April , 2003

Fla Ry 5

Henry Leach and his Florida Ry. engine number 5 pose in the hot Florida sun.
Henry was the master mechanic on the Florida Ry and the 5-spot was an
NY Locomotive Works built 4-4-0. Photographed at the Alton, Fla shops,
the high stacks of the Georgia-Florida Mill in the background. Henry took many
of the locomotive photos featured here. Here he loaned his camera to one of his
shop mates. Click on Photo to go to Part 3 of the Florida Ry Story.

 Photo from the Florida State Photographic Archivee

The Rise and Fall

of the Florida Railway

Part Three of Three

Florida Railway

by Donald R. Hensley, Jr.

All photos from the State of  Florida Photographic Archives unless noted otherwise.

(c) 2003


    Many events would shape the future of Frank Drew's Florida Railway. First and foremost would be the feud with the Seaboard Air Line. This not only caused financial troubles for the Drew Lumber Co. but would give everlasting trouble until the end of the Florida Ry. When Seaboard finally figured out that the Drews were not going to meekly allow Seaboard to dictate terms and rates they turned to the R.L. Dowling and Sons Lumber Co. and their short line railway that ran from Live Oak to Dowling Park and which crossed the Suwannee on a high wood trestle on its way to the logging town of Day. The R.L. Dowling Short Line was unincorporated and most importantly was pointed towards Perry, which the Seaboard was definitely interested in reaching.  At the Seaboards urging, the Dowling's incorporated as the Live Oak & Perry RR in 1903, but then Seaboard backed off when the Dowling's wanted them to guarantee their bonds. It seems that the Seaboard which had recently assembled a large network of lines down the southeastern seaboard had finally ran out of money and John Skelton Williams and his Baltimore bankers were ousted by Seaboard as they began a more conservative business style. Williams would later show up as he assembled a network of lines called the Georgia and Florida RR a few years later.


    Perry was in an area that Seaboard felt was their exclusive territory and wanted very much to control any railroad that entered. It seems there was a gentlemen's agreement between the Florida Central and Peninsular (Seaboard) and the Plant System (Atlantic Coast Line) about the territory west of the Suwannee River being exclusively for the Seaboard. However it became clear that the Atlantic Coast Line was not interested in old agreement made between the rival companies. When Seaboard balked at the financing needed by the Dowling's to build to Perry and Mayo, the Atlantic Coast Line jumped in and advanced what ever was needed. The Live Oak and Perry RR was soon renamed the Live Oak Perry and Gulf and construction commenced from Day west towards Perry and south to Mayo and Alton. By mid 1906 the Florida Railway was now competing against the new railroad and later on the Drew's Alton Mill was taken over by the Dowling's in 1910 further eroding freight revenues. Seaboard was also hurt as all the freight the LOP&G carried to Live Oak went out over the Coast Line.


    All this had a very real effect on the Florida Railway's freight revenues. The Suwannee and  San Pedro in 1904-05 had revenues of 46,000 dollars and the following year the new Florida Ry increased by 30 percent to over 60,000 dollars. But next year (1905-06) the newly built LOP&G had already eroded the Florida Ry's freight revenue as it was down to 55,000 dollars. The 1906-07 season was even grimmer as freight receipts  dropped down to 43,000 dollars. The next season (1908-09) was even worse as freight revenue dropped to 37,000 dollars. Then the Georgia-Florida Mill was purchased by the Dowling family and the 1909-1910 season shockingly saw freight revenues of just 21,000 dollars. There were some bright spots however, as the passenger traffic was holding steady and even increased after 1910 as the Florida Ry put more effort in the passenger business. 

Frank Drew

Frank Drew circa 1905 from Isabelle Drew Marsella(Frank’s granddaughter)


    Frank Drew knew that the only thing that could save his railroad was to build his own route to Jacksonville and Fernandina, competing directly against the Seaboard. However he did not know of the secret agreements between the Dowling Lumber Co., Live Oak Perry and Gulf and the Atlantic Coast Line on the division of traffic from Perry and Mayo-Alton as he mistakenly blamed the Seaboard for all his traffic woes. If he had known of this agreement he may very well have changed his mind about expansion and make peace with the Seaboard. Unfortunately he did not know about this agreement which only came to light in the late twenties by an ICC investigation. The Florida Railway's new charter mentions the extensions to Jacksonville and Fernandina and the Drew's already owned terminal space in both towns.


