Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Hopkinsville and Southern

Steam is all but dead. We all know where to find it if we want it. There are any number of fan trips to go on. We can make the excursion to Northwestern Steel & Wire's plant in Sterling, IL, to watch the switching operations. Mesta Steel in Homestead, PA, has a pair of fireless steamers. Virtually every railfan knows of these holdouts.[1]

However, I venture to guess that not one fan in a thousand knows about the Hopkinsville & Southern in the backwoods of Kentucky. On its 18-mile route, this railroad operates a variety of all-but-extinct equipment that would make the average fan drool. Here, on one railroad, there is a Pennsy K-4, a New York Central Hudson, a Fairbanks-Morse Trainmaster, an Electromotive Corp. FT, a Baldwin Centipede, and numerous other oddities. And it is all in operation daily.

With such interesting railroad equipment you would think that everyone would have heard of the Hopkinsville & Southern. There are two reasons why most have not: the Hopkinsville & Southern runs through "moonshine country" where strangers are discouraged (or worse), and the Hopkinsville & Southern is a captive railroad, run by a very publicity-shy industry. The owner and operator of the Hopkinsville & Southern keeps a low profile. Hence the Hopkinsville & Southern keeps a low profile.

History of the Industry

To understand the operations of the Hopkinsville & Southern, it is helpful to take a look at the history of the industry it supports. Back in the late 1880's, Horace Jellowicz emigrated from eastern Europe to New York City. Twenty minutes outside of immigration he was approached by a fast-talking stranger who convinced him there was money to be made in railroad construction in the West. So, in the United States less than a day, Horace boarded a boxcar filled with greenhorns like himself soon was headed for St. Louis. Somewhere in Indiana the train was wrecked. The stranger disappeared and Horace was left on his own, practically penniless. He headed south and eventually settled in Kentucky.

Horace had a knack for business and soon was operating a very successful general store in a central Kentucky town. However, his wanderlust never left him, and, on one of his numerous excursions through the Kentucky hills, Horace made a discovery that was to immortalize him. Indeed, there isn't a grade school student in the country who hasn't heard of jello. And Horace discovered it. At this point, it should be mentioned that the jello Horace discovered is not exactly the Jell-o we are all used to seeing John Belushi[2] slurp. This was the industrial-grade jello used today to make capsules and strengthen ladies' nails.

Right from the start, jello mining proved to be highly profitable. With improved mining and transporting techniques over the last decade or so, it is more profitable than ever. The company founded by Jellowicz, Consolidated Jello Corporation. (ConJelCo), is one of the most profitable privately held corporations in the world.

Jello was an immediate success with industry, but it was not until the vast deposits of strawberry and raspberry jello where discovered in Canada that it caught on with the public at large. By 1922, orange jello deposits had been discovered in Florida, lemon in California, and lime in the Caribbean. Minor deposits of avocado and artichoke jello were discovered throughout the western United States, but the demand for these flavors was never enough to make it economical to mine (although a group of California health nuts recently has successfully marketed limited quantities of bean sprout jello). Ninety-nine percent of all jello deposits are owned or leased by ConJelCo. However, the amazing fact is that no one has ever discovered another deposit of industrial-grade jello.

But back to our story of Horace Jellowicz. The first problem in starting a jello industry is figuring out how to mine it. This was not a trivial problem. Horace started out mining it like coal, but soon discovered that jello is not strong enough to support a mine shaft. After losing several miners to cave-ins, he had to abandon this method. Although strip mining was not in general use in those days, Horace tried it and lost several steam shovels on the first rainy day. It seems that the jello would liquify and suck up the shovel. Fruit is nice in a jello mold, but steam shovels don't quite make it.

Today jello is mined using the technique that Horace Jellowicz invented before the turn of the century. Basically, it involves injecting a controlled amount of water into the jello deposit and carefully scooping out the semisolid mass that forms. This is an exacting job that does not lend itself to automation. As a consequence, members of the Brotherhood of Jello Workers have no worries about job security.

