Meet Joseph Fralin

Joseph Milton FralinOur featured employee this month is Joseph M. Fralin.

Mr. Fralin’s job was to inspect the tracks of the F&P Railroad. He would walk the tracks from Union Hall to Rocky Mount looking for any problem with the tracks, spikes, crossties; anything that would affect the train. The F&P was noted for jumping the tracks. It sometimes left the tracks daily and became the source of many jokes for the residents of both counties.

Any problems were reported to a section gang who were assigned an area or “section” to repair. They were a group of men using hand tools to fix the track.

Mr. Fralin would walk the track starting in Union Hall inspecting one rail then upon reaching Rocky Mount checking the other rail on the way back.

Joseph Milton Fralin was born in 1866 and died 1-17-1931. He lived in Union Hall and married Eliza Wright.

When his son, Silas Franklin Fralin, was born in 1911 the railroad gave him the day off because he named his son Franklin.

joseph fralin- Right-frontThis photo of the entire group shows Joseph Fralin on the front right. The man standing in the back on your left is thought to be Harry Robertson who later ran a store in the Union Hall depot after the F&P closed.

Notice they all are holding a bottle of an adult beverage and one man has some “Extra” playing cards conveniently located in his hat band.

Telegram

Long before “Tweets”, “Twitter” or e-mail when you were in a hurry to send a message you sent a telegram. The arrival of one meant important, often bad, news. The first telegraphs in the Franklin Co. area belonged to the Franklin & Pittsylvania Railroad. They were installed about 1883 in the headquarters and depots along the line. For a time it was the only communication with the train once it left Rocky Mount. It also connected the citizens of the county with the outside world.

Click to enlarge the telegram.
Click to enlarge the telegram.

Recently Brenda Overholt of Rocky Mount was looking through some old family photos and memorabilia when she ran across what appeared to be a telegram from 1921 about a family member killed in WW1 whose body was being shipped home.

The telegraph message had been received at the Franklin & Pittsylvania RR office and forwarded to the family in Glade Hill. It seems the body of Harvey L. Holland had been sent home from France to a staging area in New Jersey and was being sent home for burial by way of the F&P Railroad.

Brenda had never heard of a railroad in Glade Hill but got the F&P name from the telegram letter head and did a search that led her to the F&P web page. After reading about the railroads history on line she realized that the cuts, fills and grades behind her grandparents’ house had been where the F&P ran between 1880 and 1932.

On Sunday, 11 January, Brenda and several members of her family gave us a tour of some remaining signs of where the railroad ran between Glade Hill and Redwood. The track bed curved in a serpentine path as it went through the rolling hills and crossed Rt. 40 near the Hodges garage. One family member said that was the place known as Lloyds which was a flag stop for the train although no depot was there.

Click to enlarge the Transportation of Corpse form.
Click to enlarge the Transportation of Corpse form.

Brenda, her husband and other family were excited to learn of the long extinct railroad and its connection to her family years ago. The day turned into a real family outing for everyone who were proud to be a part of Franklin Counties’ history.

It seems ironic that a document that brought much sadness to their family years ago finally gave some closure to the entire family. When the telegraph operator sent that message back in 1921 we’re sure he never imagined it would be found by relatives almost 100 years later who would be glad to learn about a long deceased family member.

The people and places that day were recorded by Lou Revelle who photographed the event and got GPS locations for use in mapping the route of the F&P on the web page and preservation of the Right of Way.

Meet Frank Haley

Frank Haley
Frank Haley

Frank David Haley was born near Pittsville in July, 1872 and moved to Gretna where he lived near the railroad yard and worked on both the Southern RR and the F&P RR.

He was a laborer with a section gang that walked the tracks making repairs or working the yard helping switch the cars.

Fortunately for him and the other workers by 1888 the gauge of the track on the Pittsville and F&P track had been converted to standard gauge to match the main line. The yard workers no longer had to switch the trucks on the cars when going from one gauge to another.

Frank was killed in 1906 in an accident near Glad Hill when he fell between some cars. The accident was also reported as an engine mishap. From these reports it is possible he was crushed between two cars when the engine moved which was a common accident when the old pin and link coupling system was in use.

A laborer would have to go between two cars being coupled and insert a link rod by hand. This was a very dangerous method and many men were injured or killed as most railroads used the link pin system in the early days. Safety was of little concern to the business in those days. If you were hurt or killed there was someone waiting to take your place.

The 1900 census list Frank and family living in the Chatham district of Pittsylvania Co. which included Elba (Gretna). Frank was shown to be working as a railroad section hand. He had a wife, Minnie R. born May 1875 and a daughter, Dora G. born 1898. In 1903 they had another daughter, Ruth H. Shelton.

