Donated by Kent
My early years growing up were spent in
Gorham, Jackson County, Illinois, from my birth in early 1944, until the family
moved to Chester, Randolph County, in 1957. My dad, Ray Rednour worked for the
Missouri-Pacific Railroad in the water service arena, having started with the
MoPac in 1934, and retiring from there, in Chester, in 1968. My earliest
recollections were of the incessant noise (and soot) from steam locomotives that
passed through. My mother, Marie (nee Sumner), called Monday ‘wash-day’. She
would take all the soiled clothes down to the basement and proceed with the
task, utilizing the wringer washer and rinse tubs, which she refused to give up
until sometime after our move to Chester. Being quite a religious woman,
she never uttered a single profanity, but when the switch engines happened to be in town on Monday….wash day, they tended to leave soot coatings all over her wash which she had just toted back up and had hung outside. Needless to say, Mondays also were ‘grumpy’ day.
The circles in which my family amused themselves were closely associated to the Methodist church in Gorham. Many of our friends and acquaintances attended there. One of the families that I recollect is the Hand family, Harvey and Clara. It happened that one of their daughters is my age. This past fall of 1999, it happened that Linda Hand, another daughter, who unbeknownst to me lived in North Phoenix, phoned me, to advise that she was having a birthday party for her mother, Clara. I believe her age then to be 88 or so. Linda, as it happened, flew Clara from her home in Missouri to Phoenix for the occasion, and along with other family members offered us an invitation to attend. My wife and I were there and it was joyous, as I hadn’t seen Clara for many years. Unfortunately, on the return flight to Missouri, Clara suffered a heart attack, was subsequently returned to Phoenix for heart surgery. She survived the operation, but succumbed to other causes. The Hands were wonderful people, and their son Lyle is an insurance agent in Phoenix today. Harvey farmed east of Gorham, and was a rural mail carrier as far back as I can recall. Clara was a school teacher, and a 1st cousin of my dad. Harvey was known for being frugal. My dad and older brother Roy related stories about Harvey, from time to time. Early on, as it's told, Harvey used an old Ford model A to accomplish his mail route. In cold weather, and with a weak battery, Harvey would return home daily and back the model A up a slope for the night. He would then drain the water from the radiator (this prevented the requirement to purchase anti-freeze). The next morning, with the addition of water to the radiator and the model A pointing downhill, he didn’t have to use the battery to start the engine…just coast a bit, and release the clutch. All these stories I remember with fondness.
There was a ‘pump house’ in Gorham, as it was a water stop for steam engines. I understand that before my time, it was also a coal stop. There were two water tanks there. One was wooden, and the other steel. It was the duty of a Mopac employee to keep the tanks full of water. On occasion, dad would need to cover that task. I can remember going with him to the pumphouse and seeing the operation to fill the tanks. It happened that there was a Fairbanks-Morse ‘hot head’, single cylinder stationary engine there, which would have to be started by rotating a large flywheel. It seems that it could be started with gasoline, and then, once running, could be run on diesel fuel. Via a complex transmission composed of belts, pulleys and gears, the engine could be coupled to a pump, which pumped ground water up into a wooden vat inside the pumphouse. This large vat had agitator paddles, which ran off the engine. Once the vat was filled, a mechanical changeover moved the motion from the pump to the agitator at the vat. From a large storage area inside the pumphouse, a couple of large sacks of lime were added to the vat, and the water/lime was agitated, then allowed to settle for a few minutes. When I asked dad about this process, he advised me that the lime was added to get rid of an excess of iron in the water (obviously bad news for steam boilers). Once the mixture settled out, the transmission was adjusted along with changing some valves, the clean water was then pumped up to the tank(s). Quite a chore, nonetheless. The Mopac, in the mid 1950’s, increased its inventory of diesel engines and eventually retired its last steam locomotive about 1956. This action pretty much made Gorham and other early rail stops unnecessary. Dad’s job was never in jeopardy, but required his reporting station be moved to Chester. When the requirement for the pumphouse declined, the railroad opened various parts/pieces of their infrastructure for bid to their employees. Dad offered a bid of $25 for the wooden tank, more in jest than anything. But to his surprise, received an announcement by mail that he had won the bid. He now had the task of removing the tank. I was too young to be much of help, but with a couple of helpers, he managed to disassemble the tank. It was built like a wooden barrel, with steel bands holding it together. I could be wrong, but, it seems to me that the center plank, in the bottom was some 3"X18"X18 feet in length…..solid cypress. I can recall playing on the pile of beams stacked in our backyard for a year or two. Dad finally sold the wood, some of it went to his brother, Jack, in E. St. Louis, who used a portion to build an auto repair garage.
Mississippi river traffic was heavy, as one could easily feel the ground pounding from the propeller thrust of river tows moving multitudes of barges filled with coal, petroleum products, grain or other commodities. The entire area encompassing Gorham, Neunert, Jacob, Rattle and Cora City, was low land and subject to flooding periodically from the rise of the river in the springtime. It must have been in the late 1940’s when the Corps of Engineers built the levee, that extends from Big Hill (Fountain Bluff) north of Grand Tower, to Cora City. This levee was constructed to help prevent flooding of the towns and farming properties in-between. The Mopac was not the only railroad tracks near Gorham. Just south of the Gorham limits, the Illinois Central tracks crossed the Mopac at right-angles. The Illinois Central tracks continued westerly, along the north edge of Fountain Bluff toward Grand Tower.
The apparent need for the rail line was to deliver coal to the power plant at Grand Tower. The I-C rail line was elevated some 30-40 feet above any farmland along Fountain Bluff and just a cusp over where the Corp of Engineers started the levee. Farmers in the area would still plant crops between the levee and the river, and hope that a flood would not happen. I can still recall, during my grade school years, walking down the I-C tracks toward the river, past the levee. To see an old corn patch covered with 2-3 feet of river water, and seeing carp feeding on the leftover corn from the patch. These fish were as large as I was. Awesome.
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