Monday, February 6, 2012

A Post in Three Parts: A Reverse S-Curve, a Wayward Caboose, and Antiquated Blue Laws

Early yesterday morning – very faintly – I could hear the train moving through downtown Douglasville even though I live a few miles away from the track.   The sound wafts down from the ridge at Skint Chestnut and floats across the interstate.  It hangs over the Mt. Carmel district for a few seconds as it fades out.  It’s easy to miss if you are busy doing this and that, so I’m always a little surprised when I hear it, but it always makes me smile remembering my childhood growing up with a train track literally in my front yard.
The sound also got me to thinking about three separate bits of information regarding “our” train, and I decided it was time to share even though each piece of information could stand alone as a separate column, but why should they?    … least there is an underlying theme.  

Part 1:  The Reverse S-Curve….
I found some still photographs online of trains making their way through Douglas County as well as some videos, too.   Apparently there are folks that are real train fanatics – often referred to as railfans – people who actually follow trains and take pictures along the route at various locations. 
Many of the entries mentioned Douglasville’s “famous Reverse S-curve”.   

Seriously?   The rails passing through Douglas County curve at some point…..and form an “S”?    I began to look closely at the pictures and the videos and couldn’t deny the fact that we do have a reverse S-curve west of town at the N. Baggett Road crossing.    I even got in the car and headed west on 78 and yes…..there it was.  I have driven by the spot hundreds of times, and it just never registered with me.
You can see it at this picture I located here:

The picture above is Douglasville's famous Reverse S-Curve.  The link above serves as the picture credit.

You can really view how the track curves in this particular video here around the 1:08 mark….the first section of the video is a view of Temple, Georgia, but then you see the S-curve at N. Baggett Road.

So, I had more questions.  Why is this reverse S-curve so famous among the railfans and why was the “S” built into the track?   It just seems that straight lines would be safer.    Everything I’ve read about curves mentions the fact that friction and wear on the wheels and rails are problems.   The curves also reduce speed, but that wouldn’t be such a bad thing as trains approach town, right?

I sent the railfan who shot the video a message and Nikos answered me.  You have to love the ease of contact with the Internet!   Nikos stated:

It's not famous really, it's just well known within the Atlanta railroad photography circle, since its a very nice place to photograph trains. As for why it's built like that, I don't know a specific answer, but I imagine it has to do with the topography of the land and a way to gain elevation, if you ever see a train coming through the S curves it often will not be moving that fast and the locomotive prime movers will be working hard. The stretch of railroad between Atlanta and Birmingham is known for its curves and hills.

A friend of mine and long time Douglasville resident advised:

One thing to keep in mind is the period in which they cleared the land and took into consideration the topography of the land. You know once you get west of Douglasville, the Appalachian [imprint] of the land rolls and ebbs. I would imagine back then that the railroad surveyors took the least construction impact path to lay a rail bed. They didn't have equipment back then like we do today.

I'd like to get my hands on some of the information regarding the route of the track and how it was decided. I'm thinking a trip to the Norfolk Southern archives is in order. It's on my list of things to do at any rate.

Part 2: The Missing Caboose....
Back in December I visited the Douglas County Public Library on Selman Drive and took a few photographs of their art collection.   This picture is part of the collection:


The title of this piece is “The End of the Line” by Jim Perkins.   The title makes perfect sense because Mr. Perkins captured the caboose that sat along the railroad tracks between Broad Street and Strickland Street where Campbellton crosses Broad and the tracks.   The library’s guidebook to the art collection advised me “the caboose was acquired by the City of Douglasville.”
I remember seeing the caboose there.   Several people I’ve asked remember seeing the caboose there, so at least I know I wasn’t seeing things, but it has disappeared.  You can actually see the caboose in this next picture on the right:

I thought it might have been moved to Hunter Park…..a caboose is on display there, but was told by someone who used to work at the park it is a different one.

Hunter Park, Douglasville
What on earth happened to it?
I have inquired with various people to no avail.   I’m still waiting on some answers, but so far…..nothing.