Frank lived in this house very near the yard in Elba (Gretna).
Frank lived in this house very near the yard in Elba (Gretna).
Frank’s grandson, Sammy Shelton, owns this piece of F&P track damaged in one of many wrecks on the F&P line.
Frank’s grandson, Sammy Shelton, owns this piece of F&P track damaged in one of many wrecks on the F&P line.

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We invite anyone that had family working on the F&P to send us their story and a photo if available for posting on this web page.

Meet Nat Angle

By Tex Carter

Nat Angle’s grave with the town of Rocky Mount in the background.

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.

The Dudley Family

The outside of the Dudley family store, which sat across the road from the Union Hall Depot in Franklin County.
The outside of the Dudley family store, which sat across the road from the Union Hall Depot in Franklin County.

Several members of the Dudley family were connected to the Franklin and Pittsylvania Railroad (F&P). The Dudleys settled in Franklin Co. in the 1700s starting with Gwin Dudley.

Many of the Dudley family still live in the Franklin Co. area today.

During the time the F&P was in operation two members of the family were working as F&P station agents and operators. R.E. Dudley was the agent at Glade Hill Depot. The old depot still sits along side Rt. 40 today.

William Peyton Dudley held the same position at Union Hall and also owned a private store. William Peyton’s initials appear on this old receipt from the store along with those of his father James Peyton, J.P. Dudley also known as “Jasp.”

An invoice from the Dudley store.
An invoice from the Dudley store.

When W.P. was receiving a load of fertilizer by way of the F&P he would post a notice at the store and on the day of its arrival local farmers would line the road with their wagons.

Wedding photo of W. P. Dudley & Mattie F. Holland, April 10, 1907 in Redwood, Virginia.
Wedding photo of W. P. Dudley & Mattie F. Holland, April 10, 1907 in Redwood, Virginia.

W.P. and his brothers would use shovels to load the fertilizer into the farmer’s wagons by hand. He said the line of wagons would be almost out of sight over the hill. In the later years of the F&P automobiles would be shipped to the store in crates and assembled there to be sold.

In 1884 G.B. Dudley entered into an agreement with the Virginia Midland RR. To let him build a 33×24 foot one story wooden structure on the property adjacent to the Union Hall depot for a general merchandise store. Another Dudley, Ewell, ran a store at Redwood.

W.P.’s son, William Alva, attended school locally but their school only went to the eleventh grade. To finish his education he rode the F&P train to Rocky Mount for his 12th grade classes.

A poster for the Dudley store.
A poster for the Dudley store.

He called it “the dinkie” in place of the usual “Fast & Perfect” used by most locals. In his school year book he wrote a note, “Love the F&P.”

W.P. wanted to buy the old Union Hall depot after the F&P ceased operations in 1932. Chapman Dudley was in charge of the negotiation and ask W.P. more than he wanted to pay for the old structure and W.P. refused to purchase the depot.

W.P. had plans to build a new home and the depot would have been in front of the home so W.P. moved the location of his new home a short distance to the west to avoid having the depot in front of his house. To spite W.P., Chapman had the depot moved in front of W.P.’s new home.

The Union Hall Depot after it was converted into a grocery store and gas station.
The Union Hall Depot after it was converted into a grocery store and gas station.

The depot was converted into a gasoline station that was run by Chip Berger and later Harry Robertson ran a grocery store and gas station in the old structure.

In the 1990’s an attempt was made to move the depot to make room for other construction but the effort failed and it was later torn down.

Next moth we will feature another prominent member of the family, Chapman Dudley. Don’t miss his story of the time he was the receiver for the F&P.

Dudley family story6
The Union Hall Depot shortly before it was razed.

The story of Harold Booth, Sr. and the motor car

Harold-BoothHarold Booth Sr. was born in Franklin Co. in the late 19th century. He lived at Pen Hook and drove the motor car on the F&P Railroad.

The Edwards Motor Car, or the “motor” as the locals called it, was made in Sanford, N.C. and purchased by Nathaniel Angle when he bought the line in 1922.

The new motor car was kept overnight at Pen Hook then each morning driven to Rocky Mount picking up passengers along the way.

From there it went to Pittsville arriving about noon then made the reverse route ending its day back at Pen Hook.

Mr. Booth was mentioned in a book of recollections by “Pops Osborne” telling of how he drove the motor car in the later years of the F&P when the steam engine had all but ceased to run. Citizens of the county tell of the dependability of the motor car keeping a good schedule and their never being late.

Mr. Booth was drafted at the end of WW1 but the war had ended by the time he got to France. He was a 50 year member of both the American Legion Post 6 and Masonic Lodge 201 in Rocky Mount.

After marrying in late 1939 he moved back to Pen Hook in 1948 and went into tobacco farming. He served in several positions in the Pen Hook United Methodist Church and was a rural mail carrier before retiring at the age of 65.

