THE OLD FORT SMITH CROSSING
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.
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.
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
By 20 November 1872, the contract had
been awarded to extend the rails southwestward to Fulton on the Red
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
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
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
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.