6.  Mexican Gulf RR Co.   4'8½"   1839   (Steam RR, Short Line/Suburban)

Proposed: N.O. to Lake Borgne, ca. 32 mi., to shorten the time for goods and travelers to Mobile and the south, east, and northeast, and to open lands to agriculture and cattle, as well as tapping the food resources of the Gulf of Mexico.  First train (to Versailles, near Barracks, only 3 miles) November 17, 1839 — fare 15¢ one way, 25¢ round trip (ca. 11/13/1839).  In two years the MGRR rails had reached Ducros' Landing (12 mi.), at the edge of what New Orleanians and rural folk referred to as the Terre aux Boeufs (cattle grazing land).  Double-daily passenger trains were on the timetable, accompanied by a Sunday trip for those who liked “outings”, picnics, etc. (B 7/9/1841).  A few days afterward, Felix Garcia, the road's President, and J. W. Smith, Surveyor, announced the line had completed 15 miles of track, and was free from debt at present (C 7/21/1841).  It's remarkable this much was accomplished during and after the species crisis beginning in 1837.

The SS of 1842, District Court No. 21778 (C 11/4/1842), noted (still) 15 miles in “actual use, extending to Besenti's Cabaret in Terre aux Boeufs, and an additional 4 miles of railway...near Lake Borgne, passing through Proctor's Plantation, 2 miles of which was laid without iron(!)” including “nearby a small frame house erected at the place called Ducros Landing and known as ‘the Railway Hotel’”.  It listed, without more descr., two locomotives (“Versailles” and “New Orleans”, poss. Baldwin 4-2-0 types, built ca. 1837 at the earliest), six passenger coaches, six freight cars.  A trip to “Lake Borgne” in 1853 might have heralded the completion of the Mexican Gulf RR Co. (DP 10/20/1853).  A definite date has eluded research.  A later SS in 1854 (DP 5/7/1854) listed four locos, “some are new”.  Only three months later, a comment about the road's passenger cars being “much stronger than usual” begs the question — had new equipment been acquired? (DP 8/4/1854). It's possible newspaper accounts condense the SS text, omitting details the railroad historian seeks.  Hurricane Katrina in 2004 destroyed mortgage office records which printed SS, but perhaps the original SS exist in Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office archives.

The Civil War put hardships on all businesses, especially in N. O., which fell to Union forces in 1862 and was under military occupation until the 1870s. The Daily True Delta edition of 10/22/1865 reported, “W. E. Bakewell, executor, announces .... Cars run daily, depart 8:00 a.m., return same day .... This road is offered for sale.”  Sheriff's foreclosure sales brought by exasperated lenders (banks) and investors were almost too numerous to tally accurately.  Sadly, there were no buyers, and after a loco boiler explosion in 1868, the MGRR suspended operations and remained moribund until in 1877 the Mississippi, Terre aux Boeufs RR Co. was chartered with capital from John R. and Edward C. Elder of Indianapolis, Ind.  Several N. O. investors became directors and were elected officials, and in 1883 construction started.  The new RR was 5' gauge, because the RR with which it intended to connect was the Louisville & Nashville, a 5' gauge road.  The construction of the Elder road, or as N. O. citizens referred to it, the “Shell Beach RR”, was closely followed by N. O. papers (DP of 1883: May 5 & 29, June 6, July 2, Aug. 2 & 16, Sept. 4, 19, 23, 25, & 29, and Oct. 2 & 13).  The Elders planned to build a second RR 38 miles long from a junction with the Shell Beach line to Pointe a la Hache (Plaquemines Parish seat) and the Mississippi River landing at Bohemia.

The Shell Beach line opened to service Aug. 8, 1884.  R. S. Spellman was Superintendent, G. B. Nickolson Chief Engineer, and Charles Franz contractor who built the depot buildings.  The N. O. depot at Elysian Fields and St. Claude was an impressive 20' tall, 24' wide, and 236' long (5664 sq. feet).  The original depot built in the 1830s was probably razed or used for another purpose.

Porter, Bell & Co. records show Mr. R. Elder buyer for three locos.  All were 2-4-2T types with 12x18 cylinders.  Rolling stock was 6 passenger coaches, one baggage-mail-express coach, 5 box cars, and 20 platform (flat) cars.  It's poss. some orig. MGRR eqpt. were RB and RT for 5' gauge, but more likely pass. eqpt. were new or RB 2nd hand.  The L&N converted to standard gauge three years later!  New locos (see roster) and equipment were yet another hard economic blow for the road!  Would the bad luck ever turn?