Part 3:  Antiquated Blue Laws….      
Hearing the train whistle yesterday morning also got me thinking about another tidbit of train related history I’ve been hanging onto, and it connects to antiquated laws we still have today.   The situation involves a piece of litigation originally filed in the Superior Court here in Douglas County before reaching  the Georgia Court of Appeals in 1908.   The case involved one of Georgia’s blue laws.
In case you are unaware a blue law refers to a law that is passed based on religious standards.  The origin of the term “blue law” is unknown, but the concept dates back to the Puritans in the 17th Century when they passed laws requiring church attendance on Sunday.
Blue laws abounded back when I was a little girl.   Whether you went to a Christian church or not there were certain things you simply did not do on a Sunday including shopping and apparently at the turn of the century it was against the law for a train to blow its horn on Sundays and disturb the Sabbath.
Yes, not only were stores closed across the state in 1908 it was also against the law for trains to disturb the Sunday quiet.  The Defendant in the matter was A.H. Westfall, the superintendent of transportation for the Southern Railway Company.    The complaint advised:
….on the 14th day of April, 1907, said day being the Sabbath day, [the Defendant] unlawfully run and cause to be run in and through Douglas County, over said railroad six freight trains of the Southern Railway Company, all going east pulling a train of freight cars, all of said freight trains arriving and departing from the city of Douglasville during the afternoon of said date.

….The six freight trains in question ran through Douglas County after eight o’clock a.m. on the Sunday charged in the indictment, arriving at their destination, Atlanta, at different hours in the afternoon and evening of that Sunday.
…These trains were all prevented from making their trips in schedule time, and were delayed at Waco, by the fact that there was no water in the tank at that place to supply the engines; and the tank was not supplied with water at Waco until about noon on Sunday.

….The failure to keep water at Waco prevented the freight train from complying with their regular schedule, and caused them to be delayed more than 12 hours; and when they left Waco on Sunday about noon, they were ordered to make the run to Atlanta on what was known as an “extra schedule.”

Eventually the Court of Appeals did not uphold the original verdict against Mr. Westfall for several complex legal reasons I won’t bore you with here, but the case was dismissed.

Today this case seems a little silly, doesn’t it?   How could we have a law preventing a train from blowing its horn?    Even without the sort of automobile traffic we have today it would seem folks would need to know when a train was bearing down on them, but the blue laws prevailed.

Over the years one by one the blue laws have been repealed.   I can remember finally having the ease and convenience of entering a store…..almost any store…..on a Sunday to shop.   Today, the thought of not being able to is just ludicrous, and far be it from me to judge anyone, but I would imagine the same folks who attend church venture into those stores for a little shopping, order their favorite dish at a restaurant, or even buy a movie ticket on the once stark and quiet Sabbath.
However, one blue law remains…..
In November, 2011 The New York Times advised:

Religiously motivated blue laws were once common across the Bible Belt. But over the decades, they have been struck down as anachronistic or unfriendly to business. Georgia was the last Southern bastion of a statewide all-day ban on Sunday alcohol sales in package or grocery stories.

After years of debating whether to do away with a century-old law that banned selling alcohol on Sundays, Georgia politicians decided to let the people vote, city by city and county by county, on what they preferred in their communities. The results were resounding: 105 of the 127 communities that voted chose to end the Sunday restriction, often by huge margins…..

That is a compromise that both sides agree is probably best for an issue where views differ so starkly. “It’s hard to argue with people who just want to vote, even when you disagree with what they want to vote for,” said Jerry Luquire, president of the Georgia Christian Coalition.
So, I can hear the train in Douglasville now…..I can go to a movie, a restaurant and do some shopping, but can I buy that same bottle of wine on a Sunday that I can pick up the day before or the day after?
No.   I can’t, and unlike so many Georgia communities that have held elections, I haven’t been given the right to exercise my right to vote concerning the issue.
Richard Segal, the administrator of the Facebook page called “Douglasville & Douglas County for Sunday alcohol sales,” advises:
“What could be the last of the blue laws in Georgia fell last year when the Georgia General Assembly passed, and Governor Deal signed, SB-10 which permits cities and counties to place a question on the ballot to allow the retail sale of alcohol beverages.  The Douglasville and Douglas County governments have not acted on this, but the two cities that are partially in Douglas County have.  Villa Rica voters approved Sunday retail sales in November, and Austell voters get to decide on March 6.  Even with these changes, alcohol sales on Sunday are still treated differently than on other days of the week – no sales before 12:30 p.m. are allowed.”

It really doesn’t matter to me how the vote turns out.  What matters to me is that our citizens here in Douglas County and the City of Douglasville should be able to speak out on the matter by getting to exercise one of the most important rights and responsibilities we have – the right to vote.
I certainly hope our elected officials wouldn’t have the audacity to deny citizens their right to vote since so many communities in our state have already had their say.
Perhaps it’s time they heard from you.
You can visit the Facebook page for “Douglasville & Douglas County for Sunday alcohol sales” here.

You can find the contact information for the Board of Commissioners for Douglas County here and contact information regarding the City of Douglasville officials here.


  1. Interesting on all 3 topics! Wish Douglasville had more of a visible historical presence and character.

  2. I do, too......what can we do to change that?


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