The motor car ran from 1923 until the line closed in April, 1932. Like others in the community Mr. Booth was regularly employed in an area and time few jobs were available. He and others working on the F&P felt themselves fortunate to have a steady income.

He also had the satisfaction of providing transportation to people of the community in a time before cars were the standard mode of transportation. His son, Harold Jr., still lives in the community today and like others shares our pride of the connection to the Franklin & Pittsylvania Railroad.

Harold Booth-article

F&P Story Spotlight: JR McNeil

Welcome to the first of what we hope will be many stories about the day to day operations of the F&P RR and the people it employed. Most of these entries are handed down from the people that worked the line between 1880 and 1932.

Sadly, these people have all passed on and we are left with just their memories of the once proud rail line. In 1996 J.R. McNeil attended the dedication of the F&P marker at the rail park in Greta.

Mr. McNeil worked as a fireman in the waning years of the railroad. He started at the young age of twelve about 1920 and continued his job until it closed. He passed away shortly after the dedication of the Gretna monument.

J.R. McNeil in his home about 1996 holding a photo of engine No. 702.
J.R. McNeil in his home about 1996 holding a photo of engine No. 702.

Mr. McNeil was thought to be one of, if not the last surviving employee of the old rail line. With his passing went many memories and first hand knowledge of the F&P but he did pass on some experiences to his son, Donald McNeil of Burnt Chimney.

Donald related the story of his father taking over the job of fireman at the request of the engineer at the young age of twelve. He worked for about two weeks, likely being paid directly by the engineer. At the end of that time the engineer went to the officer in charge of hiring and asked them to hire J.R.

When told he was just a boy of twelve they were naturally reluctant to hire such a young boy but were told he had been working the job for two weeks and doing as well as any man. With the engineers endorsement J.R. was hired and continued working the sporadic schedule of the line until if finally closed.

Soon we’ll post a video interview with Donald, filmed in 2011 at his home in Burnt Chimney.  In it we talk about what he remembered being told about the F&P by his father.

Like most of us we come to realize too late that when our parents told us things about the past we should have listened closer and ask more questions.

We invite anyone with information or stories and/or pictures relating to the F&P to send them to this web page for possible future inclusion.

Meet John S. Barbour, Jr

john-s-barbour

The Franklin & Pittsylvania RR would probably never have been built had it not been for its connection with the Washington City, Virginia Midland and Great Southern Railroad (WC, VM & GSRR). It was the agreement between its president, John S. Barbour and Franklin Co. officials that made the building of the F&P possible.

John Barbour was the driving force behind the Orange & Alexandria Railroad; being elected its president in 1851 at the young age of thirty. By 1873 that road had joined forces with the Lynchburg & Danville RR that was still under construction. It was at this time the name changed to the WC, VM & GSRR and John Barbour was elected president of the entire line.

Barbour’s agreement to lease the F&P, after its construction was financed by Franklin Co., sealed the deal that made the building of the F&P possible.

John S. Barbour, Jr. was born 29 December, 1820 near Culpeper, Virginia. He later graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in law and began practice in 1841.He was elected as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1847 to 1851.

In 1867, after the Civil War was over, he took control of the stock and equipment of the Manassas Gap Railroad and merged it to make the Orange, Alexandria and Manassas Gap Railroad. Under his leadership expansion continued south toward Lynchburg where the agreement to join his line with the Lynchburg & Danville Railroad was made. As a result of the merger Barbour became president of the entire line from Alexandria to Danville.

By 1876 that line was in receivership and under control of the court. They appointed Barbour as the receiver of the line. Less than a year later he made plans to extend a branch line to Pittsville that resulted in a much needed boost for the rail line. This seven mile branch joined the main line where present day Gretna is located.

Barbour seems to have taken the job as railroad president almost as a hobby although he ran it with great zeal. He took every opportunity to expand and grow and add to the business.

He was independently wealthy, as was his immediate family. In the 1860 census we find the following entry for him:

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1860 federal census Culpepper Co. Va P.857 Romeland P.O.

John S. Barbour age 39 male President Orange & Alexandria RR

Real Estate $30,000 Personal $15,000

Eliza age 60 (mother) lady $26,000

Sallie age 41 (wife)

Edward age 26 male real estate $8,000 personal $6,000

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Barbour ran the Virginia Midland until it was finally taken over by the Richmond and Danville Railroad in 1886. After that he served in the United States Senate from 1888 until his death in 1892.

Barbour lived during times of opportunity for men with drive and ambition and he had both. It could be argued he never reached his goal of building a railroad that prospered financially as it remained in receivership for many years. However,  one must remember he took the controls of a fledgling business and built it into a transportation system that crossed the entire state of Virginia bringing with it transportation, jobs and economic opportunity for the entire area.