Photo courtesy: Mrs. Gaylon Levins
Built in 1901 and restored in 1974, the Old Bethel Methodist
Church near Finch is the only structure other than the Greene County
Courthouse listed on the National Register of Historic Places, an
honor it earned in 1978. As the nucleus of the old community, the
building was also used as a school until 1925. Regular church
services ended in 1926 although it was used sporadically until 1941,
after which it was virtually abandoned and left to rot (above). But
when a farmer wanted to raze it and use the lumber for a barn,
residents and former residents of the area started a campaign to
save it. With donations of $2,200 and lots of free labor and
materials, the restoration was accomplished in May 1974.
Getting an 80-ton steam locomotive to rest in Harmon Park, blocks
from the railroad tracks, was no easy task.
The project was masterminded in 1959 by the late John Justin
Mueller, who wanted to provide a monument to Paragould's railroad
history. Mueller was a former publisher of The Big Picture and
Paragould postmaster by trade and a railroad buff by nature.
Now, 24 years later, the engine he worked so hard to get has been
allowed to deteriorate to the point that the Parks and Recreation
Department considers it dangerous for children to play on, and there
is much talk about removing it.
Finding the engine, in itself, was a chore. As steam engines were
replaced by diesels, they were becoming scarce and were most often
sold for scrap metal. Finally Mueller heard about an abandoned steam
engine near Augusta, where he located Engine No. 303 in an old
storage barn about three miles from town.
The engine had been used on the Augusta Railroad --known as both
"The World's Shortest Railroad" and "The Dummy Line" --a one-mile
spur constructed in 1887 by the citizens of Augusta after the St.
Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad had refused to construct it.
The going price for No. 303 was $1500 - delivery not included. That
posed a formidable problem.
Mueller returned to Paragould and enlisted the help of several
others, including railroaders, train buffs like himself, then-Mayor
Ike Wilcockson and Cecil Mitchell, then president of the First
Mitchell advanced the money to buy the engine. Mueller immediately
set about raising the cash by organizing the Children's Iron
Mountain Railroad Inc., which sold shares of "stock" in the
Locating the engine and raising the money to buy it seemed simple
compared to the task of moving the engine along the roughly 100
miles of railroad tracks from Augusta to Paragould.
The biggest obstacle was that the engine had no brakes __ and the
state superintendent of the Missouri Pacific Railroad had insisted
that it have brakes before being attached to a freight train for
Lyman Schrader was in Augusta on the day that No. 303 was to lumber
along the line from Augusta to Paragould, as was Chalkey Hart, a
retired air brake specialist. Schrader described the task in a 1970
edition of The Greene County Historical Quarterly:
"We had the engine on a spur track and Chalkey began his inspection of the
air brakes. The shoes were pretty well worn. While he was busy
inspecting, I went over to the depot. The operator was not there,
but at this moment, the Memphis-Bald Knob local was just coming into
the station. I flagged the local, whose engineer, T.P. Mock, was a
friend of mine."
Harmon Park locomotive,
also known as Engine No. 303
Photo by: Bruce Moore/Daily Press
"I asked if he would cut off from the train and
come over and put air on the engine. He pulled back and down behind
the engine and put air hose on it. But with all his effort, we could
not gain a pound of pressure. Chalkey finally announced it was
hopeless, for all the lines were rusted out. " At that moment, I
wanted to sit down and cry, for it looked as if No. 303 might never
make the trip. Air brakes were just not even a possibility."
Mock then suggested that the engine be tied on behind the Missouri
Pacific caboose for a ride as far as Wynne. There, it was tied onto
the Paragould local freight coming North.
With a few minor problems, the engine arrived in town without
fanfare and was set out by the Farmer's Co-op. It was later moved
into the Wrape's Stave Mill yard, while a plan was laid to get it to
A heavy-equipment moving firm from West Memphis happened to be in
the area, and volunteered its crew and equipment to move the
locomotive across town. A pit was dug next to the engine so that
lowboys could pull in close to it and load up. Through this
unorthodox manner, the steam engine traveled to the park.
It was set on a concrete base provided by Hickson Lumber Co., with
rails and ties provided by the Missouri Pacific.
Besides buying the engine, the only payment was $w00 given to the
West Memphis firm that had moved it from the tracks to the park.
Schrader was further quoted: "Many local residents, particularly
railroad men, donated to the fund, but it never got large enough to
defray the cost of the engine. Mr. Mitchell saw that it was made up
through the First National Bank -- which was an enduring community
The Greene County Historical Quarterly also credited the following
with signing the FNB note that paid, in part, for the engine:
L.T. Adams, Albert Bacon, E.D. Barnes, C.L. Briggs, R.L. Dortch,
J.D. Kelley, Thomas L. Roe, Alfred Smith, R.W. Smith, W.H. Smith,
J.M. Sharp and John J. Mueller.