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Riding the L & N Trains of the Lebanon Branch

Submitted by Ray Evans

Somehow traveling by automobile is not as exciting as riding the trains that used to run through my hometown of Brodhead in western Rockcastle County.

The L & N railroad had two north bound (Numbers 22 & 24) and two south bound (Numbers 21 & 23) local trains on the Lebanon Branch that ran between Lynchburgh, VA and Louisville, KY that passed through Brodhead. I had several occasions to ride those trains. They were ‘local’ in that they boarded and discharged passengers at every little town on the route. They had their own unique characteristics that must have made them the talk of the day when the first train reached Brodhead in 1868. For example, the conductor wore a dark colored uniform and a semi-hard hat that was easily recognizable -- much the same as airline pilots are today. As the train approached an upcoming town, the conductor would come into to each car of the train and yell “ALL OUT FOR CRAB ORCHARD” or whatever little town it was. As the train was readied to leave the station you could here him yell; “ALL ABOARD”. There was a BUTCH on most of the trains that sold comic books, magazines, candy bars, chewing gum and the prettiest red apples you ever saw. He would make a couple of trips through the car and his little wire basket of goodies was a sight to see for a young boy’s eyes. The trains all had a black porter. As a teenager, I worked for Frith’s restaurant that was across the tracks from the depot in Brodhead.. Frith’s catered to the train crews and I remember the name of one of the porters. He was a big tall black man and his first name was Ernest.

If the train was not crowded, you could lay cross-ways of two seats and take a nice nap. The clickity-clack sound of the train moving along the tracks was very conducive to naps.

You could hear the train whistle for miles. In later years you could almost set your watch by the arrival of these trains. The sound of the hissing steam, the clanging of the bell, the billowing smoke and the sheer size of the train made for a impressive site in a little town like Brodhead.

Since Louisville was the end of the line for north bound trains, they turned around someplace near Highland Park went backwards into Union Station at 10th and Broadway. I always thought that was neat.

The first trip of a train from Knoxville to Louisville was on July 14, 1883. The passenger trains quit running on the Lebanon Branch in 1958. The tracks through Brodhead were taken up about 1986. Most of the depots were torn down sometime ago. I guess that is progress, but we lost something that will not ever come again.

Thanks to Charles B. Castner, Jr. who had an article in the December 1991 issue of the Monthly Newsletter of the Kentucky Railroad Museum on “The Life and Times Of L&N’s Lebanon Branch” for supplying me with some of the significant dates.