When I was a small child, my mother’s older sister – known to the family simply as ‘Sister’ – lived in Bogalusa, Louisiana. Mom and I often visited her, riding the GM&O streamline passenger train THE REBEL. The Jackson, MS train station, now preserved as an historical site, was located just off Jefferson Street up the hill from the State Fair Grounds. The photo above is an earlier photo of the Rebel, when the GM&O was the GM&N. Notice the Old Capitol cupola behind the station. This was during the war years (WWII), so the train was always filled with soldiers, who according to Mom, ‘adopted’ me for the trip.
The Rebel was a unique train according to railroading history, a first of it’s kind. Up until the Rebel, built in 1935, all passenger trains in the US were ‘articulated.’ This means that each rail car SHARED a set of wheels between the cars. Individual passenger cars could not be uncoupled – none added or removed without serious work. The Rebel’s cars were built as are all passenger cars today, with wheel trucks on both ends.
The Rebel also sported another ‘first’ for railroading – 5 airline-style HOSTESSES to cater to the needs of the passengers!
The Rebel was never know for its speed. The route from Jackson, TN to New Orleans, LA took 14 hours. Yes, this calculates to just under 35 miles per hour – but one must take into consideration the 55 STOPS it made along the way.
Speaking of stops – I remember one trip when we were traveling through typical rural southern countryside. The Rebel slowed down even slower. Looking out the window I saw an old woman waving something in her hand, as she trotted toward the tracks. The Rebel STOPPED and picked up her MAIL!
Being a railroad-minded child, I had my electric train. As a child’s toy, it simple went round and round an oval track. As a 3 and 4 year old, it greatly confused me that the Rebel LEFT the station heading RIGHT (south to Bogalusa) and RETURNED us to the station in Jackson heading LEFT. How did it turn around?
My mother loved to tell the (true) story of one return trip. I must have been no more than 3 at the time. She said that I refused to leave the station – until she led me up to the front of the train, where I could KISS the Rebel good-bye! Such has always been my fondness for trains!
The next time you’re in a bookstore, look for a book on American Railroading. You’ll find the Burlington’s Zephyr, Boston & Maine’s Flying Yankee, Illinois Central’s Green Diamond, and Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha. Chances are you won’t find the Rebel – or if you do – only a scant mention. That unfairness always puzzled me. A few years ago, the sad reason for this slight came to light.
Unlike all the other glorious passenger trains of it’s day – the Rebel was designed and built for racial SEGREGATION! A schematic of a typical Rebel car, seen below, clearly reveals this. The smaller black section to the left has it’s own men’s and women’s restrooms – as does the larger white section to the right. (Schematic redrawn from an illustration in the GM&OHS NEWS).
Little 3 year old white boys in the early 1940s had no comprehension of this disparity. Therefore my memories of the Rebel are all beautifully positive – of happy times riding the rails – traveling to Bogalusa (a paper mill town) to visit my cherished aunt. And because of these trips, I still have a fondness for the sweet smell (to me) of a good ole paper mill. Ah, those were the days my friend!
This post is in response to the Daily Post Challenge.
Beautifully written. Do you remember any specific encounter with one of the soldiers?
No, I wish I did (remember the soldiers). I don’t think I was much over 5 or 6 when we made our last trip on the Rebel. I do have memories of being in Bogalusa, like catching fireflies and releasing them in the house at night, sticking english peas up my nose, and bubble gum in my ear. I was a hand-full, huh? I need to write about when my grandfather took me to PUSH A BOXCAR while in Bogalusa! Thanks for your interest. It means a lot! I’m still learning the ins and outs of doing this, so have patience with me!
I enjoyed the read. Keep up the good work. This sounds like a feature the magazine “Reminisce” would use.
I’ve always loved railroads as well. And this article is so interesting, Bill. I agree that you should offer it to a few periodicals as well.
Nice reminiscence, but it needs one word added: The Rebel was the first STREAMLINED train which was not articulated. Very few trains were articulated before the early years of the streamliner era. Or after, for that matter.