he reminiscing about the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad the other day has brought a gratifying amount of comment from people who were acquainted with it. The railroad, remember, ran from Helena, through Kensett, Searcy, Heber Springs, Harrison and Eureka Springs, to Joplin, Mo. After enjoying a wobbly running out of the Delta up through the Ozarks, it finally died of financial difficulties.
A Pine Bluff reader advances his theory as to why the railroad had to collapse: “The M and NA was doomed at the start,” he writes. “When it was organized, Jay Gould, the big railroad tycoon, was not included or consulted. The M and NA was originally projected to terminate at the Gulf Coast, but ended at Helena. Gould proceeded to parallel the M and NA with his building of the White River Division of the Missouri Pacific system, thereby diverting much business from the M and NA.”
A Little Rock man who was once a traveling salesman in the northwest Arkansas area has some interesting thoughts on the M and NA. “Your column re: the ‘rural railroad’ brings back memories of when I first started traveling Arkansas. “You mention that the road was known as the ‘M and NA’ for Missouri and North Arkansas. One name applied by the traveling men of those early days was ‘May Never Arrive,’ and in the days before even fair gravel roads, to say nothing of freeways or paved roads, about the only way you could go from Helena to Harrison was to ride the ‘May Never Arrive,’ and it was usually late.
I recall one winter night when the train was scheduled to come into Harrison from Missouri, and the ‘chair car’ with a woodburning stove for heat was well filled with traveling men. I was among them. The engine of the train broke down at Alpena, and we sat in the car for several hours. The weather necessitated chucking more wood in the stove and we burned up all there was in the wood box in our car. When the fire died down it began to get cold. Some brave souls went outside and tore boards off the side of the station and broke them up to rebuild the fire in the train.
“As you explained, the train stopped along the road for lunch and one story told by traveling men about one of the eating places was that travelers went across the dirt road to a boarding house and the old lady who operated the house stood guard at one end of the table with a freshly cut sassafras limb with green leaves on it which she swayed back and forth over the table to keep the flies away...”
That’s a very welcome and informative letter. It adds several valuable sidelights to the history of the rural railroad. The only question I have about the traveling salesmen who were delayed on the winter evening at Alpena is this: Why did they bother to tear the boards off the station? I looks like it would have been much more reasonable, and easier on the railroad, if they had just gone up and borrowed a few lumps of coal from the engine. On the M and NA the engine couldn’t have been too far away. vvv