When he talks of “railroading” his voice becomes animated, and then you understand the phrase “romance of the rails.”
For 42 years he was the engineer on some of the most prestigious passenger trains, as well as engineer on many freight trains. Webster Nation should have finished high school in 1939, but he stayed over to play football the autumn of 1939, and graduated in January 1940.
He began his career with the L & A Railroad in 1941 and continued until his retirement in 1983.
Marriage and the Military
On August l, l942, he was married to Miss Kathryn Watson. He did not enter the Army until after Christmas of that year. Early in 1943 he was sent to Fort Smith, Arkansas, and later was sent on to San Antonio, Texas.
He served as an Engineer in the service, and achieved the rank of Tech Sergeant before he left the military. He worked with the railroad in service.
After the invasion of France on D-Day, Webster did not go in on the beaches at Normandy until August 1, 1944 (his second wedding anniversary.) Webster said that the first few days were quiet as the battle had moved inland. He operated trains taking supplies to the front lines.
He said that they brought American Engines over to France to operate the trains. They were able to use French boxcars to ship in, and the boxcars were hooked together with hooks and chains.
Later, as he served under the Head of the Transportation Corps, General Carl S. Gray, he was under the direct command of Colonel Diamond.
Engineer and Father
At this time the U. S. Army commandeered Goering’s private train for use in France. Webster was brought into service to be the engineer on this train. He said that he lived like a king while serving in this capacity.
This was from May 8, 1945 until August 1, 1945. This train went from the French border, Strasbourg, France, across France through Lyon, Dijon, Valance, and ended its trip in Marseilles which was on the Mediterranean coast. Since this was Goering’s private train it was exceptionally “plush” with its large conference rooms, private suites, galley and dining room.
When Webster lists his itinerary he rolls the French names off with just the right pronunciation, just like a “Frenchman.”
After coming home, he and Kathryn became the parents of twins in 1946 – Diane and Danny. Diane was killed in an automobile wreck in Cotton Valley.
In 1952 their second son, Stan, was born. Danny lives with his family here in Minden. He and his wife are the parents of three children – Robin who is an R. N. in California, Kyle who attends La. Tech, and Justin who is a student at the Vo-Tech school here. Stan is retired and lives in Costa Rica.
Webster’s first jobs after the war was driving freight trains, and later he became engineer of some of the most famous trains on the L & A Railway.
One of the trains was called “The Shreveporter” and the slogan was “St. Louis overnight .” This train traveled via Minden.
Another was “The Hustler”, which was another train that traveled via Minden. A familiar name was “The Flying Crow.” This train, whose slogan was “Straight as the Crow Flies”, travelled from Kansas City to New Orleans, and it was also via Minden.
One of the trains that he engineered was “The Southern Belle” and its slogan was “Sweetheart of the American Trains.” This train was from Kansas City to New Orleans and it also came through Minden.
It operated from about 1938 until the sixties. This train came through Minden late at night, just before midnight and arrived in New Orleans early the next morning. Many, many times my husband rode this train to New Orleans to Ford Motor Company for advance new car showings for Ford employees.
The men would then get back on the train the next night, go to bed and arrive back in Minden early the next morning in time to go to work.
“Blue Bird” “Doodle Bug”
Two more little trains that Webster would hardly classify as “trains” but more like shuttles were “The Blue Bird” and “The Doodle Bug.”
The Blue Bird left Minden early in the morning for a trip to Shreveport. This was a convenience for folks who wanted to shop in Shreveport or who had Shreveport doctors.
It arrived back in Minden about 4:30 in the afternoon. Families who worked for the L & A had passes that allowed them to ride free other little shuttle bus, The Doodle Bug, travelled from Minden down to Fryeburg and then on down to Winnfield. It also returned that same afternoon.
Freddie Haynes said that she would catch the Doodle Bug, ride down and spend the day and then return that afternoon.
Irene Tomlinson remembered riding to Fryeburg and visiting relatives and then returning to Minden that same afternoon. This was before families had cars that they could use for such trips, and before the busses ran regular routes.
I asked Webster if he were ever in a serious wreck when he was engineer. He was thankful that he was not in a wreck where anyone was killed or seriously hurt. He remembered that often the freight trains would derail, turn over, and would be a mess to get back on track and everything cleared up.
On one occasion the Southern Belle collided with a freight train at Lettsworth, La. and that was a bad wreck, that resulted in the death of a Minden man, Bennie Moore.
These men who lived their lives “railroading” in one capacity or another meet once a month for a dinner meeting, and they have such a close fellowship.
Those that rode the trains saw a different side of the railroad business than those who worked in the L & A shops here in Minden.
These men enjoyed their years with the railroad, and now they are enjoying their retirement with good pensions and good insurance. This is truly a “romance of the rails.”
Juanita Agan submitted a weekly column to the Press-Herald for more than 15 years until her death in 2008. She was a resident of Minden since 1935. The Press-Herald is republishing select articles from Mrs. Agan’s Cameos column every Wednesday.