Nicknamed "The Loping Gopher" by people who lived along its route, The Live Oak, Perry & Gulf during its history probably endured more lumber related traffic than any other shortline in Florida.
The railroad began its life as a log road of the R.L. Dowling & Sons Lumber co. out of Live Oak , Fl. in the mid 1890's. The sawmill was located in the Northwest part of town and connected with both the Plant System (ACL) and the Florida Central & Peninsular (SAL) Railroads. This railroad as it slowly built westward toward the Suwannee River was known as the R.L. Dowling Shortline. By the turn of the century it had reached the Suwannee River at Hudson on the Suwannee, building over the old right of way of the defunct Suwannee River Railway. The town's name was quickly changed to Dowling Park and a sawmill was quickly built. As the timber in the area became depleted the line was extended over the Suwannee River into Lafayette County to Day, Fl. By 1903 the company was approached by Skelton Williams of the Seaboard Air Line (SAL) in hopes of using the railroad as a pawn in it's battles with the nearby Suwannee & San Pedro RR and encouraged the logging railroad to incorporate as the Live Oak & Perry Railroad (LO&P) on September 23, 1903. Before Williams could provide financing he was removed as SAL's president and went on to form the Georgia & Florida RR. The LO&P at that time was in operation to milepost 31, only 13 miles from Perry but due to the lack of capital could not reach that thriving little town.
The Atlantic Coast Line however was itching to get into this thriving region but was restricted by an old agreement between the Plant System and the Florida Central & Peninsular on territorial rights. The ACL skirted this by agreeing to finance the LOP&G for preferred traffic agreement between the ACL and all the Dowling's lumber and railroad interests in 1905. The original charter of the LO&P was found to be faulty however and a new charter was hammered out in 1906. On June 16th, 1906 the Live Oak, Perry & Gulf RR was incorporated and on September 11 it purchased the property of the LO&G.
With ACL funding (purchased 51 percent of the capital stock and a large amount of their bonds) the LOP&G quickly built on to Perry (February of 1906), and branches from Mayo Jct. to Mayo and Alton and from Perry to Hampton Springs (April of 1906). In 1907 the main line was extended from Hampton Springs to Still Number 3 and a branch was built from Murat Jct. to Murat. At this time the railroad had 90 curves totaling 9.7 miles and 49.15 miles of straight track. 2 wooden bridges (30 and 100 feet, over the Spring Creek and Fenholloway Rivers) and 80 trestles totaling 5862 feet, the longest was over the Suwannee River that was 1800 feet long. The railroad slowly built west into the very flat and low pine and cypress lands finally reaching its most westerly terminus at Flint Rock in 1921, 74 miles from Live Oak. Actually the railroads end of line was at mp 72.5, the Brooks-Scanlon Corp. owned the final 1.5 miles into Flint Rock.
The LOP&G enjoyed prosperity during these early years as revenues were great, and traffic flooded the railroad. They however had two competitors in the region, the South Georgia (SG) Railroad from Adel, Ga and the Suwannee & San Pedro (S&SP) The SG however only competed in the Perry area and was a good connection to the Southern Ry at Adel but the S&SP paralleled their line. The S&SP became the Florida Ry (FRy) in 1905 but due to a feud with the SAL had only one friendly connection and that was at Perry with the SG. As all the traffic in Alton (site of the Standard Lumber Co., which was originally owned by the owners of the S&SP/FRy) due to the traffic agreements reached by the LOP&G and ACL. The FRy was slowly strangled until it ceased operations in 1916. This was important to the LOP&G as the FRy's only traffic was the passenger business between Live Oak and Perry. The death of the FRy spelled a resurgence of passenger traffic on the LOP&G and new equipment was added.
In 1918 the LOP&G was sold to the ACL and was operated as an affiliated shortline until 1928 when the railroad was sold to the Brooks-Scanlon Corporation (BSC). BSC operated the railroad for the next 26 years. BSC operated a huge sawmill at Foley, Fl and operated trains over the LOP&G and over some of the FRy's old lines. Many other lumber companies had trackage rights over the LOP&G. These companies included the Park Lumber Co. (took over the old mill at Dowling Park), Standard Lumber Co. (Alton), Taylor County Lumber Co. at Springdale and the Rock Creek Lumber Co. at Hampton Springs. The Burton-Swartz Cypress Company at Springdale also operated over the railroad. One reason for ACL selling the railroad was the fact it had just finished building it's own line through Perry on it's west coast cut-off in 1927 and the shortline was not needed. Also in 1928 the huge sawmill at Alton shut down the LOP&G abandoned the line from Mayo to Alton. The closing of the mill freed the LOP&G from the ACL agreement of 1905 and the shortline was free from their control for ever.
The LOP&G served other shippers besides the lumber industry. Farmers in Suwannee County counted on the road for shipping their produce north which included corn, cotton, watermelons and tobacco. The watermelon rush tied the railroad up every June. Businesses in Perry, Live Oak and Mayo depended on carload and LCL freight. A large limestone quarry at Peterson on the Mayo branch shipped many carloads of lime rock, many for use in building roads in the area. These roads of course cut into the LOP&G's business, and declining passengers led to the use of a motor coach on the line from 1917 to 1932 when the mixed trains began running. A new doodlebug was purchased in 1937 but only operated until 1940 when the mixed was brought back. Brooks-Scanlon purchased the South Georgia in 1946
Around 1950 Brooks-Scanlon was winding down
it's operations and was looking to find a buyer for the LOP&G and the
SG. In 1954 the Southern Ry purchased both roads and operated them as a
shortline until merging them into the Georgia Southern & Florida in
1971 as the Live Oak Perry & South Georgia Ry. Meanwhile the
mixed trains were deleted from the timetable in 1956, at which time all
trains were ran as extras. The line was abandoned between Perry and Live
Oak. The Southern first operated the line using the railroads four GE 70
tonners, but later purchased GP9s for the heavier traffic running from
Perry to Adel. This traffic was made up from the large paper mill built
at the Brooks-Scanlon property at Foley. The railroad was sold to the Gulf
& Ohio in 1994 as the Georgia & Florida. Recently this line was
conveyed to the Georgia & Florida Railnet.
Live Oak Perry & Gulf RR Co. photographed at Foley, Fl on Feb. 29, 1964 by Thomas lawson, Jr. from the collection of the State of Florida Photographic Archives. This locomotive along with sister 301 was purchased from GE in 1946.
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