THE ORANGE BELT RAILWAY
Copyright ©1998-1999 DONALD R. HENSLEY, JR.
Sanford and St. Petersburg RR # 11, a Baldwin narrow
gauge 4-4-0 (ex-Denver & Rio Grande) from the collection of Don Hensley
As the 1880's unfolded, Florida's frontier was being penetrated by a system
of three-foot gauge railroads, spurred on by a generous state land grant.
This story focuses on one of the last common carrier narrow gauge roads
to be built in Florida, which was also one of the last to be converted
to standard gauge.
Petrovitch A. Demenscheff was born in Petrograd, Russia in 1850. His family
was of the nobility with large estates. He was the first cousin of Prince
Petroff and a captain in the Imperial Guard. He received training as a
forester managing his large family estates, which would serve him well
in the future. In 1880 he was exiled from Russia, and with his wife, children
and servant immigrated to America, Anglicizing his name to Peter Demens.
For some odd reason he headed south to Florida and obtained a job as a
laborer at a sawmill in Longwood, Florida. He worked hard and within a
year was appointed manager. Later with the money he saved he became partners
with the owners and then quickly bought them out. Demens became one of
the biggest contractors in the state, building houses, stations, hotels
and railroads through out Florida. One railroad contract was the narrow
gauge Orange Belt Railway that he took over when they couldn't pay for
The Orange Belt Ry at first was a real estate promotion, using mule power
(his name was Jack) and wood rails from Longwood to Myrtle Lake. When Demens
took the road over he formed an operating company called the Orange Belt
Investment Company. He then obtained local financing to rebuild the line
using 8 miles of 25 pound rail and purchased a steam locomotive from an
Alabama road that was converting. He then pushed the line north to Lake
Monroe, where he connected with the newly built standard gauge road, the
Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Ry. However Longwood had a rail connection
with the North from the South Florida R.R., which was in the process of
converting to standard gauge. Demens then turned his attention to pushing
the road south-westerly to Oakland, a growing town in a rich agricultural
section of the state. To do this he had to obtain financing from investors
in New York. Here he met C.H. Armour of Philadelphia, brother of the famous
meat packer of Chicago. It was announced however that Oakland would not
be the terminus, the road would be pushed on to the Gulf of Mexico, and
a new port would be built. Demens was a man of great energy as he worked
hard on building this railroad and sunk his whole fortune in it. He worked
harder than ever, supervising construction one week and meeting with investors
the next in New York. The road came close to collapsing at times only to
be shored up by last minute financial deals. He pushed the road to Oakland
and had trains running on October 30, 1886. The road slowly inched toward
the Gulf, reaching Tarpon Springs on January 13, 1888. By May 1, the line
was completed to Saint Petersburg, named after the famous Russian city
of his youth. By this time however, the Longwood Branch was no longer needed,
so the rail and ties were pulled up and re-laid between Monroe and Sanford.
This created a 152 mile long mainline between Sanford and St. Petersburg.
for Orange Belt Map
However Demens could only hold on to his railroad for one more year. In
1889 he was forced to accept a buy out and he left Florida for North Carolina
where he bought another sawmill, which he operated for three years. He
then went west, arriving in Los Angeles, California where he operated a
steam laundry for four years. He sold out and bought citrus groves near
Alta Loma, where he lived until his death in 1919.
Demens in my opinion, got out while he could. The railroad was built in
a rural agricultural area, that produced traffic only in the late Winter
and early Spring. The Orange Belt Investment Co. owned hundreds of thousand
of acres, but growth was slow in this section. Also they had to compete
against Henry B. Plant's South Florida RR and his port at Tampa. Only a
third of the road was profitable and that was the line from Lachoochee
(connection with the standard gauge Florida Central & Peninsular RY)
to St. Petersburg. All the communities along the Gulf coast prospered.
However the other two thirds of the railroad ran in the red, which brought
the railroad into receivership in 1893 when they couldn't pay the interest
on their bonds. The road was sold by the court, right back to its owners,
and they reorganized as the Sanford and St. Petersburg RR. The road limped
along until March of 1895, when Florida had the great freeze, killing all
the Citrus trees. The ownership threw up their hands and meekly sold out
to the Plant System of Railroads. Plant promptly standard gauged the profitable
section of the road, while leaving the narrow gauge section in place from
Trilby to Sanford. He also purchased the standard gauge Florida Midland
from Sanford to Kissimmee, abandoning north of the Orange Belt and narrow
gauging the line to Kissimmee. This was run in conjunction with the S&SP,
using equipment from the Orange Belt and the Florida Southern RR which
was converted in 1896. In 1902 the Atlantic Coast Line purchased the Plant
System, inheriting the narrow gauge lines. The ACL slowly converted the
road until the last portion was completed in April of 1908, ending the
long run of the last narrow gauge common carrier in Florida.
The Orange Belt interchanged with two standard gauge lines, the JT&KW
at Monroe and the FC&P at Lachoochee. Both junctions used the Ramsey
Transfer in which standard gauge cars are lifted and re-gauged with narrow
gauge trucks. They also interchanged with the standard gauge South Florida
RR at Sanford, where freight was manually reloaded onto narrow gauge cars.
