Posted to History of the Peavine Railroad Facebook Group by Chad Fannin, July 6, 2019. Description from post.
So, what’s left of the Hillsboro Branch?
For the past few months, Chuck Taylor, a former Peavine man from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s has wanted to give me a guided tour of what was left of the N&W’s Hillsboro Branch. Chuck and I were friends going back to when I was a young teen in the mid 80’s. He had worked many many times with my grandfather, Ed Fannin, on the Peavine. After my grandfather had retired in 1985, he started going to a lot of auctions looking for RR artifacts and I never missed an opportunity to be right there with him when a lantern or switch lock was purchased.
One Saturday, we left early in the morning for an auction that was close to where a guy lived, who he once worked with on the RR. When we got closer to where we thought he lived, my job was to watch out for an orange flag sticking out from his mailbox, like the ones they used on the back of trains. This way we would know where to stop and pick him up. Sure enough, there was the flag and I was introduced to Chuck Taylor. That flag trick he used for us to find his house, amazed me and since then, he has been a good railroad friend.
We started out by visiting what was left of the trestle that crossed White Oak Creek north of Sardinia. It’s mostly all gone except for about 20 or 30 feet spanning out from the south bank. We wandered out on it of course, mostly just to see if we could and to look at the water overflowing the dam that the RR had built to create a pool that could be used for the locomotives. The brick pump house still stands on the bank of the creek about 150 yards from the road.
The basic history of the Hillsboro branch was that it started as the Columbus & Maysville RR in August of 1877. It was built as a narrow gauge (3’) to match the Cincinnati Eastern RR so they could interchange at Sardinia. By 1890, the Ohio and Northwestern RR had taken over control of the C&E and the C&M but, reorganized it into the CP&V which operated the branch under another agreement until 1895. For some reason, the town of Hillsboro formed its own RR company and took operations of the branch over and called it the Hillsboro Railroad until it was bought by the N&W in 1901. Then, they bought the CP&V to create the Cincinnati district. A lot of the roadbed is still visible along the line, if you know were to look for it on the way to Hillsboro.
The next stop we made was at the old AGP grain silos. The brick office building is still there, but the silos are gone. I would guess that grain was probably one of the biggest commodities that was shipped on this line from the beginning and created most the freight car traffic. The stories that Chuck told, hardly ever let you down. He told us what tracks used to be there and all the work they did to switch cars to all the customers along the line. Here at AGP, he told us that once they had two engines, a GP9 and a GP38, so they decided to split them up to get the job done quicker. I did not realize that when you were a flagman on the Branch, that it meant at certain times you were the second engineer in charge of a unit when the engines were split apart.
Chuck was placed at the throttle of the GP9 that day, and was making a good click along the tracks when he applied the brakes to make a coupling into some grain hoppers at about 15mph and the engine just slid along the wet, sycamore leave, covered rails. The locomotive never slowed down and he slammed into the other cars. If you have ever been close when rail cars are coupled you can appreciate the energy that is involved. They always say 4mph is a coupling, 5mph is a collision. After a violent impact, Chuck climbed back in the seat as they yelled at him through the radio, “Are you alright?” He just answered back, “Good couple.”
One thing the Branch had several of until its end, was wood trestles. When the B&O stopped serving Hillsboro, they had used an earth filled roadbed to enter town and the N&W paralleled them for a distance on a trestle. The N&W took over the B&O customers in 1962 when they left town and they began using their roadbed and did away with the trestle. Chuck said you could always feel the old trestles sway back and forth and even sink under the trains weight when you crossed them.
Once, they had a work train made up of two gondolas filled with riprap and a burrow crane in the middle of them that they shoved out onto a trestle, so he could unload the rock onto the slipping creek bank. As he started to swing the crane back and forth, you could watch the trestle swinging with him. They decided to uncouple the cars and crane, leave them with the operator on the trestle, and get the rest the train back on solid ground.
Beside some signs of rail that were in concrete or pavement in a few of the industries or grain loading silos, the rail is all taken up and. There was a few ties, maybe 10 left in one place on the roadbed. There is one place that still has a few sections of rail and two wheel stops still in place that I think were B&O.
The one thing I saw and thought was the highlight of the trip, even though it was very hard to tell what it was, is hidden in the weeds at Hillsboro, was the hole for the turntable. This was a very small turntable that could barley handle a class M locomotive and was definitely built for the late 1800’s 4-4-0 or 2-6-0 type locomotives. In some places you can still see the curved cut stone sides that circled the outer diameter of the hole. The 19 miles of the Branch transverses in mostly a straight line from Sardinia to Hillsboro. There are plenty of up and down slopes as the tracks once travelled across some of the most beautiful, rolling to flat farm land in Ohio.
One last story of Chuck’s, was when he once was a flagman riding in the cab as they traveled out of the Branch towards Hillsboro. It was mid afternoon and a big lunch from one of the lunch stops they would make at local restaurants with the train, was making it hard to keep his eyelids open, you know that feeling. As they rounded a gentle curve, Chuck could hear Bill Powell, the engineer, mumbling out and Chucks eyes shot wide open to catch a glimpse of a wide, dark black, streak crossing the tracks. They felt a large bump as the locomotive crossed it. They had just cut through brand new blacktop that had been laid right over the rail at a crossing. Bill said, “You would think they would have asked if we were still using the tracks here.” And of course they were still using them, at least 3 times a week.