    The extension is first mentioned in April and May of 1906 as they were removing the 60cm gauge phosphate railroad at Luraville to be used in hauling earth for the construction of the line east of Live oak. Also 40 flat cars were bought for use on the extension. However by May 25 the extension was annulled due to contract trouble at Fernandina. Rumors of the extension would persist until July 1909 when the Florida Ry was finally able to obtain financing to retire the earlier bonds owned by the Suwannee and San Pedro and the Live Oak and Gulf, breaking the last bond between Skelton Williams and the Drew’s. This 4 million dollar mortgage from the Carnegie Trust Co. of New York was for retiring the old bonds, improving the existing Florida Ry and for construction of the extension to Jacksonville and Fernandina. This was not completed until mid January of 1910. By February of 1910 surveying crews were out in the field running lines and by April the clearing and grading work was in full force on the extension. The forecast was for track laying to begin in March of 1911.

Construction Camp

The construction camp complete with two-foot gauge railroad in foreground.


    Then it happened, the Carnegie Trust Company of New York failed in January of 1911 and the Knickerbocker Trust Co. assumed the account the next month. While grading and laying of ties continued, the purchase of rails was held up. By July of 1911 the engineer's report stated that almost 56 miles were graded and 49 miles were tied out of the 74 miles between Jacksonville and Live Oak. But there was trouble at Knickerbocker. The first issue of bonds the previous year was snapped up by French investors, whom I assume remembered the rich phosphate deposits once owned by the French at Luraville. However a second call for bonds to be sent to France fell on deaf ears at Knickerbocker. Then in June Frank Drew received a telegram that realized his worst nightmare, Knickerbocker's board of directors had a Seaboard director sitting on it. There was no way Seaboard would allow the Florida Ry to build a competing line to the Atlantic Coast. This one director who sat on the executive committee completely stonewall all attempts to raise money or to sell the bonds. The Florida Ry then attempted a 6 million dollar lawsuit versus the Knickerbocker Trust Co. and the Seaboard Air Line. This suit stalled out a few years later when the Florida Ry.s attorney was hired away by certain Seaboard directors for other projects. You just don't mess with the big junkyard dog, as the song goes. The Florida Ry was on its deathbed, though Frank Drew fought the best he could against all odds to save his road from extinction.


    The Florida Ry in 1905 owned 4 locomotives. These were the same locomotives when the road shut down eleven years later. The number 1 was a small Baldwin 2-6-0 used as a light freight and construction engine and the number 3 was an ex-NP Baldwin  4-4-0 used for passenger trains. The number 5 locomotive was a Rome (NY Locomotive Works) 4-4-0 and the 7 was an ex-ACL Baldwin 4-4-0. Both of these were used as freight engines, though they could be pressed into passenger service when needed. They also owned 10 flat cars, which in 1905 were used in gravel service. In 1906 the Drews bought 40 flat cars, though lettered for the Florida Ry they were actually owned by the Drews. 


The bad news for the Drew family in 1905 was the lost of the Drew Mill at Alton, as Frank and George Drew sold it it to the Georgia-Florida Mill Co. in February of 1905. The Tift lumbering family of Tifton, Georgia was the main backers in the new mill, with only Frank Drew as one of the directors, representing the old owners. Later on he was powerless to prevent the mill being purchased by the Dowling family and the lost revenues to the Dowling's LOP&G Railroad.


    The 1905-06 (July, 1905 to June, 1906) report give a good look at the Florida Ry during its most prosperous year:



















Maint. of Way


Mail Contract


Maint. of Equipment




Traffic Expenses


Freight Revenues


General Expenses


Machine Shop Income




Total Revenues


Total Expenses


Total Taxes were5,330.75 which were in litigation, as Frank Drew was a big crusader against unbalance taxes, as he was paying the same amount per mile as Seaboard and Coastline. There were 96,776 train miles using 2,686 cords of wood at $1.40 per cord.

Fla Ry vs SAL in Live Oak

The much smaller Florida Ry train meets the Seaboard Air Line train at Live Oak.

