One of the most interesting hold-outs in the post-Amtrak era was the mixed train service offered by the Georgia Railroad. Three Geeps (Georgia Railroad 1041, Atlanta & West Point 574 and Western Railway of Alabama 525) are coupled to the solitary coach of Train Number 2, the "Super Mixed" in the shadow of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta. This was the Hunter Street Station of the Georgia and the scene was captured in May, 1971. Tickets were available in the brick building to the rear after the Georgia decamped from Atlanta Union Station. The Mixed will pull out into the Hulsey Yard to the east to add its compliment of actual revenue before proceeding east to Augusta.
The Georgia Railroad Mixed Trains
By Martin K. O'Toole /Photos by the Author
As the sordid 1960's shuffled to its unseemly conclusion, American railroad passenger service was in a decline that appeared to be as terminal as the stub end track in any metropolis. After some debate in Congress, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation was formed with a start date of May 1, 1971. Most railroad companies still offering passenger service opted to join Amtrak and be shed of their financial burden. One of the exceptions — and a unique one at that — was the Georgia Railroad's passenger service. In comparison with the Southern Railroad, which ran the Southern Crescent in a style befitting a classic named train, the Georgia Railroad operated mixed trains which were a curiosity wrapped in an unique history.
The Georgia Railroad was originally chartered in 1833 in Augusta, Georgia. In 1835 that charter was amended to permit the company to get into the lucrative banking business. In fact, the banking business became so profitable that it became the major corporate focus for most of the company's history.
One association with the Georgia Railroad which may surprise non-Georgians was J. Edgar Thomson. Thomson became the chief engineer of the Georgia Railroad and helped survey the line, construct the road, and finally operate it. As a result of his success he became famous around the country as one of the leading civil engineers of the new burgeoning railroad business.
The Georgia Railroad & Banking Company originally intended that the rail line would run from Augusta to Athens. In fact, Athens dominated the line's directors at the beginning. But with the Banking trade expanding, the center of gravity moved to Augusta and Augusta in turn diverted its gaze from Athens and looked West. It was determined to construct the mainline to a terminal connection with the projected Western & Atlantic Railroad.
It took until 1845 for the Georgia Railroad to finish the main line from Augusta to Marthasville. Marthasville had been called "Terminus" as the proposed junction point of the Georgia Road and the state-funded Western & Atlantic. Within two years, it was changed — at the suggestion of Thomson — and became the more elegant "Atlanta." Atlanta thus became the first major city laid out because of rail connections rather than water navigational reasons.
When Thomson brought the Georgia Railroad to completion, the main totaled 171 miles making it the longest operating railroad in the entire world at that time. And that mileage did not count the Athens branch. Thomson, Georgia is named in his honor and stands, appropriately enough, on the Georgia main. For those who may not recognize Thomson's name, he went on to lay out the Pennsylvania Railroad including the famed Horseshoe Curve and served as president from 1852 to 1874 while making it into "the Standard Railroad of the World."
Two Bi-centennial painted hacks meet in Conyers. The bay window hack is parked on a siding as part of a display for the Bi-Centennial at the Conyers depot while Train 103 passes on the main.
One of the little hidden treats for the Georgia Railroad and Banking Company was the tax clause in the amended charter that capped the Railroad from tax liability above one-half of one percent (0.5%). This later became the subject of extensive litigation when Georgia thought it had made a bad deal – as indeed it had. The Georgia Railroad and Banking Company won every round, but the opinion became fixed that so long as passenger service was provided over its lines the tax break of the original charter would stand. When Georgia took over the branch from Social Circle to Monroe it was deemed to not to have been not part of the original charter. The Georgia chose not to contest this issue since it didn't want to upset the entire applecart for the rest of the railroad. After all, the Social Circle to Monroe branch was only 10 miles long.
The lines of the Georgia Railroad at the time of Amtrak's formation were: (1) the 171 mile main line between Atlanta and Augusta; (2) the 39 mile Athens to Union Point branch (a portion of the original Augusta to Athens 1833 projection); (3) the 18 mile Barnett to Washington branch; (4) the 78 mile Camak to Macon branch (officially merged into the Georgia in 1878) and (5) the 10 mile Social Circle to Monroe branch. The branches to White Plains and Lexington had been shucked by this time.
