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Our History: A Few Train Thoughts

How could we have a law preventing a train from blowing its horn and what does any of this have to do with Douglas County blue laws?

Early yesterday morning – very faintly – I could hear the train moving through downtown Douglasville even though I live a few miles away from the track. The sound wafts down from the ridge at Skint Chestnut and floats across the interstate. It hangs over the Mt. Carmel district for a few seconds as it fades out.  It’s easy to miss if you are busy doing this and that, so I’m always a little surprised when I hear it, but it always makes me smile remembering my childhood growing up with a train track literally in my front yard.

The sound got me to thinking about “our” train.

Back in December, 2011, I visited the Douglas County Public Library on Selman Drive and took a few photographs of their art collection. I’ve attached a picture of the caboose here. The title of the picture is “The End of the Line” by Jim Perkins, and it makes perfect sense because Mr. Perkins captured the caboose that sat along the railroad tracks between Broad Street and Strickland Street where Campbellton crosses Broad and the tracks. The library’s guidebook to the art collection advised “the caboose was acquired by the City of Douglasville.”

I remember seeing the caboose there. Several people I’ve asked remember seeing the caboose too, so at least I know I wasn’t seeing things, but the caboose has disappeared. Then I found the second picture where you can’t mistake the caboose and where it sat. Look to the right of the train.

I thought it might have been moved to Hunter Park…..a caboose is on display there, but was told by someone who used to work at the park it is a different one. I went out there an yes, it’s a different caboose all together.

What on earth happened to it?

I have inquired with various people to no avail. I’m still waiting on some answers, but so far…..nothing. Feel free to comment here if you have an idea.

Hearing the train whistle yesterday morning also got me thinking about another tidbit of train related history I’ve been hanging onto. The situation involves a piece of litigation originally filed in the Superior Court here in Douglas County before reaching the Georgia Court of Appeals in 1908. The case involved one of Georgia’s blue laws.

In case you are unaware a blue law refers to a law that is passed based on religious standards. The origin of the term “blue law” is unknown, but the concept dates back to the Puritans in the 17th Century when they passed laws requiring church attendance on Sunday.

Blue laws abounded back when I was a little girl. Whether you went to a Christian church or not there were certain things you simply did not do on a Sunday including shopping, and apparently at the turn of the century it was against the law for a train to blow its horn on Sundays and disturb the Sabbath.

Yes, not only were stores closed across the state in 1908, it was also against the law for trains to disturb the Sunday quiet. The Defendant in the matter was A.H. Westfall, the superintendent of transportation for the Southern Railway Company. The complaint advised:

….on the 14th day of April, 1907, said day being the Sabbath day, [the Defendant] unlawfully run and cause to be run in and through Douglas County, over said railroad six freight trains of the Southern Railway Company, all going east pulling a train of freight cars, all of said freight trains arriving and departing from the city of Douglasville during the afternoon of said date.

….The six freight trains in question ran through Douglas County after eight o’clock a.m. on the Sunday charged in the indictment, arriving at their destination, Atlanta, at different hours in the afternoon and evening of that Sunday.

…These trains were all prevented from making their trips in schedule time, and were delayed at Waco, by the fact that there was no water in the tank at that place to supply the engines; and the tank was not supplied with water at Waco until about noon on Sunday.

….The failure to keep water at Waco prevented the freight train from complying with their regular schedule, and caused them to be delayed more than 12 hours; and when they left Waco on Sunday about noon, they were ordered to make the run to Atlanta on what was known as an “extra schedule.”

Eventually the Court of Appeals did not uphold the original verdict against Mr. Westfall for several complex legal reasons I won’t bore you with here, but the case was dismissed.

Today this case seems a little silly, doesn’t it?

How could we have a law preventing a train from blowing its horn? 

Even without the sort of automobile traffic we have today it would seem folks would need to know when a train was bearing down on them, but the blue laws prevailed.

Over the years one by one the blue laws have been repealed. I can remember finally having the ease and convenience of entering a store…..almost any store…..on a Sunday to shop. Today, the thought of not being able purchase something is just ludicrous, and far be it from me to judge anyone, but I would imagine many, not all, but many of the same folks who attend church venture into those stores for a little shopping, order their favorite dish at a restaurant, or even buy a movie ticket on the once stark and quiet Sabbath.  I know a few of them….

As of this past November the last of the blue laws was finally overturned here in Douglas County and the City of Douglasville when the people voted overwhelmingly in favor of Sunday alcohol sales.

It was a historic vote.

So, now on a Sunday I can go to church if I’m so inclined, I can hear the train whistle, I can go to a movie, a restaurant, do some shopping, and I can also  buy a bottle of wine to go with my dinner.  I can also sit in my house and do nothing. Again….if I so choose.  

For those that don’t want to purchase a bottle of wine they don’t have to, but according to the Georgia General Assembly and that lawsuit from 1908, you will still have to put up with that silly old train whistle.

Dang. There ought to be a law, you know?  <smile>

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