Narrow gauge interchange, until 1893, was handled at Macon (later Trilby)
with the South Florida Railroad's narrow gauged Pemberton's Ferry Branch.
It was here that cars of the South Florida RR and the Florida Southern
RR were interchanged until 1892 when the branch was converted.
A typical mixed train of the Orange Belt, this
narrow gauge engine later served on Atlantic Coast Line's operation of
this line. This Brooks 14x18 was their largest engine and was the favorite
of the crews, and was used mostly as the mixed engine.
Typical outbound traffic in an 1890 report shows fruits and vegetables
leading the pack with 3,981 tons carried with lumber close at 3,188 tons.
Inbound leader was fertilizer with 1,819 tons. A grand total of 9,507 tons
was originated while 6,482 tons were received. This was carried in 20-25
ton capacity cars, quite a bit of traffic. Unfortunately they built just
south of the Dunnellon Phosphate Mining District that could have provided
traffic to the port.
Passenger operations consisted of four trains, two southbound and two north.
The northbound No. 66 left the Wharf at 5:55 am, arriving at Sanford at
1:45 pm. The train was turned and became southbound No. 71 leaving Sanford
at 2:45 p.m. arriving at St. Petersburg's Wharf at 10:35 pm. The other
two trains were the railroads crack express trains. The southbound No.
3 left Lachoochee at 6:00 am, arriving at the Wharf at 10:05 am. The train
was turned and became No. 4, leaving northbound at 6:10 pm and arriving
at Lachoochee at 10:15 pm. This train had to be on time as it met with
the Florida Central & Peninsular mail and express trains from Jacksonville.
for Official Guide Timetable and Map from 1893
Freight operations consisted of two mixed trains, southbound No. 9 leaving
Sanford at 4:30 am and arriving at the Wharf at 6:15 pm. Its counterpart,
No. 10 left the Wharf at 5:15 am, and arrived at Sanford at 8:00 pm. An
1891 report stated that they carried an average of 7 cars per freight train,
4 loads and 3 empties, for a total of 22 tons, an average of 5-2/5 tons
Excursions were popular during the tourist season, from January to Easter.
A Tarpon Springs Special was usually run from St. Petersburg to Tarpons
Springs and back. There was also seasonal fruit and vegetable traffic from
December to June. This consisted of Tangerines in December, Oranges from
January to March and early vegetables from March to May. A watermelon rush
would occur in June. Oakland was the headquarters of the company, and their
shops, roundhouse and offices were located here. Locomotive fuel was pine
wood, and wood racks were located at every station along the line. Turntables
were located at St. Petersburg, Lachoochee, Oakland, and Monroe. Trains
were backed into Sanford, from Monroe, 2 miles away.
Locomotives consisted of second hand engines from many converted narrow
gauge lines. Eleven of the Twelve engines were 4-4-0s, with one 2-6-0.
Many different builders are represented, Baldwin, National and Pittsburgh.
Rolling stock consisted mostly of used cars from the South Florida RR that
had just converted their mainline in 1886. However the shops at Oakland
built many of their own boxcars and some of their baggage cars.
This road was built through rolling hills, around lakes and through swamps,
crossing only one river, the Withlachoochee at Lachoochee. This railroad
was almost a roller coaster, as it was built with the lay of the ground.
However the average grade did not exceed one percent, except for a short
stretch of two and a half percentage near San Antonio, where the coastal
plain meets the sand hills. The road also had many curves, avoiding the
many lakes and swamps on the route.
St. Petersburg, Florida station.
MODELING THE ORANGE BELT
I would pick the St. Petersburg terminal as the best starting point. I
have found several maps and many photos of the town and it's wharf. The
beautiful Victorian station would be a challenge to any modeler while the
small yard would keep one busy switching the six trains a day (plus extras
and excursions). By just cutting the actual trackage by half we can duplicate
this yard to an eight foot shelf. This would allow enough car space to
make up and send trains out as well as receiving and breaking trains down.
The Wharf should take up an additional four feet to get the right effect.
for Orange Belt Trackage in St. Petersburg, Fl
for Wharf Trackage at St. Petersburg, Fl
The length of the mainline is of course dependent on the amount of space
available, but for best effect I would model Clearwater, Tarpon Springs
and the big hill at San Antonio with a return loop with sidings at the
end. This would simulate the best part of the road, traffic wise. And it's
not bad scenery either. From St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs, there will
be many large Pine Trees and old Oaks with moss hanging low. In the swamps
between Tarpon Springs and the sand hills there are large ancient cypress
trees, many over a thousand years old. And on the sand hill near San Antonio
will be Scrub Oaks and Pines.
Finding or building the narrow gauge 4-4-0s and the small rolling stock
will be a challenge for many, and don't forget to have small standard gauge
cars with narrow gauge trucks in each consist. These will mostly be cars
from the Florida Central & Peninsular (later to the Seaboard Air Line)
and the Jacksonville Tampa and Key West (Atlantic Coast Line), though you
wont find many of the former south of Lachoochee.