Operations on the Mary Lee Railroad
I am indebted to Mr. Bob Irvin for the following account of operations on the Mary Lee RR. Mr. Irvin was good enough to share this information by email, in December, 2003, after reviewing the Birmingham Rails website. I appreciate this very much and welcome input from readers like Mr. Irvin. The following is shared with permission:
I'll tell you what I recall about the Mary Lee's trackage rights on the L&N on the Cane Creek Branch, from the era 1954 until I left the L&N on December 31, 1970. Probably you already have this information. But when I went to work as a train dispatcher it was called "Sloss." The name later changed to U.S. Pipe & Foundry (USPF), until some date I don't recall, when it became Jim Walters Corp.
As for their operations, they ran one or two round trips on week days to Granlin on the Banner Branch, where their
Flat Top Mine was located. "Granlin" is just a location, not a town. The morning train was called about 7:00 or 8:00 a.m., and left their yard in North Birmingham, paralleled the L&N main line for a short distance and followed Fine [Five] Mile Creek to Fultondale. The tracks were still there up until a year or two or three ago. It was next to U.S. 31, then joined the Cane Creek Branch at a station named Humoro, just north of the tower at Black Creek. The only purpose in having a station at Humoro was to fix the Sloss trains (I still call 'em that) with orders for the trip to Granlin
I don't really know how much of the Cane Creek Branch remains. When I was working it went all the way to a coal washer at Praco, with branches to Maxine, Labuco, Sayre, and Granlin. The junction for the Banner Branch (to Granlin) was named Chetopa. It was about a mile east (south by railroad direction) of Lynn's Crossing, on Highway 78. Curiously, although I traveled the Cane Creek Branch while learning the physical characteristics of the railroad, I never went onto the Banner Branch. At that time, the Sloss trains were the only trains using the Banner Branch. (Later, when West Jefferson Steam Plant was built, the L&N (CSX) ran coal trains from someplace on the Birmingham Mineral below Bessemer to the steam plant.) It was a very rugged piece of track, had a tunnel and was built on the contours of the land, lots of curves and grades. I've seen the track profiles.
Chetopa, like Humoro, was for the sole purpose of fixing up the Sloss trains. Of course, if needed, we'd use these offices for train orders for L&N trains, although I don't recall that Humoro was ever used. Sloss trains were run as extras. Back in the days when there was lots of coal mined on the Cane Creek Branch and those other branches off it, there were about four schedules in each direction, but by the time I started dispatching there was only one schedule in each direction, No. 150-151, to accommodate Praco or Maxine Turns.
On those days when Sloss ran two turns (once or twice a week), the L&N would call extra operators to work at Humoro and Chetopa. As I recall, the usual consist was three units and about 40 cars. They'd take a train of empties to Granlin and bring back a like number of loads. I've seen their engines a few times, yard-type, but I know nothing about them, builder, or anything. I do recall they were, at one time, numbered in 30-series, but that's about it.
Each Friday the Sloss trainmaster would give us a list of proposed operations the following week. Something like this:
Monday One train 8:00 a.m.
Tuesday One train 8:00 a.m.
Wednesday Two trains 8:00 a.m. 2:00 p.m., etc.
That's all I can remember about it, and probably there's nothing new to you. I believe the Can[e] Creek Branch has all been taken up north (west by compass) of Chetopa. When I was working there was a DuPont powder plant at Mineral Springs, that merited an L&N local each day, usually about 10:00 a.m. There was an agent-operator at Mineral Springs. I drove by there about five years ago and nothing is left, as near as I can tell.
I still have a book I made in 1954, when I learned the road, showing all the tracks and branches on the Birmingham Division at that time. (I relied on it to bring back some station names that had escaped my memory).
If I can help with any information about other L&N lines in the area, let me know. A few years ago, Mr. Lyle Key wrote a very interesting article in THE DIXIE LINE, a publication of the L&N Historical Society, about the L&N's branches on Red Mountain
Bob, thanks for this information -- it was certainly new to me, and very interesting.