Bob Mitchell: The Cassville and Exeter Railroad is back?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

From the look of the newest addition to the Barry County Museum, one might think the Cassville and Exeter Railroad has returned to Cassville.

But, actually, the railroad engine that is in place is the result of a railroad buff and a benefactor of the museum, Corky Stehlik, who found the engine in Kansas City where it had long ago been retired as a switch engine. Consulting with Jerry Watley, it was agreed that the engine should come to Cassville as a remembrance of the part of local history that escaped for various reasons after 60 years on the job between here and Exeter.

Officially, it is a Plymouth 25-ton switch engine used in railroad yards for moving cars in makeup of trains.

The trip here

It took a heavy-haul truck to fetch the 48,000-pound engine the 199 miles from the city to the museum site, and then two cranes were hired to set the engine on its present resting site. But, before that, locating the engine preparation was no easy accomplishment.

Before the engine, supposedly to be named The 345 or The Cassville and Exeter Railway, could be set on the ground, preparations were made for leveling, ties and track, all under the direction of Stehlik.

He solicited some good help out of his family with Eli and Brian for site preparation and the labor associated with the project.

The track for the standard gauge was provided by the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad, running on old Frisco tracks for several years on hauls out of Arkansas into Springfield. Ties for the track were provided by T.H. Rogers Lumber of Cassville.

An important factor in the project came from House Handle Co., of Cassville. This was a spike hammer that the industry uses as a pattern for handles they manufacture for railroads throughout the country.

60 years ago

At the beginning, the C&E was a project in Cassville that resulted in the Frisco railroad's original location plans to go through Monett and eventually to Washburn as it traveled through Southwest Missouri.

J.M. Bayless, a driving force in Cassville's early development, appointed a committee to raise funds for the project. Included was my grandfather, Charles Ray. Their efforts eventually raised $300,000, which was considered a guarantee for the project.

Exeter residents threw-in an additional $1,200 for the railroad coming as an asset to their community.

Funds came from every source available. Bayless gave $2,500, and contributions were coming at the $1 level. And, there were some giving of labor and even the use of stallions in the work project.

Big celebration

For several years, the C&E served the Cassville community, with the first train arriving in Cassville on July 4, 1896, at the same time as the Old Soldiers' and Settlers' Reunion at its first location on Flat Creek at the east edge of town. At that time the C&E was called a collecting link for any shipment and especially benefitting farmers.

As a point of interest, the 4.8-mile run to Exeter was made under steam, the return was coasting.

Early owners

The Dingler and Ault families were the long-time owners of the railroad, running, repairing and performing whatever was required.

Ray Dingler was a neighbor to the Ray family, which gave we kids a virtual open opportunity to ride the railroad. Also, my aunt Bland and her husband, Emmons Hawk, were stationmasters for a while, which didn't hurt when we wanted to ride the cow-catcher and shoot rabbits on the trip. They were easily retrieved due to the train's slow speed.

Came to an end

The final big use of the C&E came in the drought years of the 1950s when federal shipment of hay to local dairymen and livestock herds probably saved some of the operations.

That project was under direction of full-time staffers at the old University of Missouri Extension Service.

Big loss

The C&E whistle was no more in Cassville as the final days arrived. It never was actually known why the powers that be made the decision to virtually start taking up track with little notice. But, the fact of the matter was, there were decisions made that were not in the best interest of Cassville.

Think of its benefit today. The world's shortest (in miles of service) standard gauge, commercial railroad, and what it might have been so far as some commercial use and a lot of tourism possibilities.

Cassville still bears reminders of the C&E, part of the track still remains under Main Street at the crossing near Ninth Street. First thoughts of the current project were to attempt retrieval of that track for the static display of the engine that arrived here last week.

Those involved in the project deserve a vote of thanks from the community.

Memorial Day

We need to remember our fallen heroes of the U.S. Military this weekend. Placing a flag on the grave is the least we can do to remember the price of our freedoms we enjoy today. Happy Memorial Day.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat.