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The Arkansas and Missouri Train Trip to Van Buren 9/24/2022

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I awoke at the too early hour of 5:45 AM and after doing our Internet duties, we went downstairs to the hotel's restaurant for breakfast. We finshed our Internet then joined the other members of National Railway Historical Society who were participating in today's trip during the Autumn Conference. The two of us boarded the bus, taking the first two seats, and I greeted the members as they boarded. We drove to the railroad station, parked then walked to where the conductor was waiting.

Arkansas & Missouri Railroad Information

The Arkansas & Missouri may be one of the most documented shortline railroads in the country. Articles on it, and its large fleet of Alco locomotives, have been published in many magazines such as Trains, Railfan & Railroad, and Pacific Rail News. Finding information on the railroad is little challenge for the serious railfan.

The A&M was founded in 1985 by an investor group, headed up by Tony Hannold (operator of several shortline railroads on the east coast), which signed a lease-purchase agreement with Burlington Northern for this line. At the time, northwest Arkansas was considered to be a poor part of the country and BN was centering their investment efforts on their mainlines. However, since the creation of the line, this region has become one of the most dynamic business centers in the United States. Companies such as Tyson Foods, Walmart, and J.B. Hunt are headquartered along the line.

At the time of the purchase, the principal items hauled consisted of timber products, canned goods, chicken feed, sand and gravel. Today, the traffic mix has somewhat changed with more than 150 shippers using the railroad. Probably the most visible shipments are the significant inbound quantities of grain and grain products as feed for industry giants Tyson Foods, George's, Cargill, OK Feeds, and Willowbrook Foods. The A&M also moves large volumes of frozen poultry for Frez-N-Stor, Zero Mountain, OK Foods Industries, and Arkansas Refrigerated, as well as canned vegetables for Allen Canning. The railroad also delivers the ingredients for Newly Weds Foods (batters, breadings, and seasoning systems), Pepper Source (tangy, spicy sauces), and Pappas Foods (juices and syrups), as well as materials for Glad (manufactures storage bags and plastic wrappings), Smurfit-Stone Container, and Georgia-Pacific (cups and containers).

The A&M also operates regular shipments of sand for major concrete producers Arkhola Sand and Gravel, Mid-Continent Concrete, Beaver Lake Concrete, Tune Concrete, Kay Concrete, and Barry County Ready Mix, among others. Cement is handled for Ash Grove Cement, and timber is moved for National Home Centers, Ridout Lumber, Meeks Lumber, and Midwest Walnut. Scrap steel is moved for Davis Iron and Metal, Rogers Iron and Metal, and Roll Off Services; pellets go to St. Gobain Proppants; and plastic materials to Van Buren Pipe.

The railroad interchanges with BNSF at Monett, Union Pacific at Van Buren, and Kansas City Southern at Fort Smith. Additionally, the A&M handles direct barge-rail shipments at the Arkansas River ports of Van Buren and Fort Smith. The Arkansas & Missouri has also created an affiliate, Ozark Transmodal, Inc., to handle transload freight movements.

In 2000, the railroad leased 3.2 miles of track (locally known as "the Bottoms") from Union Pacific at Van Buren to reach a sand barge dock, and provides haulage services for Union Pacific between Van Buren and the Fort Smith Railroad in Fort Smith.

On March 16, 2001, the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad actually purchased the Monett to Ft. Smith line. In June 2002, Tony Hannold was replaced as chairman of the railroad by Reilly McCarren, former president and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Central Transportation Corporation. McCarren also soon became the majority stockholder of the railroad. During the next three years, the new ownership essentially rebuilt the railroad, adding welded rail where lighter jointed rail existed south of Springdale.

During the past decade, the railroad has continued to modernize with a new office, passenger station, and locomotive and car shop. The Alco fleet continued to expand until the availability of quality locomotives, and the increase in freight, required larger and more modern locomotives. In 2013, EMD delivered three SD70ACes locomotives to the A&M.

Our trip

We waited until the conductor said, "All Aboard! and I boarded the car.

The view back before we left Springdale.

Passengers in the "Explorer".

We left a few minutes late this morning but we were now on the move south.

Crossing one of Springdale's grade crossings.

Two of the Tyson Food plants in South Springdale.

Looking forward at the front of the train.

Erie Railroad caboose C-103 built by the railroad in 1951, in Barbara, a suburb of Fayetteville.

Looking from the observation platform.

Curving into Fayetteville.

St. Louis-San Francisco Fayetteville station built in 1897 and rebuilt in 1925.

Robinson's Branch Bridge over a short stream crossing.

Curving our way southbound.

Winn Creek Bridge is 273 foot long.

Curving south on a delightful Arkansas morning.

Pullman Santa Fe business car "Elise Perrault" built by the company in 1928, originally Santa Fe coach 3361 and later rebuilt into a business car.

