The Saga of the Live Oak & Gulf
by
Donald R. Hensley, Jr.
Copyright February 6, 1999 by Donald R. Hensley, Jr.
Part 3
 

Peek Station on the Live Oak & Gulf. Here the railroad met with the Suwannee River steamers. Note the tracks that ran down the steep incline to the river. Cars could be lowered here by use of a hand powered winch. Once a box car broke lose and crashed into the side of a steamer. Note also the cord wood piled high on the steamer's deck. Photo from the Florida State Photographic Archives.

 Now 1897 was a bad year and a turning point for the Live Oak & Gulf, phosphate production was stopped at the end of 1896 after it was noticed that the iron content was too high. No ore at all was shipped in 1897 and the railroad had to change from a mining road to a general carrier. They had been developing freight in the area by carrying finished lumber from the Bache Brothers saw mill at Peak on the Suwannee River as well as carrying bricks from the brick works at Luraville. Sand was also carried, this being the only  product of the mines during this time, but it was not a big item. Log trains belonging to Thomas Dowling also help bring in needed income. The railroad also connected with the Suwannee River steamers at Peak, which gave them access to Branford and Cedar Key. 1898 was just as bad, both of these years they were just able to meet their general expenses, but they fell behind in interest payments. By 1899 they owed Thomas Dowling $4,682.06 which he sued for and won an injunction over the LO&G, which forced a sheriffs sale on the 7.55 miles of track. The White brothers promptly paid for this track out of their own money and the road was still intact. The Whites were planing to expand west across the Suwannee into Lafayette County to some mining properties they owned but these plans were spoiled by the introduction of a new railroad in the area, the Suwannee & San Pedro RR.

 The Suwannee & San Pedro was incorporated on July 1, 1899 to build from across the Suwannee River, connecting with the Live Oak & Gulf by barge. This railroad was started by the Drew Lumber Co. to reach timber areas they had bought from the State Internal Improvement Fund. The Drews were at first was going to use this road to log the area, dumping the logs into the river and rafting them to their sawmill at Branford. However when the principal owner died, former Governor George Drew, his two surviving sons, Frank and George, took over the project and changed the scope of operations. Now they plan to build a large on-site sawmill near Mayo, which would be called Alton, after their father's birthplace in New Hampshire. A railroad from Mayo to Live Oak was now planned, though they still built the western portion across the river from the LO&G. This was done on purpose, as the LO&G expansion plans were known, and the S&SP did not want any competition on this side of the river. However the LO&G did enjoy record profits during 1899-1900, as it cost the S&SP over $10,000 to ship their two locomotives and 800 tons of track over the LO&G.

 The first part of 1899 saw a small resurgence in mining on the LO&G, around 100 carloads were shipped that year. But 1900 saw no phosphate mining at all, luckily they had all that S&SP construction traffic, as they made over $12,000 in profit that year. Also that year negotiations were begun with the S&SP over two points, purchasing the railroad in its entirety or leasing a portion of the road. As no agreement could be made about purchasing the S&SP decided to lease 9 miles of the LO&G for its entry into Live Oak for $1200 a year. This agreement was reached on November 11, 1900 and the S&SP busied itself with constructing the missing portion. The affairs of the S&SP and its construction will be not be told here as its a story to be told on its own.

 The Live Oak & Gulf in 1901 was still making good money carrying the construction materials of the S&SP and they carried quite a few passengers as well, over 6,000 persons rode the train that year.   Thomas Dowling was still operating log trains over the road as well. The phosphate mine was still closed but they didn't need it during this period. 1902 was the first year of operations on the S&SP so freight on the LO&G dropped thirty percent that year. And then the LO&G got caught up in the feud that developed between  Williams and Middendorf of the Seaboard Air Line and Frank Drew of the Suwannee & San Pedro. While details of the feud will not be given here for lack of space, it pretty much boils down to this: Drew being a lumberman with a railroad, would not sign the preferred connection agreement with the SAL, due to the fact the lumber  rates to Jacksonville was too high. Williams and Middendorf who financed the construction of the S&SP were outraged and the poor LO&G was caught in the middle. Using the LO&G as a pawn, the SAL bought the line from the Whites. But because the lease on the 9 miles had already been signed, SAL was bluffing and the Drews knew it, it. The Drews out bluffed SAL by threatening to build their own line into Live Oak. With their bluff called SAL dropped out and the Southern Investment Co. took over the road in 1903 and they entered into negotiations with the S&SP about the eventual purchase of the LO&G. This happened on June 1, 1904, when they paid $47,800 for the Live Oak & Gulf. Part of the LO&G was abandoned at this time, from mile post 9 to just east of Luraville and the trackage between Luraville and Peak was also abandoned. However the S&SP built a connecting line from their mainline at Wilmarth north to the LO&G trackage at Luraville. The Luraville trackage, station and mine spur was kept intact and operated by the S&SP over this new branch line.

 The Live Oak & Gulf tale ends on June 30, 1905, when the LO&G and the S&SP were merged into the Florida Railway. The Florida Ry. operated the Luraville branch and the original 9 miles of the old LO&G for the next eleven years, but the feud with the SAL finally caught up with the Drews and the railroad closed down at the end of 1916, not seeing a train until 1919 when the Drews finally pulled all the rails up. Phosphate traffic never rebounded to the levels of the first two years. The French company was purchased by the Mutual Phosphate Co. which operated the mines for a while. The First World War completed the destruction of this industry at Luraville as Europe was too busy with the business of war, and peacetime agricultural pursuits were laid aside. However Frank Drew in 1915-16 tried to replace his Luraville Branch with a two foot gauge railroad using the old equipment of the French Phosphate Co./Mutual Phosphate Co. but it was already too late to save his crumbling empire. He was inspired by his son's description of narrow gauge military railroads in Europe, which he planned to duplicate in Florida. At one point in the 1920's he tried promoting this idea with many of the railroads in Florida, but only the Florida East Coast was interested in the possibility of using narrow gauge in the Everglades but never took him up on it.

 
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