Roster of Locomotives
Mexican Gulf RR Co. and Louisiana Southern Ry. Co.
Plus Mississippi Terre aux Boeufs & Lake RR Co.
Road No.
or Name
Builder &
Order No.
Built ForPhotos & Notes
“Lake Borgne”Wm. Norris 364-2-0n/d4'8½"1837MG RR
“Versailles”Wm. Norris"""1838"
“New Orleans”Wm. Norris 37"""""
n/dn/dn/d""c. 1853"
1st 1P 6012-4-2T12x185'9/1883MTaB&L RR
1st 2P 602"""11/1883"
1st 3P 603"""""
1st 4n/dn/dn/d"c. 1884"
2nd 1BLWn/dn/d4'8½"1886NO&G RR
2nd 2""""""
2nd 3""""""
2nd 4 “Belair”BLW 83312-4-412x13"1887"To LS 8
5BLW 123524-4-015x224'8½"1891NO&S RR8/1/1931 serviceable, 3/6/1835 idle
6BLW 12353"""1891LS
2nd 8BLW"""1908"
10BLW"""""8/1/1931 serviceable
11n/d4-4-0""""8/1/1931 serviceable
12n/d"""""2/7/1935 in steam, 7/1939 in steam
13BLW 411632-6-017x24"2/1914LS, ex SAU&G11/29/1925 in steam, 7/13/1938 in steam
14n/d"n/d"n/dLS7/13/1938 in steam, 7/13/1939 in steam
16n/d2-8-0"""LS, ex MK&T1949 idle, tender gone
“New Orleans” sold to Alexandria & Cheneyville, 1838.
2nd nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 confirmed by BLW recods at SMU.  No. 4, named “Belair”, found in Order Book Vol. 13, p. 178.  No. 4 had 45" drivers; to LS 8 (should be to NO&S RR 8; thus BLW of 1908 is 2nd 8).
Nos. 5 and 6 had 56" drivers, 26" pony wheels.
2nd no. 8, Order Book Vol. 32, p. 312.
No. 13 BLT as Southern Aluminum Co. No. 2, had 44" drivers, class 10-28¼-D.
BLWBaldwin Loco. Works   SAU&GSan Antonio Uvalde & Gulf RR
PPorter, Bell & Co. MK&TMissouri, Kansas & Texas Ry.
n/dno data available NO&SNew Orleans & Southern
   LSLouisiana Southern

In 1886 the Elders chartered the N. O. & Gulf RR Co. (10/1/1886 — PM 1889 issue) to purchase the MTaB&L RR Co. and build the Pointe a la Hache line.  This line opened June 10, 1887 (DP 6/10/1887).  The NO&G owned three steamboats (“Alvin”, “Neptune”, “Grace Pitt”) and the exclusive landing rights on both banks of the River from N. O. to the Jetties, and their boats traversed the Taliaferro Canal to reach Grande Isle.

In 1889, the NO&G owned 4 Baldwin locos, as well as 9 passenger coaches and 35 freight cars.  The gauge was converted to 4' 8½" on June 1, 1886 (PM, 1889 issue) following the Louisville & Nashville conversion to standard gauge (which see).  The road's poor earnings (1889 gross income of $166,595.65) produced a net profit of only $2,083.71 with $53,217.29 past due bond interest, with little chance of settlement.  The NO&G on March 5, 1891 became the N. O. & Southern RR Co., and on October 16, 1891 the road became the Louisiana Southern Ry. Co.

The LS gained a boost when Ben Yoakum's expanding Frisco System reached N. O. and leased the LS.  Frisco sent at least one (surely more) 50 ton 70' GE gas electric motor cars with high seating capacity (some had chairs for 91 riders).  GE order nos. and dates: 3711-3716, 3723-3726, and 3728-3734 (6 in 1911, 11 in 1912).  Frisco road numbers were 2100-2116, 17 cars.  The Wason Mfg. Co. of Springfield, Mass. (street and interurban car builders) built the cars and equipped them with ALCO trucks, and GE provided traction motors and controls.  One GM 16A3 gas engine turned DC generators.  These were among the most successful self-propelled rail cars produced in the U. S.  They had a modern, rakish look with shaped wind-splitting front, center entrance-exit, and open rear platform like first-class RR observation cars.  (KIS #66 pp. 33-43.)

The GE motors went to the Missouri Pacific RR after the Yoakum empire collapsed in 1916 and the MP purchased the Gulf Coast Lines (Frisco operations N. O. - Houston - Rio Grande) and the LS Ry became independent.  One GE remained on LS property and it's doubtful it operated after 1918, when service was reduced by interruptions, due to building a long streetcar, RR, and vehicular bridge over the Industrial Canal (which bridge was opened in 1922 — New Orleans States, 3/11/1922).

In 1921, Mr. H. K. Johnson, builder of New Orleans' only interurban, the Orleans-Kenner Electric Ry. Co., chartered the “Orleans-Kenner & Shell Beach Electric Ry. Co.” to electrify the LS and wed it to the OK, using the 4'8½" gauge NOPSI North Claiborne line to reach Canal & S. Rampart.  This fizzled, and the LS tried once more to provide rail passenger service with a 2-car motor train.  The AR, four-wheel with modified PM cars had 40 seats in the trailer (#51) and 16 in the motor unit (#41) (plus baggage, mail, & freight).  Power was a Wisconsin 4-cylinder 42 hp. gas engine.  The Four Wheel Drive Auto Co. built the train.  (KIS #99, pp. 61-63.)

By the depression era, starting after 1929, the last gasp of passenger and mail service was simply a Ford “woodie” station wagon on the highways alongside the LS Ry.  This ended circa 1950.

The St. Claude (NOPSI) streetcar served the upper 3-4 miles of the LS route, and into the 1930s, streetcar fans wondered if the derelict GE motor in the LS yard on St. Claude Ave. indicated that the LS was electrified at some time.  This never happened, but the future may see expansion of new light rail service to Chalmette, and perhaps further into St. Bernard Parish.

Copyright © 2014, 2017 Louis C. Hennick.  All rights reserved.


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