In the late 1920's and early 1930's the Athens line and the Macon line both switched their passenger service to mixed trains. The Monroe branch lost its mixed trains to buses. As the 1960's opened the Georgia Road was still showing fairly extensive mainline service. Trains 1 and 2 provided Pullman service connections between Augusta, Georgia through New York over the Atlantic Coast Line.
Georgia trains 3 and 4 boasted connections from Atlanta to Wilmington, North Carolina, sporting through air-conditioned Pullman and coach service. The Macon, Washington and Athens branch (grandly styled divisions) offered mixed train service daily except Sunday. But, like many other lines the Post Office contracts concealed the dirty secret that the main line service was no longer attractive to passengers. When the United States Post Office withdrew its subsidy of running mail on the Georgia Railroad, trains 3 and 4 were promptly discontinued in March of 1968.
Shortly thereafter, on April 7, 1968, the Georgia Railroad abandoned the Augusta Union Station and moved west to the Harrisonville Yards outside of Augusta proper. In sort of a mixed response, the Georgia also sped up the schedules of trains 1 and 2 shortly thereafter. The schedule was now accelerated to about three hours and forty-five minutes. By comparison, in 1962 the trip was four hours and ten minutes.
The next major change in Georgia Railroad operations was shifting the Atlanta terminus from the Atlanta Union Station eastward to Hunter Street effective January 27, 1969. The Georgia had office facilities here almost under the golden dome of the Georgia State Capitol Building. It is doubtful that many legislators were making use of 1 and 2 at this time; however it did reduce the overhead a great deal. Finally, a decision was made to shrink the Georgia Railroad mainline passenger service to the absolute minimum. Trains 1 and 2 became mixed trains on July 1, 1969.
But these were not just any mixed trains. In fact, they became known as "The Super Mixeds." The initial plan was to limit the train to a maximum of 50 loaded freight cars. All freight would be through cars with no switching en route. The heavyweight coaches which had been regularly seen on Georgia 1 and 2 were replaced by two former streamlined cars from the Crescent: Western Railway of Alabama 106 and Atlanta and West Point Coach 120 (both now renamed for the Georgia). Additionally a Western Railway of Alabama 10-6 streamlined sleeper "Alabama River" and Atlanta & West Point "Chattachoochee River" began to show up as substitutes when 106 and 120 needed servicing. Every intermediate station between Hunter Street and Harrisonville became a flag stop.
The Washington branch mixed runs north near Barnett as the sands run out on the service. It's April 27, 1983 and last run will come in only two days.
Trains 1 and 2 continued under this incarnation when Amtrak was established on May 1, 1971. However, within a year (March 29, 1972) the Georgia Railroad had made another service change. Trains 1 and 2 were abolished and the mixed trains became 103 (westbound) and 108 (eastbound). There was no longer a limit of 50 loads on the trains. Even worse, local switching was now permitted so the speeded-up schedule effectively vanished. What few real passengers may have actually traveled by train now also vanished. The Mixeds were no longer "Super."
Shortly thereafter on the Athens and Washington branches the elderly and less-than-inviting coaches were replaced with cabooses. A coach/caboose was still used on the Macon branch until 1979. It would be safe to say that the only persons riding the Georgia Railroad mixed by this time were either the curious or railfans.
The Hunter Street building was razed in 1975 in preparation for the construction of the James "Sloppy" Floyd office building and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit (MARTA) rail station. Trains 103 and 108 began using the Hulsey freight yards a little bit east of downtown Atlanta. A tiny asphalt spot marked the embarkation/disembarkation location. Trains 103 and 108 now ran between Hulsey yard and Harrisonville yard with very little pretense to being a real passenger service. While the schedule was posted, my personal observation was that it was the merest suggestion to the crews.
During the post-Amtrak period I once actually made use of the mixed train for a real transportation purpose between Covington and Conyers. My Chevrolet broke down in Covington and I was, at the time, living in Conyers. A local mechanic of my acquaintance towed off the deficient beast and I strolled over to the Covington depot. "When will the Mixed come through?" I queried the shocked agent. It was actually due in about an hour or so, so I settled in. The agent warned the crew that they had paying passenger waiting for them. After the engineer expertly spotted the coach and I boarded the conductor wanted to know my destination. "Conyers," (all of 10 miles away) I responded as I riffled a Federal Reserve note. He looked at me with some astonishment and I explained my dilemma. After a pause of a few seconds he looked at me and said "Put your money away. I don't want to have to do the paperwork." The fare couldn't have much more than a half dollar.
