Commuter Trains along the Mississippi Gulf Coast

After the War Between the States, the railway system in the United States blossomed.  Connecting the eastern and western coasts was a project begun by President Abraham Lincoln, and  even though he didn’t live to see his dream brought to complete fruition, his forward thinking helped the nation industrialize and grow after its great conflict.  Comfortable travel by rail became the usual means of travel for most Americans, and commuter travel for businessmen became even more convenient.  In fact at one time the Gulf Coast had as many as twenty-two passenger trains stopping daily at depots from Mobile to New Orleans.  These runs began in 1870 with the completion of the railway bridge across the Bay of Saint Louis and continued for over one hundred years. 

Of these twenty-two commuter trains which traversed the Gulf Coast, one was specific to the Mississippi Coast. It ran from Ocean Springs to New Orleans Monday through Saturday and  served the cities of Ocean Springs, Biloxi, Gulfport, Pass Christian, Bay Saint Louis, and Waveland.  Depots and boarding stops in Hancock County alone were numerous with facilities at Bay Saint Louis, Waveland (Nicholson Avenue, Coleman Avenue, and Waveland Avenue) Clermont Harbor, Lakeshore, Ansley, and the Baldwin Lodge.  It left Ocean Springs at 7:00 A. M. and arrived at the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal at 8:30 with one hundred to two hundred businessmen. 

Seeing to the comfort and safe travel of the passengers were conductor Daniel J. Chancellor and engineer John Battiste White.  Because their clientele usually consisted of the same businessmen, a close camaraderie developed between the railway employees and their passengers and among the passengers themselves.  At the end of the run, Chancellor collected items left on the train by the men, kept them safe, and returned the raincoats, briefcases, etc., at the commuters’ next boardings. 

Although there were faster trains the men could take on their daily commutes, they chose this particular one because of its friendly and relaxing atmosphere. Often the businessmen passed the time by playing cards—bridge, gin rummy, or hearts.  Some used the travel to catch up on business or even grab a catnap along the way.  One commuter, the father of twelve children, even remarked that the only rest he got was on the train!

Reaching the Crescent City in time to begin the business day, the men disembarked at the Carrollton or Union terminals and went their various ways.  However, Mr. Chancellor retired to a hotel room for sleep.  Even though his home was in Ocean Springs, his day had begun at 4:00 A. M. and would not end until about 10:00 P. M. after the late afternoon run back eastward and his retiring the train for the night.  By 4:30 P. M., Mr. Chancellor was back in uniform and on duty at the Union terminal ready for the return trip to Ocean Springs.

The engineer, John White, was quite a character in his own right.  A native of Ocean Springs, he had begun his career at the age of seventeen in the Louisville & Nashville shop at Mobile, steadily working his way up to engineer.  Earlier in his career, Mr. White had run the Smokey Mary, an old wood-burner from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain.  Making seven or eight trips daily, the last one on Saturday nights could be quite tumultuous. He said that he and his workers often piled all of the drunks onto the last coach and then left them at the police station on Dauphine and Elysian Fields to sober up by the next morning. 

Later in his career Mr. White saw many people on his Ocean Springs to New Orleans run, and they became those familiar acquaintances we see during our daily routines, but never really meet.  They’d wave to him in the summer and flash porch lights to him in winter.  In the afternoons young children waiting for their fathers at the various stops anticipated a friendly wave from Mr. White.  So amiable was the relationship between the train personnel and the commuters that the conductor, engineer, flagman, porter, and firemen received Christmas gifts each year from their passengers.

Time passes and things change; however with the last run of this particular commuter train on May 6, 1964, daily commuter service along the Coast did not end.  In fact the Hummingbird, owned by the L&N Railroad, continued until January 1969 when high maintenance costs and a convenient and fast interstate highway system brought its demise.  Nonetheless, a few remaining excursion/commuter trains held out and lasted until May 1971.  They had such names as the Azalean, the Piedmont, the Crescent, and the Pan American. Although commuter service did resume for a short period of time during the summer and early fall of 1984 to coincide with the New Orleans World’s Fair, it ultimately could not compete with the interstate highway system and the convenience of automobile travel.  Thus, commuter service along the Mississippi Gulf Coast became a part of railway history.

[Editor’s note:  I could not find the name of this particular commuter train in any of our records.  If you remember the name, please call the Society at 228-467-4090.]

SOURCES:
“Clickety Clack, Clickety Clack— Commuters Coming down the Track.”  Dixie, the Times- Picayune States Roto Magazine, 14 Oct. 1956, no page given.
“Commuter Service Begins on Daily Basis Sunday.”  The Sea Coast Echo, 26 Apr. 1984, no page given.
“Flashback:  Excursion Trains.”  The Sun Herald,  28 Mar. 1993, no page given.
“Last Commuter Train—1964.”  The Sea Coast Echo, no date given, no page given.

 

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