Gene Hull

Fort Smith crossing photo in the Missouri Pacific yards, North Little Rock, taken from the Main Street Viaduct in 1939 by Gene Hull. The old LR&FS main line crosses the St. LIM&S double-track mainlines left to right. Guard gate is beside the south main beyond the Ft. Smith track. Freight cars are on the west leg of wye beyond station. (Gene Hull photo)

The old “Ft. Smith Crossing” was a well known place in railroading in Arkansas. First, I will explain what the “Ft. Smith Crossing” was, in case thee is someone who doesn’t know.

In Argenta (North Little Rock) the first railroad to begin construction was the LITTLE ROCK & FT. SMITH Railroad. When the next railroad, the CAIRO & FULTON RAILROAD, built southwest toward Texarkana, it crossed the LR&FS near the west side of Main Street, thus forming the Ft. Smith crossing.

The LR&FS broke ground 4 August 1869, and laid rails in a notch in the north bank of the Arkansas River (near the present Junction Bridge) for river boats to deliver rails and equipment (locomotive and freight cars). The first 24 miles of track were laid in 1870.

The Cairo & Fulton began grading May 28, 1870 at what would be, at present, the west side of Main Street and eleventh Street (beneath Main Street viaduct).

By 20 November 1872, the contract had been awarded to extend the rails southwestward to Fulton on the Red River.

The first noteworthy event concerning the Ft. Smith crossing occurred in January 1873. Early that month the president and vice president of the Cairo & Fulton arrived in Little Rock, and immediately were served an injunction from the Little Rock & Ft. Smith road, prohibiting the C&F from crossing the track of the LR&FS road.

It seems that the Cairo & Fulton had been using the terminal facilities of the Little Rock & Ft. Smith (the switchers, side tracks, turntable, water tanks) for two years. They also had erected buildings on the other road’s property. Also, two men from the C&F were apprehended while removing floor joists from a LR&FS building. Large amounts of lumber had disappeared. Thus, the injunction was served. Charles L. Scott, president of the Ft. Smith road, offered to leave adjudication of the problem to two disinterested persons. The injunction prevented the C&F from operating trains in or out of town.

Nothing more was heard concerning the controversy and construction by the C&F southward from west Little Rock was begun 21 February 1873.

NOTE: (The above account was reported in the local newspapers. The following narration is from a series of articles published in the North Little Rock TIMES, written by an early-day historian - Walter B. Metz (deceased) and cannot be verified.)

The Cairo & Fulton main line and two curving lines form a wye surrounding the Ft. Smith Crossing (see map). Inside the west leg of the wye was the depot and yard office serving both railroads. In the early years this was known as the Ft. Smith Crossing Union Station (probably a colloquialism, since the name does not appear in timetables or even in newspapers). It supposedly had its own post office - “Fort Smith Crossing, Arkansas.”

The station was built about 1870 as a major transfer point for passengers from both railroads. It was a busy station for many years and contributed to the importance of North Little Rock The building was removed about 1952.

The main line of the LR&FS extended southward sightly less than a mile to the north bank of the Arkansas River at the Huntersville Ferry Station.

My first experience with the Ft. Smith Crossing was in 1935 or ‘36. My father was engine hostler for the Missouri Pacific (owner of LR&FS and C&F) on 7:00 a.m. - 3 p.m. shift. I was very interested in steam locomotives, and he let me spend a day with him occasionally. I wore overalls, so I would not be so obvious.

We went to the big roundhouse, selected engines called for duty at 7:00 a.m., supplied them with coal (as fuel oil), water and sand, then coupled all of them in a “train” to deliver them to the various yards for duty, then collect the engine going off duty and returned them to the roundhouse.

During those days I learned all I possibly could bout steam locomotives. I helped Dad with the “written” part of his promotion to engineer because of his limited formal education. Finally, he let me handle the throttle while he and his helper rod the front footboard, especially in hot weather. I was having a “ball.”

One day, in late summer, before school started in September, we were to deliver a switch engine (9700-class 0-8-0) to the Ft. Smith Yard. We had to cross the Arkansas Division main lines at the Ft. Smith Crossing. We had several other engines behind the 9700-class, so I pulled down the old LR&FS mail line (see map) and cut off the switch engine north of the crossing. Dad turned the guard gate across the main lines of the Arkansas Division and I slowly moved over the crossing (two main lines and a few “hole” yard track). I stopped clear of the crossing and Dad swung the gate back to the normal position.

As Dad came to mount the footboard, a man stopped him to talk a few minutes. Then we delivered the switch engine to the Ft. Smith yard, south of the Main Street viaduct.

As we walked back to the several engines we had uncoupled, Dad said he would take them on to the New Yard. I was disappointed, and thought I had done something wrong. He assured me I had done fine. BUT - that fellow he had talked with was Mr. R. D. Day, yardmaster, who said, “Sam, when did the company start hiring such young fellows as young helper?”

Dad did the rest of the hostling.

My final experience with the “Crossing” was in the summer of 1942. I was a full-fledged employee of the Missouri Pacific as a brakeman. Every time I was called for duty, I always went to the Engleburger Café first. I never knew when I would have a chance to eat again.

The café NEVER closed. It was in an ancient brick building at the west side of the Main Street viaduct in North Little Rock and adjacent to the lead track eastward from the “Hole” yard.

It was close to midnight when I approached the café, and was surprised as a fellow stepped from behind one of the piers of the viaduct. Then by the dim glow of light from the large glass front of the café, I saw it was a young fellow about by age of 22 years. He asked if I would give him money for a hamburger. He had not eaten for two das, and was on his way home in Memphis.

Instead, I told him to come with me while I ate. He hesitated, but then followed me in. We sat at the long, well-beaten counter, and I told the waiter to bring us ham and scrambled eggs with everything that went with it, including biscuit.

His order disappeared almost before I started, and I told the waiter to give him a repeat. We finished at about the same time. I could almost see tears in his eyes as he tried to thank me.

He said someone had told him a freight train to Memphis would be pulling out in about an hour, and I told him which track it would be on. I paid for our breakfast and two hamburgers for him to go.

The café sat about 50 feet east of the old Ft. Smith Crossing, and I went across the tracks to the yard office. My train was leaving from the Locust Street yard, so I “enjoyed” abut a one-mile walk in the dark to my caboose.

We had an uneventful trip to Van Buren. On the second night I was back in North Little Rock, eating at Engleburger’s before going home. As I was eating I became aware of conversation between the waiter and a customer. They were discussing some fellow who was run over a couple of nights earlier, and a sack with two hamburgers.

My breakfast didn’t rest too well on my way home.

The old Ft. Smith Crossing was removed soon after.

Walter B. Metz was a machinists for the MoP., and was a stepson of Charlie Seymour, the engineer who ran the first locomotive across the first Baring Cross Bridge of the Cairo & Fulton on December 22, 1873. The Metz family lived in the Baring Cross section of North Little Rock. It was west of Pike Avenue and from near Levy south to the river.