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Train’s a comin’…

1930 Rock Island railroad date nail and railroad spike

On Thursday, April 21, 1904, the Rock Island Railroad sent a special train named the Oklahoma City from El Reno through Chickasha to Alex, Indian Territory, to honor the opening of yet another “new town” created by Iron Horse fever.

From Chickasha, the train traveled on newly laid track into the heart of the south-central Washita Valley. What was it like when that first full train crossed into the area of the newly relocated old town, then comprised of only a few scattered buildings? With its loud chugging engine, clicking wheels and bellowing clouds of heavy steam, did birds fly away from the train in huge flocks? Did deer shy back into the woods and wild turkeys hide in the trees? Did dogs howl and cower under rickety wooden porches? Did old men clap hands over ears and rush to calm equally old plow horses?

There is no one left alive today to tell us.

Unable to resist the pull of early spring, I visited the old rail bed just northwest of Alex. This mute section of elevated ground holds the secrets of that first train but it now lies forever silent.

Driving closer to the river (trespassing on land owned by people I convinced myself wouldn’t care), I came upon an old fence constructed entirely of old railroad ties.

As I have learned to do, I sat quietly and inspected. No more crashing through brush and trees and into unseen holes for me. If secrets are there, they will come if you wait.

And so they did…At the very end of the short fence row, canted heavily and shrouded by last year’s brush, stood one special tie. It offered not only a Rock Island date nail set in 1930 in the face of the tie (rather than at the end) but also a misshapen old railroad spike driven deep just under the nail.

Worried at first over my lack of a hammer (I came woefully unprepared), I was pleased when the worn old railroad tie surrendered its treasures to my prying fingers.

These relics do not tell us what it felt like for that first train to run into Alex. But they do remind us, once again, that bits of our history are still out there and we need simply to find them.

And just so you’ll know, that first train into Alex left El Reno at 10:00 am and arrived here around noon. Apparently to allow riders time to look around, the trail departed Alex at 6:00 pm and arrived back in El Reno at 8:00 pm. The round trip fare for that historic trip was $1.50.

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