By Tex Carter
When built the F&P Railroad was leased and operated by three different railroads until their lease ran out in 1914. That was the year the F&P was returned to its owners, Franklin Co.
At this point the line was no longer run and managed by others; it was now in the control of local people of Franklin Co. Upon its return a committee of local business men was assembled to manage operation of the railroad. The following people were officers:
C.S. Bennett vice president
C.W. Dudley secretary
C.J. Davis treasurer
J.P. Lee general counsel
Along with a group of directors the county appointed Nathaniel P. Angle as president of the railroad, a job he no doubt wanted. Nat Angle was the most successful business operator in Franklin Co.
Angle was born in Franklin Co. in 1861 near the Ferrum area and attended local schools. Later he went to the Piedmont Business School in Lebanon, Ohio. After graduation he returned to Rocky Mount and went into the leaf tobacco business.
He branched out into many other enterprises such as the Bald Knob Furniture Co., A grocery and Milling Co., The Peoples National Bank, a silk mill and the Rocky Mount Motor Co. among others.
When the job of railroad president opened up he was the natural man to step into the position. The county got the F&P back May 1, 1914. It was an amicable separation from the Southern RR and in the process the old equipment was cleaned and painted and the F&P got to lease the Pittsville branch for a nominal fee along with the option to buy water, coal and sand at the Gretna yard.
Angle and his fellow officers knew their efforts were not likely to put the railroad in the black. It hadn’t made money up to that point but it did provide jobs, transportation and support for the local businesses. Both the county and the officers continued to ignore the red ink on the ledger as without the railroad their businesses would suffer. No one, least of all Nat Angle, wanted to go back to hauling freight and crops by wagon and in 1914 trucks and good roads were still a way in the future.
Every community has a leader who is driven to achieve more than his fellow citizens and in Rocky Mount that man was Nat Angle. By the time Angle was running the F&P he was on his way to financial independence and could well afford the luxury of overseer of a railroad. It was a position he relished.
No further proof is needed than the story of the time Angle and his wife were on a trip to Europe. Someone ask him what he did for a living. Of all the businesses he owned and had started and his other community services he had provided he told them he was the president of the Franklin and Pittsylvania Railroad. His obvious pride in that above all his other accomplishments showed his feelings for the line and the community it served.
In November of 1921 the F&P was forced into receivership and in April the following year it was sold. The high bid was made by Nat Angle. By that time he no doubt knew the cost and problems associated with the F&P and still he wanted to own the line. After the court refused his low bid of $6,000 he doubled the bid and agreed to refurbish the line as it had declined to the point operation was almost impossible. Entering into such an investment knowing there was little chance of financial gain seems to show he had more than money in mind but rather giving a service to the community as well as his own businesses.
In 1928 two major events happened in the life of Nat Angle that would affect both his and the railroads future. In 1928 his wife of many years died and at the same time an accident occurred on the railroad involving the Edwards Motor Car that would engage him in litigation for the remainder of the F&Ps operation. The motor car was involved in an accident with a local farmer that would result in an ongoing court case that extended even beyond the end of F&P operations in April 1932.
In 1930 Nat Angle was listed in the federal census as widowed, 68 years old and living with his 75 year old sister in Rocky Mount. The thrill of being president of a railroad that was in financial and legal trouble constantly was gone. Nat Angle died about 1936.
Many prominent citizens of Rocky Mount built the town from a few hundred citizens after the civil war into the growing community of today but few can account for bringing it from a rural town into the modern age of transportation and communication as Nat Angle. He lies buried today in the Hill St. Cemetery above the downtown area where the original F&P depot was located.