    The biggest customers were the Georgia-Florida Mill at Alton and the Tedder Lumber Co. which had mills located at one time or another at Fenholloway, Denmark and Wilmarth. The Bache Brothers had a small mill at Luraville. When the Ga-Fla Mill was purchased by the Dowlings  and became the Standard Lbr Co., the only revenues from them came  from the Florida Ry's machine shop at Alton as they handled all heavy repairs to equipment and locomotives for both the Lumber Co. and the LOP&G. Later on the Standard Lbr Co was purchased by the Sears family (of Sears and Roebuck) but they honored the old secret agreement and shipped everything out over the LOP&G. The mines at Luraville provided some traffic over the years, mostly in 1907-09 as 7380 tons were shipped those two years by the Mutual Phosphate Company. Closing again in 1910 they reopened in 1911 with 1190 tons. Naval stores were also shipped from various points on the railroad, mostly in the more undeveloped section of forest west of Mayo around San Pedro Junction. Annual watermelon shipments in June was the main agriculture product. For example watermelon shipping in 1914 started on June 11 and the Florida Ry handled 178 cars to the South Georgia at Perry, 46 cars to the ACL at Live Oak and 49 cars to the Seaboard at Live Oak. The LOP&G dropped off 290 cars to the ACL at Live Oak. At the beginning of the season farmers were getting 225 to 400 dollars a car load of 30 pound watermelons to New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. By the end of the season they were lucky to get 25 to 80 dollars a car which shows that the early bird gets the worm.


Typical small sawmill probably Tedder's mill near Fenholloway on the Florida Ry.

Shops at Alton

Florida Ry shops at Alton, Fl. The big building in the back is the machine shop.

Wilmarth mill
Another small sawmill, probably Tedder's mill near Wilmarth.

    Excursions were popular on the Florida Ry and many were run every year. Part of the original mainline from San Pedro Jct. to Econafina on the upper Stienahatchee was intact but not listed in any track reports , yet fishing excursions were run there a  few times a year over what must have been very bad track. The most popular excursions were to the picnic grounds on the Drew's ranch next to the Draw Bridge on the Suwannee. During the summer weekly excursions were run to the bridge and there food, fishing and swimming were enjoyed. The Florida Ry's passenger trains patronized very heavily and during the lean years the road depended more and more on the passenger revenues. The roads more through route between Live Oak, Mayo and Perry was used by more passengers than the competing LOP&G. The Fla Ry was graded and better surfaced than the LOP&G's log road type grading and passengers appreciated the better riding characteristics of the roadbed.

    The Florida Railway by 1915 was in serious trouble. They owed at least a million dollars on the unfinished extension and bond holders were very angry at the lack of interest paid on their bonds. The New York courts appointed a receiver, but his appointment was not approved by the Florida courts, Frank Drew was appointed receiver by Florida. One of the mysteries to me is why the Federal Courts did not get involved. Not only were the bonds interstate, but they were also international and any receiver should have been appointed by the Federal Courts. My only guess is that Frank Drew still had some high friends pulling strings in Washington and Tallahassee. The railroad was still in litigation over state and local taxes, this would eventually bring the railroad down. The road needed freight revenues badly, and then a small glimmer of a hope appeared.

    The Suwannee Phosphate Co. was looking over the old French and Mutual phosphate mines near Luraville during January of 1915. Convinced that the mines could be worked and needing a good railroad to haul out the rock, the company begin talks with the Florida Ry.  As the old Luraville branch has been idled for a year and in bad shape, Frank Drew draws up plans to build a new railroad from near Wilmarth to the mines bypassing the troublesome spring slough that constantly tears up the old Luraville branch. An amendment to the charter was issued in June of 1915 which outline a new railroad to run from near Wilmarth northwest to a point near the Suwannee, north of Luraville. Another line would run east to McAlpin on the Coast Line. By October a mention in the newspapers that they new line was being constructed. Another story tells how it was thought that all the phosphate was exhausted, but two new companies have made surveys and feel that it has hardly been touch. No mention at all about gauge until 1916 when the Florida Railway Commission issued rates for a two-foot gauge branch of the Florida Ry. It seems that one of Frank's sons volunteered for service in France during the early stages of World War I and saw the use of the 60cm trench trains. As the Florida Ry had used the old 60cm train sets of the French Phosphate Co. many times for construction projects, he decided to use the equipment one more time for use in carrying phosphate ore to the Fla Ry mainline. By this time only one of the little Porters were still on the property, the other had been sold many years ago, but two complete sets of ore cars and many miles of light rail were still available. Its unknown who actually owned the equipment at this time, the Drews may have bought them years ago, or maybe the French Company sold them to the Mutual Company, which sold them to the Suwannee Phosphate Company. As the Florida Railway's records for 1915-16 are very incomplete due to receivership, it impossible to tell if any ore was hauled. One thing is for certain, not enough was hauled to save the railroad. And time was running short. (Note- In the records I did find 1/2 of a plan for a steel 24" gauge boxcar. Also in correspondence with one of Frank Drew's granddaughters, she mentions that Frank Drew did purchase some narrow gauge rolling stock.)