We talked as the 103 banged along the Georgia main. When he found that I lived trackside in an apartment complex he offered to just stop the train in front of the apartment so that I won't have to walk from the downtown station. As a result I had door-to-door service. Before I bailed out along and scrambled down the embankment, I volunteered that if they could give me service like this both ways I'd travel with them everyday. With a friendly, 103 was off again towards Hulsey. It wasn't long after that the Georgia decided it could get away with reducing service on 103 and 108 from daily to daily except Sunday effective December 28, 1980.
On another occasion, I decided to take the mixed from Augusta to Atlanta. I had been up for several days traveling and was quite tired. To my infinite pleasure, the Alabama River was attached to 103. After negotiating the terms of passage with the conductor, I found a bedroom and inspected the berth. The mattress was still in place and appeared in serviceable condition albeit without sheets or blankets. The next thing I knew, we were switching in Social Circle about 119 miles and many hours away. Despite the track conditions and the set-outs, I had not slept so well on regular service Pullmans.
The last run of the northbound Washington branch mixed train was not without fanfare. An extra "Chessie Steam Special" coach was pressed into service for this occasion and it was crowded with school children on April 29, 1983.
Georgia Road employees were generally tolerant of passengers, but they did have their rules. For example, if you rode down from Athens to Union Point, the mixed would continue east over the main to Barnett where it would divert north to serve the Washington branch. Passage over the main on the Mixed was strictly forbidden. So you would be abandoned in Union Point to sample the excellent lemonade at Kimbrough's Drug Store and arrange a return via thumb (if this were a Saturday) or else have a friend dragooned into providing transit.
Branch mixed service was generally pretty reliable and prompt in initial departure. I missed the Athens Mixed several times by being just a few minutes late. As the trains ambled along the indifferent right of way, time keeping became more and more problematical. The main line mixed trains also became less and less dependable. When I worked about a block from the Conyers depot in 1975 – 1976, I noted no reliable pattern of arrival. This was less than thirty miles from Hulsey Yard.
The indifference to passenger comforts became more and more pronounced. The coaches on the branchlines were heated by coal stoves and presented a pretty scruffy appearance in the 1960s. With the arrival of the former Crescent coaches on the mainline, things looked up a bit, but before long the absence of regular car cleaners was obvious. The windows were sometimes so dirty as to take on a tobacco coloration that filtered all but the strongest sunlight. The seats and floors were less than inviting.
The heavyweights were withdrawn and rebuilt into a more utilitarian combined coach/caboose for the branch lines, but eventually the branches became straight-out caboose operations. After loitering on sidings for some years, the heavyweights were rounded up, white-lined and dispatched to Hulsey for disposal in a "hospital train" in 1983. They were finally scrapped in 1985. Many of the cabooses, including the Georgia's bicentennial models followed about this time.
Passenger figures from 1981 cited by author Lyle Key indicated the Georgia Railroad mixed service served a total of 966 passengers on the main line and the branches. Of those, 693 were in children's groups. This means that along the entire Georgia Railroad and its branchlines fewer than 1 unaffiliated person a day was riding the various mixed trains. From my experience that is a surprisingly high number. I never saw a passenger on any mixed train between about 1971 and the very end. I would not be surprised if those gimlet eyes of the legal department were not squinting at this service and wondering whether or not the potential liability for an injury coupled with insurance costs were exceeding the tax breaks the railroad was getting.
Indeed, the mixed trains sometimes combined with outlawed coal drags or manifests. The size of a mixed could be in excess of 200 cars. The coach was frequently sandwiched between two cabooses at the tail. While the coach would be generally positioned at the tail, sometimes it would be cut in immediately behind the power as well. Slack action could catch the unwary traveler and cause embarrassment and possible expense to all concerned. The Georgia posted warning signs in the coaches as a talisman to ward off lawsuits for injury, but such an expedient is of limited utility.
