbish the shoes, which would then be sent to Europe. Clemens Field was converted into a temporary encampment for the prisoners, who lived in tents behind a barbed-wire fence inside the compound.
The town was abuzz, but the German POWs were well received. Bread and fresh vegetables were regularly brought to the camp by Hannibal residents concerned for the Germans’ well-being. There was even talk that the POWs might be allowed to attend a football game at Hannibal High School, but the U.S. Army vetoed the idea. One Hannibal resident recalled groups of locals gathering at the edge of the bluff at the end of South Fifth Street to listen to the prisoners singing as they sat around their evening campfires.
Hannibal had streets along Market Street that merged at an acute angle, creating a number of “Y” intersections. These were usually caused by the need to follow the topography of tall limestone bluffs and deep ravines without having to unnecessarily blast through a lot of rock.
Closest to downtown was the Broadway wedge, and a few blocks further south was the Pearl Street wedge, and in a few more blocks, the Lindell Avenue wedge. At these locations there were wedge shaped buildings that protruded right out to the sidewalk, usually wide enough for a front door opening into a foyer, or in the case of restaurants, they would open into the dining area.
The tip of the Broadway wedge was occupied by a two-story red brick building that housed the one-five-oh cab company when I was a child. The name of the taxi service was derived from their telephone number, 1-5-0. In 1944, to make a telephone call, you picked up the receiver and waited for the switchboard operator to ask, “Number, please.” You would tell her the number, and then she would connect you.
Other businesses on the Market Street side of the wedge included the Wedge Cafe, a shoe store, a tavern, then a grocery store, a dress shop, the Ben Franklin five-and-dime and finally a paint store. On the other side of the street were a butcher shop, another tavern and pool hall, barber Shop, and Elder’s Furniture. At one time the barber shop was operated by my maternal great-grandfather, John Redman Teall.
The Pearl Street wedge was occupied by residential housing in the east end of the 1700 block of Market. Behind them stood West School, later replaced by Eugene Field school. The entire row of buildings was razed to Laurel Street and became the front lawn for Eugene Field School.
1700 Block of Market Street, pre-1925. Historic West School is pictured on the left. Notice the streetcar tracks turning toward Broadway at Pearl Street.
The 1913 Sanborn fire map of Market and Pearl streets shows the wedge-shaped block that stood to the north of the old West School. The school was later replaced by the current Eugene Field School, and the houses shown in the photo above were demolished and basements filled in. The site is the current front lawn of Eugene Field School.
Subsequent school expansion caused Laurel Street to be vacated and old red brick two story business buildings were also demolished and the property made into a parking lot.
The Lindell wedge was highlighted by a two story red brick building that housed a large number of apartments. Across the street to the north, on Gordon Street, was Bluff City Dairy’s ice cream shop. To the east were blocks of one and two story brick buildings that housed a large number of retail businesses ranging from hardware store to department stores, cafes, neighborhood groceries and Tolson’s bakery, that fragranced the whole area.
Hannibal was the boyhood home of Samuel Clemens, known to the world as writer and humorist Mark Twain, who learned to pilot steamboats on the Mississippi while living in Hannibal. The fictional character Tom Sawyer was very prominent in Hannibal. Many businesses were named after him.
As school children, we made class trips to his boyhood home, now one part of a museum property, his father’s office, Becky Thatcher’s house, and “the” cave, which was now lighted and offered guided tours. There were statues displayed prominently of Tom Sawyer as a boy, and Samuel Clemens as young steamboat pilot, as an adult humorist. In Junior high School we read his book about Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and the other characters who made the Adventures so colorful.
The early edition books by Twain that we read in school are now sadly banned because they have been deemed politically incorrect, instead of being viewed as reflections of our country’s heritage. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is an 1876 novel about a young boy growing up along the Mississippi River in the years just after the Civil War. Missouri was a predominately Confederate state, held to the Union by Ulysses S. Grant and other federal occupation forces.
The setting of the Adventures book is in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, which for local residents, was easily recognized as Hannibal, with its riverfront docks, limestone bluffs and cavernous caves. I had saved a first edition of the book for my grandchildren, but it got away when my darling wife and I were forced to give up housekeeping We donated everything to our church, and moved into an apartment.
So, all of this history was a huge part of what I knew about the world. We are products of our environments, and my life story shows that to be absolutely true, although I didn’t recognize it myself until later in life. Railroads, uniforms, floods and emergency rescues, public safety, public service, all parts of my childhood were interwoven to shape the fabric of my life.
Next chapter: Childhood Memories