2 foot ga box car plans

Two-foot gauge all steel box car plans. State of Florida Archives.

    The Florida Railway limped along during the first half of 1916, as it was hit with lawsuits over back pay, back taxes and back rent. Former employees were sabotaging the track and the ICC was making the road put its locomotives into shape. On September 17, 1916 a receiver's sale was advertised in the local paper describing the property that was to be sold at the Duval County Courthouse on Oct. 2, 1916. This was a gold mine for me as it listed the Builder and c/n number of all the locomotives. George Drew bought the railroad for $35,000 on Oct 2, 1916 but the charter was not transferred and the Florida Railway was unable to be operated as a common carrier, so all operations stopped on that date. At the end of October the Atlantic Coast Line sent a derrick car out on the line to pick up wrecked cars. 


Suwannee River port near the Drew Bridge.

    1917 was the year of schemes, of selling the road or its steel. But no decisions were made except for leasing portions of the road west of Mayo to Smith-Maloy & Co. and Elsberry Brothers and Miller which used it for logging and naval stores traffic. A passionate plea by Frank Drew to the Seaboard in hopes of them buying the road fell on deaf ears. The Seaboard could have bought the road and finished the few miles needed to link up with their Tallahassee Southeastern Railroad, but declined to do so. And yet they would have made a fortune carrying  the products of the Burton Swartz Cypress Co. which had just located in Perry, and the future Brooks Scanlon which would arrive shortly. But the Seaboard had no love for Frank Drew and decided not to help him out. This action allowed the Atlantic Coast Line to enter the once exclusive Seaboard territory. Then Frank Drew appealed to the Federal Government in hopes they could save the road for war purposes, but the inspector did not think it was worth saving as the nearby LOP&G was more than capable of serving the area.


Scrapping train on the Fla Ry. at the Live Oak shops. The two stall engine house is in the background.
The Locomotive is the Georgia Car & Locomotive Co. Forney the Drews bought in 1918 for scrapping the road.


Rear view of the scrapping train, Frank Drew standing on the rails to the far left, supervising.

    1918 was the year of dismantling the road, though the first step was taking up the Upchurch Lbr Co. in Marion County at Norwalk Landing. The Upchurch Lbr Co. was a partnership between the George Drew and the Upchurch logging family  and when the company failed in 1915, George Drew purchased the assets. Bringing down Florida Railway #1 to Norwalk by barge (no rail connection for this isolated logging line) George and Frank slowly pull up the rails on this line, gaining experience for the bigger job ahead. One last hope was laid on the door step of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, a Federal government agency, but they passed on reopening the road. By July they were back on the Florida Railway pulling up log traces and side tracks on the west end and clearing out their stock of unused rail. But as the track was in very bad shape even the small number 1 engine could not safely navigate the line. To keep from having to install new ties to scrap the road, Frank purchases a 24 ton ex-Manhattan Forney from Georgia Car & Locomotive in December of 1918. This was the same type of locomotive that the Elsberry Brothers and Miller purchased from Georgia Car & Locomotive in 1916 for use on the same track. The tank from Florida Ry # 3 was added to increase the amount of water available. Scrapping operations were slow because of both natural elements and human sabotage. The Drews were afraid to travel at night due to the amount of large tree limbs left on the track by disgruntle employees and shippers. Its unknown when the last rail were pulled, though there were still rails to pull up in 1921 as he mentions the rail salvage in a letter in August of that year. A lot of the rail was purchased by an Alabama dealer and probaly ended up on a lot of logging roads in Alabama and Mississippi. Another large portion was sent to Cuba for laying track in the sugar fields of that country. The locomotives however were in deplorable shape and were certainly scrapped.


Frank Drew’s wife Lula enjoying an outing along the Luraville branch after heavy logging.

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