The following account regarding the
arrival of the first train in Piedmont is taken directly
from chapter three of, "The Story of Piedmont"
written by Albion and Velma Daniel, Copyright ©, 1955 -
published by Stivers and Ellinghouse. A copy can be found at
the Piedmont Public Library.
From 1869 there had been activity here
looking to the coming of the road. Work trains had been
operating as far south as Piedmont since early in 1870 and
construction crews living here were working feverishly to
extend the line to Arkansas state line, a requirement before
regularly scheduled service could be started.
By mid-September, 1871, work trains
were operating all the way to the state line but official
certification of the completion of the road through Missouri
was withheld until the first part of October. The first
regularly scheduled train was operated all the way from St.
Louis to Poplar Bluff on October 10 of that year.
Handbills announcing the coming of
this first regularly scheduled train had been printed in St.
Louis and circulated in every town along the rail line
between Iron Mountain and Poplar Bluff. Demonstrations of
various kinds had been arranged for in several towns and an
arrival time for the train at each point announced.
According to the schedule, the train
would arrive at Piedmont at 9 in the morning of Oct. 10,
1871. A speaker's stand was set up near the depot and a plot
of ground smoothed for the use of the band that would come
along the train. Excursion rates to Poplar Bluff and return
were announced and many tickets were sold.
Due to various operating delays, one
of them being the running out of cordwood for fuel for the
engine at Des Arc that necessitated the bringing of more
wood from Gads Hill on push cars, the train did not arrive
here until 2 in the afternoon.
That first train consisted of a
small, diamond-stacked, wood burning locomotive; one baggage
car; one express car; and two coaches, all the cars being
open platform type. The train was crowded for the rear
coach, -the official car, -carried not only the band; the
president and vice president of the railroad, Jay Gould and
Thomas Allen; Governor Benjamin Gratz Brown of Missouri and
members of his staff; but also food and drink for the
The other coach was for passengers,
some of whom also became mixed in with the official party at
various stops along the line after the liquid refreshments
began to take effect and class and other distinctions fell
crashing. During the more than two-hour delay at Des Ark it
is reported that Allen went among the passengers in the
public coach inviting the men passengers to join the
official party and partake of the refreshments.
Many of them did, and it appears the
members of the crew also were invited or came along without
invitation. Probably that was before the days of Standard
Rule G, for it appears that when the train did arrive at
Piedmont everyone on it, -the men, at least, -was in a
When the train arrived at the
Piedmont depot, the engine was detached from it and moved a
short distance down the track to keep smoke and hot ashes
from falling on the gathered celebrants. There was some
mistake of judgment made in the placing of the engine which
resulted in considerable confusion a little later.
But there was confusion right at the
start. The band was unloaded and grouped, a little bit
raggedly, it is reported, on the cleared space and started
the music promptly. From reports coming down to us from more
than 80 years ago it appears the music was at least loud if
not entirely harmonious. But no one cared, least of all the
Governor of Missouri who was experiencing exceeding
It appears Governor Brown had
prepared several speeches for the several occasions of train
stoppage of that day. Due, no doubt, to the many stops made,
the large number of people he was required to meet and
greet, and possibly, to some misjudgment as to the potency
of the alcoholic refreshments taken he read the speeches at
various stops, then discarded them.
At Piedmont it appeared that
somewhere along the line the wrong speech had been
discarded. the Governor was sure it had not been, for he had
been reading and practicing it at Des Arc. But it could not
be found and the Governor could not remember what it was he
wanted to say at Piedmont.
The Official party and members of
the crew, who had heard the practice session of it at Des
Arc, were called together to help the Governor remember. No
one could be of much help. In the meantime the band played
and played; the crowd grew restless.
And then the speech was found. The
conductor had it; had picked it up with other papers outside
the station at Des Arc.
It is unfortunate no one now is
living who remembers what the Governor said that day. One
living person who was present remembers he started to read
the speech, found some trouble that way and finally threw it
to the winds and just talked. this person says it was a good
speech but he doesn't remember what was said.
From the surrounding circumstances
it seems some oratory that well might have been immortal was
lost that day.
During the course of the Governor's
oration the confusion became even greater; so great, in
fact, he gave up and quit talking until the immediate
trouble could be controlled. It has been mentioned that the
engine, a quite distinguished little locomotive named "Helen
Gould" and bearing the number, No. 1, had been set some
distance away from the train.
It just happened that it had been
left sitting just under the water tank, a wooden structure;
and sparks from the fire had set the tank on fire. Since
fires almost always are more interesting than the speeches
of politicians, the Governor was forced to wait for the end
of the more thrilling excitement.
This was the first time a railroad
train brought a high public official to Piedmont and from
almost every standpoint one of the most successful of such
visits. In later years, Governors and former Governors;
Senators and former Senators, and even candidates for
President of the United States came here by train. But all
of these filled speaking engagements at places other than
the railroad depot.
At one time a President of the
United States was scheduled to speak from the rear platform
of a train here, or so local members of his party believed.
The train was due to arrive some time after dark and quite a
delegation was at the station to meet it and hear the
President. But something went wrong with that deal also.
Alas the train did not stop!
Despite the lateness of the hour,
-it was nearly 4 in the afternoon, -when all was ready to
proceed southward a large number of Piedmont folk rode it on
to Poplar Bluff. Two more stops were made for speech making,
one at Mill Spring and one at Williamsville. These took up
more time and the return train did not get the Piedmont
excursionists home until well after midnight.
But to those who made the trip, the
loss of sleep was well paid for by the thrill of riding that
first regularly scheduled train. Others who missed their
chance regretted it more and more as the years went by.
Truly Oct. 10, 1871 was a great day
in and for Piedmont and one that remained in memory as long
as life continued for a great many Piedmontians.