Many logging railroad operations around the country began a
significant decline in the 1950s as trucks came to replace trains due to
their versatility and lower operating costs. The case was no different
for the Reader, which saw its owner Mansfield Hardwood Lumber go
bankrupt then. However, the railroad was not scrapped, allowing it to
be purchased by Tom Long, which continued freight services and also
allowed passengers to ride the route creating one of the early excursion
At this time the Reader was still moving some timber traffic although
most of its freight business predominantly relied on petroleum in the
late 1950s through the '60s. As for its passenger services, curiously
these were fully included in its Official Guide listing although
it made sure to include that its trains did not offer full services as
on other larger lines (such as checked baggage, diners, etc.).
It did, however, provide information about what was offered at its Waterloo depot such as hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, mil, coffee, soft drinks, and even cigarettes and camera film! You could also learn where to stay overnight as the railroad listed the White Plaza Motel located at Prescott since it provided passengers free transportation to the Reader. Finally, at the very top of its listing it proudly proclaimed itself as, "The last remaining regularly scheduled mixed train drawn exclusively by steam locomotives" and included its slogan, The 'Possum Trot Line. This was certainly no lie, or even exaggeration, as the company never owned diesels. Over the years the Reader Railroad operated 2-6-0 Moguls, 2-6-2 Prairies, and 2-8-0 Consolidations.
Today, five of its original steamers survive: #1 is a 2-6-0 built in November, 1906 by Baldiwn and is still on the property and stored operable; #2 is a 2-6-0 built by the Burnham, Williams & Company in January, 1907 now owned by the Orange Blossom Cannonball of Tavares, Florida and under restoration; #4 is a 2-6-2 built in December, 1913 by Baldwin and currently owned by the Dardanelle & Russellville Railroad in Arkansas; 2-6-2 #7 is still on the property built by Burnham, Williams in 1907; 2-6-2 #11 is currently on display at the Riney-B Park in Nicholasville, Kentucky; and finally 2-8-0 #1702 built by Baldwin in 1942 is now owned by the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad of North Carolina, under restoration. The Reader Railroad's demise as freight hauler came in the early 1970s when the Waterloo refinery shutdown, leaving it with little traffic and eventually forcing Long to sell the line to R. A. Grigsby in 1980 who still owns it today.
Passenger trains continued to operate until 1991 when the
railroad did not have the funds to bring the track and infrastructure up
to new Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety regulations.
Beginning about 2006 an effort began to try and revive the line as a
tourist railroad, as the tracks are still in place, but this has
seemingly fizzled since about 2008 (although their website is still
available). In recent years the Reader became famous for its starring
role in several Hollywood movies including 3:10 to Yuma, There Will Be Blood, Appaloosa,
and the television mini-series "North And South" based on the Civil
War. In the end, it is rather amazing that this little timber and oil
railroad has survived intact for so many years. Hopefully, it will also
run again one day.
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