Freshly scrubbed Seaboard System GP38-2 6051 proudly bears the name of Franklin Garrett, prominent Atlanta historian and railfan. This locomotive, thanks to the efforts of CSX employees, still bears his name. Here we see the locomotive on the point of the last run of the eastbound mainline mixed at Union Point on May 6, 1983. Mr. Garrett was actually aboard that day, and got to ride behind his namesake engine.
The 1980's was a decade of mergers and acquisitions. One of the astonishing things was the 1982 purchase of the operating property of the Georgia Railroad for a total of 16.5 million dollars. That was the ICC evaluation of the property in 1916. The Georgia Railroad & Banking Company divested the namesake property to the Seaboard Coast Line as a part of the CSX Corporation. The day after this sale was consummated a petition was filed with the Georgia Public Service Commission to discontinue all Georgia Railroad passenger service. About 60 days later, the Seaboard System was formed, bring the remains of the Georgia Railroad into the Seaboard System.
On April 5, 1983, the Georgia Public Service Commission granted the petition to discontinue all of the Georgia Railroad mixed trains. This had been anticipated for some time and fans were showing up in force. Excursion coaches from the Chessie Steam Special were being brought to the Georgia Railroad in order to deal with the increase in traffic. Former Clinchfield steam excursion coaches were called on as well to handle the expected crowds.
In those closing days, the main line Mixeds sometimes had as many as three coaches tucked in ahead of the caboose. But that was to be nothing as compared to the last run.
Full credit must be given to the railroad, for the way in which it finally closed the lid of the coffin of Georgia Railroad passenger service. When the permission was granted and immediately the announcement was made that the Georgia Road's Mixeds would be discontinued on the branch lines on April 29, 1983 while the last runs on the mainline would take place on May 6, 1983.
It's worth noting at this time that the Athens branch had already been severed and abandoned between a point a little south of Athens and little north of Union Point. In order to provide the service still deemed to be lawfully necessary, in lieu of the mixed train service highway service had been set up and offered. According to Key, no one ever rode it. The other branches, Washington and Macon, put on a splendid show for their last operations. Each train had at least one extra coach in addition to the caboose. The coaches were well filled and a good time was had by all.
It has probably been a good while since so many people were on the remnant of the platform at Union Point. Here Advance 108 disgorges its load. Some will reboard to proceed to augusta while others will catch 103 for the return to Atlanta. The Athens line is diverging at the right side.
The last run of the Georgia Mixeds 103 and 108 was a fine affair. Special souvenir tickets were printed. The trains were run as a First Section or "Advance." The Georgia Railroad had a GP38-2 numbered 6051 named "Franklin Garrett" for the noted historian and railfan. (That geep, now renumbered as CSXT 2702 and recently repainted again, still bears his name thanks to efforts of CSX employees.) Freshly painted in the Seaboard System scheme, properly groomed and immaculate, it headed up 108. Mr. Garrett was aboard.
The trains met at Union Point permitting travelers from the Augusta side to have the last three coaches switched out and coupled onto Advance 108 for a return to Augusta. Similarly, those boarding in Atlanta could debark and return on Advance 103. A large crowd gathered at Union Point to watch the last such meet on the Georgia Road. The "mixed" trains mixed only by the smallest of margins for this special event. Advance 108 had only one box car, for example. For the first time probably in decades a Georgia Railroad mixed train was carrying more passenger equipment than freight.
Advance 108 was powered by the "Franklin Garrett," as mentioned above. The second locomotive was also a GP38-2 6013 painted in Family Lines. Advance 103 was headed by Seaboard System GP16 4978 and assisted by Western Railroad of Alabama GP40 6795. That GP40 had served as power for the last Washington branch Mixed the previous week.
With this classy hoorah, the curtain ran down on one of the oldest passenger services in the United States. The Georgia Railroad & Banking Company had been one of the oldest operating corporations in Georgia and its passenger service was the oldest continuously operating under its original charter — save for the attendant inconveniences necessitated by the visit of firebugs such as one William T. Sherman — in the United States. No, the CSX closed the operation down not with a whimper, but with a bang.
A condensed version of this article appeared in the May 2011 Railfan & Railroad.