Greene County Arkansas

Paragould, Arkansas

Centennial Edition Section 4

    Monday, August 29, 1983, Paragould Daily Press                                                                                                               Section 4, Centennial Edition  -5    

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Old Bethel Methodist Church: National Register site=========================Harmon Engine salutes the city's rail roots

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 National Bank.
   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 "company."
   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 moving.
   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."

        The 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 Harmon Park.
   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 contribution."
   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.

Heritage Quilt

Transcribed by: PR Massey

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