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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • Book features ‘Short Line’ railroad

  • Allen Ballard’s new book about an old local railroad line is really a history book, telling many facts about how the area of New London, Center and Perry changed through the years.


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  • Allen Ballard’s new book about an old local railroad line is really a history book, telling many facts about how the area of New London, Center and Perry changed through the years.
    The book is titled “History of the New London-Center-Perry, Mo. Branch of the St. Louis & Hannibal Railroad, Short Line Railroad.” The Short Line was operated from 1892 to 1943.
    “The Short Line was the entire railroad from Hannibal to Gilmore (Wentzville) and the branch line from New London to Perry,” Ballard said. The railroad from Hannibal to Wentzville was 86 miles long ,and the branch line was 19 miles. They connected in New London.
    “The reason for the railroad was because of poor roads,” Ballard explained. “The railroad was all about community and bringing the community together.
    “Gravel roads were not there until the 1920s, and they didn’t make them concrete until 1931.
    “In a 1927 article, a MoDOT engineer made a weekly report on road conditions and said on some of the best gravel roads in the country, the bottom had dropped out. MoDOT had 30 horse and mule teams to pull you out of the mud if you got stuck.”
    Book published
    for courthouse
    sesquicentennial
    Ballard compiled and edited the book, and he also prints copies at his Speedee Print business in Hannibal, where he published 100 special copies as the Ralls County Courthouse Sesquicentennial edition.
    Ballard’s wife, Connie, and 14-year-old son, Ken, also helped. She helped assemble the book and Ken went with him to take pictures. Some of Ken’s pictures are published in the book.
    The special edition books include the newsletters written by members of Friends of the Short Line organization.
    The Friends of the Short Line organization was already meeting when Ballard started on the book.
    It includes many old pictures, and he explained that, “a lot of pictures either I had or Ron Leake (president of the Ralls County Historical Society) had.”
    He credited Leake with encouraging and helping him with the book, and the Rev. Conrad Cheatham of Elsberry with being the leading authority on the Short Line.
    Since distributing the book in July at the Ralls County Courthouse Sesquicentennial in New London, Ballard has been adding to it, and each new copy may continue to have added pages. He is selling copies for $30 and printing it by order.
    He is currently hoping to find pictures of the old New London depot and would appreciate being contacted by anyone who remembers it.
    When the Short Line was built, the first train ran from Hannibal to Perry on July 25, 1892, when coal and poultry were major shippers.
    Conductors included Snow Stark and Jake Totsch. One popular employee was Lawrence Anderson of Perry, Ballard said, who was reported to be the only black man in Perry at the time.
    Page 2 of 3 - Among the unique photos in the book are some from a film of the Short Line, which Ballard believes to be the only existing film of the railroad in operation. He is not aware of any other photos from the film being published.
    Bill Watts was believed to be the last surviving Short Line employee, Ballard said. Watts died in 2006 at age 89. Watts was the last station agent in New London and later he was general manager and vice president of the St. Louis and Troy railroad before in closed in 1961.
    Ringling bought
    railroad in 1919
    The book explains that the entire Short Line railroad was sold to John Ringling of circus fame in 1919, when the coal mines at Perry were a major attraction for Ringling.
    Ringling’s heirs abandoned the Perry branch in 1943, and the rest of the railroad was abandoned in 1944.
    Why did Ringing want to own a railroad? “Ringling’s job with the circus was to get it from one place to another,” Ballard said. “They originally went in wagons and converted to trains in 1891.”
    Ringling had another reason, Ballard added. “He wanted to be part of the railroad circle. He was interested in power and status.”
    The Perry branch of the Short Line had more business than the main line, Ballard explained. “They had coal at Perry and two poultry processing plants, one in Center and one in Perry.” Both plants were owned by R.S. Buchanan. After they had some fires, both plants were closed.
    “They could take a refrigerated boxcar of poultry to New York City in four days,” Ballard said. “And they had ice plants next to the poultry plants.”
    Ringling may have chosen the Short Line, Ballard said, because he was friends with the Blair family, which owned it. “He said he was doing a favor for old friends by taking it off their hands.
    “At the time he bought it, it had been reorganized and went bankrupt,” Ballard said. “Ringling liked to invest in small communities and help provide employment for people. He was from New York City but lived in Sarasota, Fla., where the circus is still based.”
    After John Ringing died in 1939, his nephew oversaw the railroad until it was abandoned. Harry Carstarphen of Hannibal was the attorney, and he disposed of the assets after it closed down.
    Truck and bus lines were starting to take freight away from the railroads, Ballard said. “The nice roads caused railroads to close.”
    John Ringling owned more than the circus and railroads, he said. “He built the Northeast Missouri Sand and Gravel.” One of its locations was New London. Ringling planned sell gravel and sand from Salt River, he said, “to haul on the train wherever MoDOT needed it.
    Page 3 of 3 - “MoDOT was building the new roads, and the railroad helped build the roads that killed them,” Ballard explained. “Conrad Cheatham said, it was like cutting your own throat. But it was business.”
    After the Short Line closed in 1943, the track was pulled up for scrap steel to build ships for World War II. The railroad’s motor coaches had been made from old buses, and most of the cars were sold for scrap.
    Ballard noted that although Ringling bought the railroad at a bad time, because the Great Depression came along, “Ringling lost money on the railroad but he also bought property and mineral rights in Oklahoma, and they hit oil. He made $300,000 a year off the circus, $400,000 off oil and $300,000 in real estate.” He had six railroads, and they always lost money.
    Notable Short Line owners were John Insley Blair (1802-1899), Dewitt Clinton Blair (1834-1914), C. Ledyard Blair (1867-1949), John Ringling (1866-1936) and John Ringling North (1903-1985).
    Short Line’s history
    is preserved
    A project was announced in 2001 to restore the old train depot in Center, which was part of the Short Line. This was a project of the Ralls County Historical Society.
    On Aug. 23, 2003, another part of the railroad’s history was recognized. This was the dedication of the Short Line Railroad Spur Historic Trail at U.S. 61 and state Highway 19. Ron Leake, the Rev. Conrad Cheatham, and state Rep. Rachel Bringer were the speakers, and a sign was unveiled.
    Ballard has added his most recent discovery to the newest editions of his book. He described it as a “backyard find” in his own yard in New London, which is the former home of Dr. W.T. Waters.
    Waters was a New London doctor from 1903 to 1955. He also served as surgeon for the Short Line, Ballard said. “We found a piece of old railroad rail.” His wife was mowing the yard when she found it. It is about 15 inches long, he said, and “is like the Short Line would have used. I think it was part of a switch for the railroad.”
    Why was it in Dr. Waters yard? “I think the doctor used it for a boot scraper,” Ballard said. He plans to clean it up and “find someplace in the house for it.”

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