By Linda Emley
If anyone had handed me this picture yesterday, I would have been shocked when they told me it was an old railroad bridge in Ray County. But since I took this picture myself, I know this beautiful old man-made treasure is part of our Ray County history and here is the story about how I found this piece of our past.
I’ve had several people ask me if I’m ever going to run out of stories to write about. I don’t think that is going to happen because stories always seem to find me when I’m busy looking the other direction. That is what happened to me when I was out and about being a “Sunday driver.”
I had someone very near and dear to me who needed to “jump” their car because the battery was down. After using the jumper cables, I offered to drive the car around for a while to charge up the battery and my Sunday afternoon road trip began. I headed out to the Ray County Lake area because I wanted to find an old cemetery that I hadn’t seen in a long time.
Around 20 years ago, I did a history on the Hamilton family and visited the Hamilton Family Cemetery as part of my research. It was too cold to get out on this winter day, but I just wanted to drive by and make sure it was still there.
I thought I remembered where it was, but I ended up at the Jacobs Family Cemetery and found myself on a Ray County gravel road that I had never traveled before. I wasn’t lost because my “Garmin” was in the glove box, but I sure don’t know where this road was going to take me.
Most of my friends were inside their warm homes watching football and here I was on a road trip. The sun was shining and the car was warm, so I was enjoying the ride. Up and down the hills I drove as I wondered what I might find around the next turn in the road.
I came down a small hill with a curve and there it was, a piece of Ray County’s past that I had never seen before. I stopped the car and got out and just stood there in the cold staring at a stone wall that was once part of a railroad bridge.
It was so beautiful. I thought about who built this bridge and how many trains crossed it as they traveled up and down the railroad line. I also wondered if any of these trees were around when the railroad was being built, but most of all I thought about the people that had ridden the train as it chugged along these tracks.
After standing there for a few minutes, I realized that this had to be the Wabash Railroad that started in Richmond and passed through Swanwick, Rayville, Vibbard and Lawson on its way to St. Joseph.
I looked in the 1881 Ray County History book and found the following: “Twenty-eight miles of track of the St. Joseph branch of the Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific railroad, passes diagonally across the county, from southeast to northwest, traversing townships 51, 52 and 53 of ranges 27, 28 and 29.”
From my calculations, the railroad bridge I found was located in 52-28, section 3 on what is now West 136th Street. The 1877 Ray County atlas shows the tracks crossing a road in this same location. I’m now on a mission to find when this track was built and when it was last used.
I love this rail line because it was the one that was used to visit St. Cloud and Cave Springs in the good-old days. The stories of summer days at St. Cloud have always been among my favorites. I found this in The Richmond Conservator from July 18, 1895: “Picnic at St. Cloud. Arrangements are being made for an old-fashioned basket picnic at St. Cloud Springs, on Thursday, July 25th. Good speakers have been engaged and all kinds of healthful and innocent amusements will be provided. No gambling will be allowed on the grounds and intoxicating liquors will be prohibited. Richard Cates will be Marshall of the day. A cordial invitation is extended to all to come and spend a pleasant day in the cool and shady woods. Bring your baskets well filled.”
People visitng St. Cloud would walk down this railroad track to visit Cave Springs, which was also known as Robbers’ Cave. After I wrote a story about Cave Springs, my brother and I spent several months looking for the location of this Ray County Cave. We were happy to find out it is still around.
Here I was standing in the middle of the road on a cold winter day and all I could think about was the “Cool refreshing water which pours the year-round from crevices in the rocks at the opening of the cave.” I will visit it someday because a friend has promised to take me there when the weather is warmer.
I had lots of work that needed to be done on this cold Sunday afternoon, but thanks to a dead battery, I got to take a drive down the roads of Ray County and find this great treasure from our past.
Everyone needs to take a little Sunday drive now and then to recharge their batteries. I had a friend tell me a story about how on hot summer days in the 1960s they would get in the car and go on a Sunday drive. The guys would sit in front and the ladies would sit in the back seat.
Their car didn’t have an air conditioner, but they kept cool because they each had a cool beer. The ladies would break up chocolate Hershey bars and drop the chunks of chocolate in their beer bottle and then shake it up.
I’m not a beer drinker, but I’ve been told it’s actually pretty good when you mix beer and chocolate. If you want to try this chocolate recipe, play it safe and save the Sunday drive for another day. I would hate to have anyone prove the old Bruma-Shave road-side sign that said, “Of all the drunks who drive on Sunday, some are still alive on Monday. Bruma-Shave, 1942.”
Have a good story for Linda? Tell her about it at firstname.lastname@example.org or see her in person at Ray County Museum, Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.