They do worry about the dreaded "jello eye disease," which eventually causes about 1 percent of all jello workers to go partially blind. Medical science has been unable to discover the reason for this. ConJelCo gives a very generous pension to those who are unable to work as a result of this disease (one and a half times the worker's salary at the time the disease is contracted).

The Hopkinsville & Southern

Once the jello is mined, it needs to go to the processing plant, where impurities are removed and the finished product is packaged. For numerous reasons too complicated to explain here, it is very seldom possible (or economical) for a jello refinery to be located anywhere near a jello mine. This is where the railroad comes in. The obvious way to transport the mined jello is to load it into hoppers and send it to the refinery. Because jello with water takes up many times the volume of dry jello, this not an economical method. That's why in every jello mining area you'll also see a jello dehydration plant. This takes the semisolid mass scooped out of the mine and removes the water from it (recycling the water). The result of this process is that the jello is now in the original powdered ore form. The business of the Hopkinsville & Southern is to collect cars of semisolid jello and deliver them to the local dehydration plant. After the dehydration is complete, a unit jello train is loaded and forwarded by the Hopkinsville & Southern to the L&N for shipment to the nearest refinery in Cincinnati.

Even after dehydration of the jello, standard hoppers are not a practical means of shipping the gelatinite. Imagine what would happen to a unit train of hoppers heading for the refinery in a rain storm? Until the development of the covered hopper, virtually all jello was shipped in special-purpose boxcars. With the advent of the covered hopper, the efficiency of shipping jello has gone up tremendously. Because of this and other advances, the price of jello has not changed anywhere near as much as other products used around the house.[3]

From its name you might imagine that the Hopkinsville & Southern runs south from the city of Hopkinsville, KY. This is not the case. Construction on the Hopkinsville & Southern was started in 1866 as a part of the general boom in railroad construction that occurred after the Civil War. The moving force behind the railroad was the city fathers of Apex, KY. They envisioned a grand railroad with its northern terminus in Apex and its southern terminus in Gulfport, MS, passing through Stewart, TN, and Waldrup, MS. Strangely enough, Hopkinsville was never on the planned route. Its presence in the corporate title was an attempt to convince the citizens of that nearby city to invest in the railroad. There is no record that the ruse worked.

The Hopkinsville & Southern was one of the first land-grant railroads. The county of Christian gave the railroad its right-of-way within the county plus one acre per mile of road constructed within the county. Ten years later the railroad owned one acre of land, having built 1 mile towards a connection with the L&N just south of Crofton. The connection is some 9 miles away from Apex as the crow files, but 18 miles as the Hopkinsville & Southern goes. It was to be almost 33 years before the railroad reached Crofton and its long-awaited connection.

In the meantime, it had a rather busy history. It went bankrupt in 1881 and again in 1895 (changing its name from the "Hopkinsville Southern Railway" to the "Hopkinsville Southern Railroad," and finally, to the "Hopkinsville & Southern Railroad"). In 1867, just as its first mile ws being completed, the railroad was involved in a scandal that rocked Christian County and toppled the county government. It seems that the founders of the railroad (many of whom were also members of the county government), led by the owner of a local office supply store, set up a construction company to build the railroad and proceeded to bilk the company treasury out of untold hundreds of dollars. The so-called "debit stationier" scandal was the major topic of discussion throughout western Kentucky for several weeks.
When the 1890's began, the Hopkinsville & Southern had made it halfway to its goal. If you look at a map of Kentucky, you'll see that it ran from Apex to nowhere. In the year 1891, the Hopkinsville & Southern began its second receivership.

This is where Horace Jellowicz came into its history. Recall that by 1895 Horace had made his earth-quivering discovery and was looking for an economical means of transporting his product to the large-scale refinery he was constructing in Evansville, IN. (This refinery, although large for its time, served for only 11 years. By 1906 it was running three shifts at full capacity and a new and much larger plant was built in Cincinnati. This same refinery--many times enlarged--is one of ConJelCo's major operations to this day.)

