Probably everyone who has read my columns in the last 15 or 20 years or has lived in Denison for any length of time is familiar with the Missouri-Kansas & Texas Railroad that was responsible for there being a Denison, Texas. That railroad officially arrived here on Dec. 25, 1872, even though a work train stole the entrance’s thunder by chugging in on Christmas Eve.
But I wonder how many know that between 1877 and 1895 at least five more railroads found a way to this new North Texas town and set up their headquarters. Even more were planning to come but just never made it.
I have been on a sort of railroad kick the last couple of weeks when I talked about train robberies and the Dinkeys so I began doing research on one of these five railroads. A while back a friend was looking for a picture of a train known as “The Nellie” that was taken at the railroad station in Ambrose. Someone else was wondering where the railroad got its name. Mike Shaw came up with the only suggestion I have had. He said the more famous reference he had heard was that it was named for “The Nellie Bly” and the name was shortened to “The Nellie.”
I began a search for the picture and as luck would have it, I had copied it after it had been loaned it to me for an earlier story and fortunately I had saved it on one of my CDs. Then I began thinking “column” but didn’t know anything about “The Nellie.” In fact, I was wrong in thinking that it went across the bridge at Carpenter’s Bluff into Oklahoma.
I found a few things about it and really got confused. I sent out a “SOS” to some of my railroad friends and soon tidbits began coming in through emails.
As luck would have it, last week I found an article dated July 4, 1976, that was headlined “Teapot” Locomotive Chugged Along Route.” That word “teapot” really got my attention.
Miles and the strain of years of service had taken the teapot-style locomotive from Main Line duty to become a little train that went through Denison a couple of times a day on a 28-mile round trip between Sherman and Bonham.
Known as Nellie and the wooden passenger cars that trailed her could never be described as plush, even by the standards of the years Nellie was running, according to the article, but the little train left a lot of memories with those who road it.
Nellie was the pride of the Denison, Bonham and New Orleans Railroad Co., a small railroad that was something of a stepchild to the Missouri, Kansas & Texas but it was important to the people in Grayson and Fannin counties who rode it.
Trips on the Nellie was very informal and not a speedy way to travel, but the story said that regular passengers remembered that the trips always were pleasant. When watermelons were in season, the train made regular stops beside a field so that passengers and crew could share melons. The article said that Dave McComas, last conductor on the Nellie, always carried a rifle in the caboose so he could do a little hunting. The train also made regular stops to allow the crew to buy butter, eggs and other produce from farmers along the route.
The late Jack Maguire, a well-known Denison author, wrote a little about The Nellie in his book, about Denison, “The Katy’s Baby.” In fact, his father, J.E. Maguire was the last regular engineer on the line before it was abandoned in 1929 after ownership changed several times.
But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. “The Nellie” also was a nickname for the Denison, Bonham and New Orleans (DB&NO) Railroad. One railroader said the initials stood for the “Dead Broke and Not Operating” railroad.
The DB&NO was chartered on Jan. 27, 1887, but by 1901 still hadn’t completed its line from Denison to Bonham and it was out of money. The Katy stepped in and had it rechartered, then completed laying track into Bonham, the county seat of Fannin County. The Katy operated it until 1923 when it was sold to some people in Bonham.
The small railroad originated as a project financed by a group of bankers and businessmen in Denison and Bonham, according to a Texas State Historical Association article by Beverly M.J. Christian in The Handbook of Texas Online.
Its capital was $200,000 and its headquarters was in Denison. Members of the first board of directors were W.B. Munson, T.B. Narms, A.R. Collins, W.C. Tignor and Saul Harma, all of Denison; and S.B. Allen, W.A. Nunnelee, John Sharger and R.W. Campbell, all of Bonham. Although they began building the railroad, the project soon failed, then a new company was incorporated as the Denison, Bonham and New Orleans Railroad Co. on Jan. 23, 1901. Capital stock was $100,000.
Christian related that the DB&NO RR Co acquired the partly graded roadbed of the original railroad and in 1901 completed a 24-mile line between Bonham Junction and Bonham. Between Denison and Bonham Junction, the DB&NO operated over the MK&T Railway by the Katy under contract and later leased the line. However, it was not included in the Katy reorganization of 1923. The line was operated by receivers from March 21, 1923, until Feb. 6, 1925, when it was bought by several Bonhamites. In 1928 the 12 employees received total pay of $15,000 and operation ceased on Nov. 30 that year. The company abandoned the line the following year.
Nellie was a daily passenger train when it operated between Denison and Bonham. John Scott said his uncles, Raymond Bemis and Walter Scott, always referred to the trains as simply Nellie. From the tales they told, they frequently rode the train to the Ambrose or Ravenna area to go rabbit hunting during the years between 1915 and the end of the line. John said his 1907 Katy timetable shows two round trips between Denison and Bonham each day.
Nellie passed at the same time every day and workers depended upon her being on time so that they could quit work.
Maguire, in his book, called it a “mixed” train whereby passengers, baggage and mail rode in one rickety wooden car. Freight, when there was a shipment, went in cars that were attached to the rear.
One caller said the DB&NO left the Denison-Bells line at a point called “Bona” near Mountain Creek Drive. From there it veered northeast to meet with the KO&G at Gover, about a mile south of Carpenter’s Bluff. That’s about as close to Carpenter’s Bluff as The Nellie ever ran.
Some of the other small railroad in Denison during that period were the Denison & Southeastern Railway that went to Greenville chartered July 27, 1877, the Denison and Pacific Railway, chartered on April 24, 1878, with the idea of establishing a route to California; the Texas Extension Railway Company, and the Denison and Washita Valley (D&WV) that was incorporated on Jan. 8, 1886.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.