The siding at Brentwood.

The south switch at Brentwood.

On the way to the Fayetteville Airport.

At Drake Field in Fayetteville, there is an aviation and military museum.

Next the train climbed the grade to Winslow.

The north switch at Winslow.

The south switch at Winslow.

The Winslow Tunnel is a 1,693-foot-long tunnel which was finished in July 1882. From here we will drop down the grade of 2.1 to 2.3 all the way to Schaberg.

Trestle One stands 125 feet high, is 780 feet long and is known as the Boston Mountain Viaduct 1 by Burlington Northern employees.

We took a curve to our next trestle.

Trestle Two stands 110 feet high, is 431 feet long and is known as the Boston Mountain Viaduct 2.

Curving to get to Trestle Three.

Trestle Three stands 110 feet high, is 451 feet long and is known as the Boston Mountain Viaduct 3.

Still the President of the NRHS, Al Weber talking with a pair of passengers. The train then reached the bottom of the grade at Schaberg.

A bridge across a road.

Howard Fork of Frog Bayou Bridge is 390 foot long.

Howard Fork of Frog Bayou Bridge is 220 foot long.

Howard Fork of Frog Bayou Bridge is 438 foot long.

Curves along the Frog Bayou.

Frog Bayou Bridge is a 537 foot bridge.

Frog Bayou Bridge is 250 foot long.

Rolled hay along our route.

Hurricane Creek Bridge is 265 foot long.

Looking off the platfrom to the north.

Interstate 540 is an impressive highway bridge.

Frog Bayou bridge is 343 foot long.

Cows run in panic from the train.

Frog Bayou bridge is 268 foot long.

An impressive sight of the Boston Mountains.

Clear Creek Overflow Bridge is 159 foot long.

The train was kicking up the dust.

Frog Bayou Bridge is 521 foot long.

Our train has descended the grade.

Frog Bayou Bridge is 482 foot long.

Frog Bayou Bridge is 520 foot long.

Frog Bayou Bridge is 228 foot long.

Good friend Skip Waters.

Bob St. John from Topeka, Dawn Holmberg and Dan Meyer from the Northstar Chapter.

The power for our train, Arkansas and Missouri C-420s 62 and 68. We boarded the waiting motor coach for Fort Smith, which is the subject of another story.

Later we returned to Van Buren, I saw Sarah Jennings and talked with my good friend Bart Jennings as we waited for the train to return from Winslow. When I heard the horn I made a photo line across the street.

The Winslow Turn returned to Van Buren and then the engine would go north and run around the train.

Arkansas and Missouri C-420 62, ex. Delaware and Hudson 406, nee Lehigh Valley 406, built by American Locomotive Company in 1964.

Arkansas and Missouri C-420 68, ex. Delaware and Hudson 411, nee Lehigh Valley 411, built by American Locomotive Company in 1964.

Arkansas and Missouri coach 105 "Golden Age" built by Harlan and Hollingsworth in 1927 for the Central Railroad of New Jersey and this car was used in commuter service for years.

Arkansas and Missouri coach 106 "Mountain View" built by Harlan and Hollingsworth in 1927 for the Central Railroad of New Jersey which was also used in commuter service for years.

Arkansas and Missouri diner-lounge 109 built by Budd in 1950 as Southern Pacific coffee shop-lounge 10409 "Pride of Texas". The car became Amtrak 8322 in 1971. Amtrak sold the car to Ohio Central and in 2014, Arkansas and Missouri acquired the car.

Arkansas and Missouri dome "Silver Feather" built by Budd in 1948 as Western Pacific dome-coach 812. When retired it went into Auto Train service becoming 461. In the 1980's, it served on Texas Southern before turning into Washington Central 151, and in 1997 it moved to BC Rail and their Pacific Starlight Dinner Train but became "Moonglow". It was sold to Ontorio Northland and renumbered 901. In December 2010 the car was sold to Arkansas and Missouri, numbered 108 and renamed "Silver Feather".

Arkansas and Missouri parlor car "Explorer" built by Pullman Standard in 1955 as Long Island P72 coach 2927. This car went to the Northern Central Railway in Pennsylvania before being moved to the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad in December 2004.

The train returned to the station and we boarded the "Explorer", taking the same seats.

On the way back to Springdale, the striking Arkansas and Missouri emblem on the front of Arkansas and Missouri 68. Elizabeth rode most of the way back in the "Silver Feather" before returning to me. We met a southbound Arkansas and Missouri freight train at Brentwood.

At the Fayetteville Airport was a visiting Goodyear Blimp which looked to be full of helium from this morning when it was limp. It was in town for the LPGA event in Bentonville. The train later returned us to Springdale where the next event of the day was waiting for us all.