Luther Coward of Kensett is second from left in this 70-year-old photograph of M&NA section hands, probably at Strong Springs. Others in the front row are (from left) Walter Lytle, Joe Beck, Grover Maddox, Jewell Lytle and Roy Weeks. The man at left in the back row was identified as Mr. McMullen and at right as Melvin Vess.

Reflections on a Long-gone Railroad.

When railroad buff Jim Wakefield of Little Rock addressed the meeting of the White County Historical Society June 27, 1998, he drew a large crowd and awakened some old feelings.

The former president and organizer of the Arkansas Railroad Club presented several photographs of the Missouri & North Arkansas Railroad from the late 1800s until the late 1940s, when the line failed.

Sitting on the front row beside Society treasurer Leon Van Patten was L.D. "Bo Bo" Coward of Searcy, who attended the meeting because his father, Luther Coward of Kensett, put food on the table in hard times by working for the M&NA. During the meeting, Leon mentioned that he had brought a photograph [see above] of section hands at Armstrong Springs or Crosby. Bo excitedly asked if he could see it. The meeting was interrupted then brought to cheers when Coward found his youthful father in the old picture. (We made an extra print for his personal files later.)

Wakefield mentioned the bitter strike that began in 1921and divided many communities along the M&NA line. "I was making a presentation in Harrison not long ago," Wakefield noted, "and it turned out that there were representatives from both sides of the strike in the audience. I thought I was going to see a couple of 80-year-old men come to blows!"

The meeting was made additionally interesting by the presence of Don Ghent of Cabot, retired president of a south Arkansas shortline railroad, who demonstrated an old telegrapher’s key and presented a large array of old photographs, posters and other memorabilia. He also donated three posters as door prizes, to go along with Society member Earnest Best’s book, "The Hobo’s Trail -- Through The Depression."

Tale of The Great Atterberry

The journey down memory lane on the defunct M&NA reminded Van Patten of a time during the 1950s when a giant of a man walked into his John Deere dealership in Searcy. One of Leon’s workers, Charlie Jordan, recognized the visitor immediately. "Well, hello, Mr. Atterberry," he said. "Do you remember that little incident in the depot in Leslie years ago?" Atterberry just smiled. But after he left, Charlie told Leon the following story:

He remembered Atterberry as "a detective" for the M&NA. A 1997 historical journal listed R. Marion Atterberry as a conductor and brakeman. Like Marion Morrison, who became famous as John "Duke" Wayne, the moniker Marion apparently didn’t match up with his stature of 6 foot 6 and 250 pounds, because he is called "The Great Atterberry" in the journal.

Charlie was in Leslie, trying to get home to Letona by rail, when he observed five men in the depot awaiting The Great Atterberry, apparently with malice in mind.

"Mr. Atterberry usually rode in the caboose," he said, "but someone must have alerted him to trouble ahead. Because when the train pulled into the station, it was moving very slow and instead of being in the caboose, Atterberry was in the cab. When the engine reached the depot, he caught the five men by surprise and swung down into the midst of them just as they yelled "here the so-and-so is, let’s get ‘im!"

As the story goes, possibly embroidered over the years, The Great Atterberry swung five times and put five men on the floor of the depot. As #5 hit the planks the caboose of the train was slowly pulling away from the depot, so the mighty Marion grabbed hold and swung up onto the car as it disappeared out of sight.

Up in Leslie, Charlie Jordan said, they still talk about the time The Great Atterberry came riding into town, whipped five men, and left town on the same train. And it never stopped!

--Eddie Best