Anyway, returning to our history of the Hopkinsville & Southern, it seems that the nowhere that the Hopkinsville & Southern went to was within a mile of the world's only industrial-grade jello deposit. Horance jumped at the chance of obtaining efficient railway service for his jello mine. When the road came out of receivership in 1895, it was owned lock, stock, and barrel by Horace's company. By 1899 Horace had pushed the Hopkinsville & Southern to Crofton and the long-awaited track connection with the Louisville & Nashville.

Once Horace had taken over the line, there was never any idea of finishing the line to Gulfport, MS. The Hopkinsville & Southern did gain a brief moment of national attention in 1911 when a Louisville financier named George Ghoul, attempted to purchase the line as a key link in his proposed trans-Kentucky system. Unfortunately for him, ConJelCo knew it had a good thing and wasn't about to sell. Nothing more came of the Ghoul plan. Although he did manage to scare up some capital from local citizens, in 1912 he vanished like a ghost and was never heard from again.

In 1895, Horace married Janet Puddingsky (but that's another story.) In 1899 they had a son named Horace Jr. As a boy, Junior took many business trips with Horace. By the age of 15 he had ridden virtually every name train in the United States. Needless to say, Junior became a railfan, albeit a closet railfan. When his father gave him the presidency of the Hopkinsville & Southern for his 21st birthday, Junior was ecstatic. Because he was the president, he controlled what motive power was purchased. Because he was a railfan, the power he purchased should probably of gone to a museum.

Junior combed the United States looking for this last this and the last that. At one time or another, the Hopkinsville & Southern has owned and operated one of almost every steam locomotive ever made. Of course, for practical reasons, certain locomotives could not be run on the tiny Hopkinsville & Southern. A Big-Boy, for instance, would have been out of place.[4]

The tradition of running "lasts" continues to this day. Horace's great-grandson, Horace IV, is a diesel fan and purchases his share of "lasts." Hence the FT, the Trainmaster, and the Centipede. This tradition promises to continue for a long time. It seems that Horace V is showing signs of becoming a traction fan.


Horace yard is the Hopkinsville & Southern's only yard. It is also the location of the shops and roundhouse. It is south of Crofton about a mile up the line from the connection with the L&N at milepost 17.1. Trains rarely venture further east than milepost 7.5 which is where the dehydration plant is. In fact, the town of Apex hasn't seen a train for longer than most of its citizens can remember. So, virtually all operations is confined to the area between mileposts 17.1 and 7.5. Since the connection with the L&N is at milepost 17.9, there is some activity in that area, but it is relatively uninteresting. The only power that ever ventures this way is a dirty GP9. The GP9[5] is used because this portion of the Hopkinsville & Southern is the worst in terms of curvature, and derailments occurred with dismaying frequency when other power was used. After losing the last operating Pennsy T1 to these curves, it was decided to restrict that trackage to more modern equipment.

Although there is no fixed schedule, the railroad operates 7 days a week, primarily in daylight hours. There are anywhere from 5 to 15 daily round trips between Horace yard and the mine and dehydration plant. The typical train consists of from 1 to 3 engines (they mix steam and diesel quite successfully on the Hopkinsville & Southern) and from 5 to 25 cars. This seemingly excessive motive power is necessary because of Stewart Grade, a one mile long 3 percent climb. Incidentally, Stewart Grade was named for the engineer killed in the Hopkinsville & Southern's one fatal wreck. He lost control of this train coming down this grade, ran off the track and into a pond. He would have escaped unharmed except that three cars of jello ore also fell into the pond. By the time help arrived, the jello had solidified, and engineer Stewart was dead.

Railfan Opportunities

Unfortunately for the railfan, there isn't a single road between mileposts 17.1 and 5.0, so access to the line involves a long hike. However, be forewarned that this is moonshine country and wandering around is considered harmful to your health. Also, up until the late 20's the railroad welcomed visitors, but now it viciously persecutes trespassers. The reason for this change of heart makes an interesting story.

