AUTHOR’S NOTE: The research for this story took a great deal of work. In fact, the research led to so many tantalizing tangents that I almost became dissuaded from my original storyline. However, those are other stories and they will have to wait. I am particularly indebted to William C Cox and Olin Fraser Sr. for their assistance in garnering material and to Mrs Roy Miles for pointing me in this direction in the beginning.
Sometimes, when trying to negotiate my van and myself from point A to point B without serious damage to either one, I reflect on how much I wish we had public transportation around Huntsville and or to Savannah. Therefore, I was enchanted to discover that indeed Hinesville” Once Upon a time “had a railroad, the Flemington - Hinesville and Western railroad.
About 1912, Joseph B. Way, a native of Flemington, reappeared from Florida, where he had spent several years. He had gone into the naval stores industry in Florida and evidently had amassed a small fortune. Many boys have dreamed of having a railroad of their very own. Mr. Way didn’t stop at dreaming, he set right to work and built himself a railroad. He was, of course, the president, his son Edmund was vice president and Donald Fraser, a brother of Gen. Joseph B. Fraser, was the superintendent of transportation.
The railroad operated from 1913 until 1918. It was a narrow track line and its route was parallel to Highway 84 to Flemington, then it cut across a field in the rear of O.C. Martin’s property, on the edge of which was the water tank used by the locomotive. The train made several stops along the way to pick up freight shipped by a turpentine still across the tracks from the National Guard Armory, the Floyd Brothers sawmill at Flemington and the Savannah Lumber Co. near O.C. Martin’s home. The train also carried the mail daily from McIntosh to Hinesville.
When the tracks got to Hinesville, its route, as I can best determine it, came from Highway 84 down Washington Street, passing the Hinesville Middle School (now the Liberty County Board of Education site) the First Presbyterian Church and the Baptist Church, ending with its depot- a large frame structure next to the Methodist Church. The depot-turned-home is now the property of Melvin Butler (the house has since been moved to Walthourville by Danny Norman). A unique feature of the house is that it is higher than its neighbors so that passengers and freight could be easily loaded and unloaded.
Aaron Brewer, an ex-sheriff of Liberty County, served as conductor and as agent at the Hinesville Depot. Ben Way was engineer. From the very beginning, Parson Hill served as baggage master of the depot. There was a depot at Flemington, but no agent.
On busy days the FH&W Railroad would use as many as 20 passenger and freight cars at once. However, the average number was 10.
The locomotive was wood- burning and on its front was emblazoned the number 9. The locomotive was always called ‘Old Number Nine.” “Old Number Nine” made four round trips to McIntosh each day.
By 1917, Way realized the train would never make a profit unless he expanded it to Glennville. In anticipation of doing this he changed its name to the Savannah-Hinesville and Western Railroad. However, his dreams of expansion never materialized, and the railroad folded after World War I.
For a while a Model T sedan, fitted with wheels that would run on the track, was pressed into service to bring the mail from McIntosh. However, it had a habit of jumping the tracks and scattering mail and passengers. According to legend, a man named Thomas Quarterman (from all descriptions a gigantic man) who lived in the home known as the Kozma home today (this home has since been razed to make way for the Liberty County High football field) would pick up the car (and probably the passengers and mail) and set it on the tracks ready to go again!
William Byron Way (1858-1934) known as B. Way, was a native of Ludowici and a noted humorist and journalist. He was also the father of FH&W engineer Ben Way. A poem he wrote about the train is so wonderfully unique that I was compelled to share it.
In the accompanying poem, B. Way imagined that he was Conductor Aaron Brewer of the FH&W RR giving instructions to engineer Ben Way Jr. The “Nine spot” of course, is the locomotive. The “Robert” referred to is Robert Smith, a fireman.
A STORMY NIGHT ON THE WESTERN
The water is high and the track is low, Be careful Ben and run her slow,
Remember we both have wives And can’t afford to lose our lives.
You know that Martin trestle is weak, the water is black and running deep
And if the nine-spot plunges in we will have to meet death in our sins…
If you see anything that looks like death, blow the whistle with every breath,
Apply the brakes before she bumps and watch Old Aaron jump.
Jump, yes I will, up in the sky, before I’s stay on here and die.
My friends would all forgive me not, if I got killed by the old nine-spot.
So put some oil in the tallow cup and at every dark place slow her up, And Ben, I hope you will not fail to keep the nine-spot on the rail.
(Ben had followed instructions and the train being safely across Martin’s branch the muse continues:)
Now skin out, Ben, we’re done across, and luckily without a loss;
Pull out the throttle and let her slosh For we will be late at McIntosh.
So Ben, you know, we are the boys, that never stops to fear no noise,
And if the nine-spot holds the rails, we’ll be on time with the western mail.
No Robert, shovel in the coal, and watch Ben make them drivers roll.
He’s got the orders in his hand and nine-spot’s going to the promised land.