Until the late 1920's ConJelCo provided housing for its workers, both miners and railroaders. The little town of Horace was a model town. Each family had an identical three-bedroom house fronting on the village green. A school was provided, as was a hospital and a company store. Rentals for the houses were considerably below what it would cost to live anywhere else. The company store charged fair prices, and medical care was free to employees and families.

In 1928 organizers for the now-defunct United Jello Workers arrived on the scene. By late 1928 they had convinced the workers that they were getting a raw deal. They pointed to Horace Jellowicz's five-bedroom mansion on the hill as an example of his exploiting them. On December 31, 1928, the workers went on strike. One thing led to another, and by January 4, 1929, violence erupted and Horace Jellowicz's mansion was burned to the ground. Being a firm believer in tit for tat, Horace, the man, evicted the workers from Horace, the town, and burned it to the ground. To forestall further problems resulting from union organizers, Horace started his own union, the Brotherhood of Jello Workers, the union that all ConJelCo workers now belong to. It was about this time that ConJelCo decided to keep a low profile, which it has until this day.

For the railfan there is hope that this situation will change. ConJelCo is owned by one man, Horace Jellowicz III. It is widely anticipated that when he dies, Horace Jellowicz IV will have to sell ConJelCo stock to the public to meet the stiff inheritance taxes. If so, there is a possibility that the company will become more open, and perhaps more friendly, to railfans.[6]

The future of the Hopkinsville & Southern is closely tied to the future of the jello industry. If jello continues to sell well, it is likely that the Hopkinsville & Southern will be around for a long time, and that it will be running the last SDP40F, the last P30CH, the last GG1 (if Horace V has his way), and so on. If ConJelCo does go public, you should plan to visit this unique railroad as soon as possible. Some of the older equiment will have to be retired to make room for the new equipment (there is a rumor that Horace V is bored with steam). A word to the wise should be sufficient. [7]


These footnotes have been added to this article to bring it up-to-date as of October, 2001.
1 Actually, other than in museums and tourist operations, steam is now getting hard to find. The Northwestern Steel and Wire saw its last steam operations in the early 1980's and recently has shut down the Sterling, IL plant. There is now a movie theatre on the site of the old Mesta steel operations. ETTS.
2 John Belushi was a comedian who started in a movie called National Lampoon's Animal House. In one famous scene he slurps down an entire Jello dessert in an instant. Alas, John Belushi died of an overdose (not of Jello) in 1982.
3 Originally the Hopkinsville & Southern thought it could get by with a single box car. It would just fill it with as much gelatinite as necessary. After all, there is always room for jello. However, after an overloaded boxcar exploded the railroad decided that more rolling stock would be necessary.
4 That would be silly.
5 Now GP38's are used for this duty.
6 Horace III died during the Reagan years. Mysteriously the family received a tax break which enabled it to avoid paying any significant inheritance taxes. The company is still privately held to this day.
7 Shortly after this article was published Senator Huddleston (D, KY), at the Jellowicz family's request, was able to get a spur constructed between Interstate 65 and Interstate 24. Interstate 165, as it is called, runs right by the dehydration plant. Since completion of this highway in 1982, all gelatinite shipments are sent by truck to the refinery in Cincinnati. This saves at least 24 hours of transit time and is another way in which ConJelCo is able to keep its costs down. The railroad was shutdown completely in 1984 and the last of its equipment was dispersed to short lines and museums by 1988. ETTS.

The author of this piece has in his possession one of the few remaining relics of the Hopkinsville & Southern. It is a hazardous cargo placard which was originally used on gelatinite cars. It reads "Danger! Gelatinite! Not to be placed within ten cars of a toothless engineer." Look for it on Ebay soon.

This article was originally published in the April 1979 issue of Model Railroader and is used with permission of the publisher.

1 comment:

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