Houma Branch

The Houma Branch was the first branch line laid off of the New Orleans, Oppelousus & Great Western (NOO&GW) in 1870. It extended from its junction with the main line at Schriever (then Terrebonne Station) to Houma at milepost 14.5. This is the line of which I am most familiar as I grew up in Houma and passed a busy portion of it (Southdown Siding) every morning and afternoon on the school bus from 1975 to 1978. During the late 1970's I was able to explore the branch and got to know the crews that worked the line. During this time period I became well acquainted with the operation of the line and equipment used. Typical power was either a GP-9 or SW-9/1200E. The geeps were from the SP's large pool of first generation hood units which were built for the T&NO, SP and SSW. The SW's were the 2300 series units rebuilt by Houston's Hardy Street shops. These units were built for the T&NO in the early 1950's primarily to dieselize the Louisiana Branches. They were also used for locals on the mainline into the 1960's. Occasionally a GP20 or GP35 would make its way down the line. Single units were always used. The only time I have ever seen more than one unit on this branch was when a unit failed and a rescue unit was sent to retrieve it.

The line followed LA Hwy. 311 from Schriever to Houma paralleling the highway closely at times. The only industry in modern times between Schriever and Houma was a plant that received paper for some purpose about a mile down the line. I never saw any trains switch this plant, but as I understand it, it was switched prior to departure of the branch train for Houma. Usually a lone box car was spotted on their track. The rest of the running from Schriever was free of industry as far as I can remember, but in years past, sugar plantations dotted the landscape and the branch must have hauled many tons of sugar, molasses and bagasse back to Schriever for points east or west.

As the tracks pierced the outskirts of Houma, they crossed Hollywood Road at the intersection of which stood the old Getty Gas plant. Evidence of a siding remained, but only the oldest of crew members had any recollection of the siding or any rail activity to the plant. About two miles down the line, the branch train would encounter its first siding, Southdown Siding, a long double ended siding used to store cars for the nearby Southdown Sugar Refinery. The south end of the siding was immediately adjacent to Southdown School, an elementry school at which my school bus made transfers. I have vivid memories of the branch train working the long cuts of Airslide hopper, box cars and tank cars. Just across St. Charles St. two switches cut off of the branch main and curved west ninety degrees meeting up at a switch, combining and crossing over Hwy. 311. The rails then crossed over Bayou Black on what appears to be a re-used bridge to access the refinery itself. The bridge still stands, but the rails are gone. I will post photos of the bridge soon. If anyone can identify the origins of the bridge, please let me know. It has been surmised that it was at one time a turntable. The refinery had its own GE 65 ton switcher which would work the cars delivered by the branch train. I remember riding my bike across the bridge to inspect the loco in the late 70's when the refinery was being dismantled for sale to somewhere in South America.

The rails of the branch main continued on another half mile or so where another siding cut off to the east making a sweeping ninety degree curve toward what used to be a large sawmill along Bayou Terrebonne. I never saw this track used. The branch main then continued south for another mile or so curving to the east itself making a ninety degree curve toward Bayou Terrebonne and Houma Yard. This was the original terminus of the line and featured a turntable in steam days near Hobson St. The yard itself was actually just a flat expanse of ground with several tracks fanning out as team tracks. A siding crossed over Main St, curved north and actually entered the shed of a lumber yard along the bayou. The rails are still visible in the street today. Houma yard also featured a depot, freight shed and REA station into the mid 70's. These were all torn down just prior to my bicycle excursions starting in 1977 or so. By that time, a small corrugated, portable building was used as an office for a clerk. Even that was gone soon afterward. Houma yard would usually serve host to box cars loaded with bagged drilling mud for the oil industry. Since there was no run around track availible, a flying drop would be made for the cars. This was always fun to watch as a brakeman would ride the cut of cars past the switch under their own power and apply the hand brake to stop them from rolling off the end of the track. One such occasion I was privy to watch had brakeman Mike Himel on the end of a long cut of mud cars with a hand brake that would not apply. The cars nearly ended up rolling off the end of the track over Main St. and into the bayou. The laws of physics were on Mike's side, however, and the cars stopped just shy of Main St. What a site!

Backing up a mile or so in the middle of that turn that we made to get to Houma yard was a track laid around 1930 called the Colley Spur. This spur carried lower speed limits than the branch main itself. It continued south crossing Barataria and Lafayette Streets. Just past the Lafayette St. crossing was a short team track. Switch lists I have refer to Team #1. I believe this to be the track. Covered hoppers of dry, bulk drilling mud would be unloaded here from time to time. The Barrow St. crossing was a nicely done rubber crossing guarded by serval nice sets of lights. Side streets cut in at skew angles, so the crossing light arrangement was very interresting. Several industries stood in the corridor between Barrow St. and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. These included Terrebone Lumber and Cement, SAIA Freight Lines warehouse and Baroid served by a switch back arrangement. My father worked at Baroid just out of high school and remembers using a cat head type winch to reposition the covered hoppers of drilling mud after unloading. The old swing bridge across the Intracoastal was a favorite hangout of mine during my bicycle years. The bridgetender would run a small flatboat across from his shack to the center span, start the engine and close the bridge for the train to cross. He would keep a log of all marine traffic passing the bridge. The center span was rammed frequently putting the line out of service prompting the SP to install a new lift span in the early 80's. I watched the new bridge being built during the summers of my high school years. The two towers were consturcuted in place, then one day, the old swing span was removed and the new pre-fabricated lift span was set in place.

After crossing the Intracoastal, a crowded indutrial area was encountered with sidings for Magcobar, Dowell, Patterson Pipe Yard and Texaco. Lots of traffic was generated from these industries for the oil industry of South Louisiana. Crossing S. Van Ave, the Colley Spur encountered Delta Siding. A siding for Delta Industries diverted from the south end. Another siding cut to the south just past here and served Arnold and Clark, an industry that would receive around ten 100 ton hopper loaded with barite a day. Barite is a mineral that was mined somewhere in the north west. A&C would crush it themselves to create their own blend of drilling mud. The Colley Spur would then cross Glynn Ave. and curve to the south east toward Colley. Another two miles and the tracks would take a switch to the west across Industrial Blvd. A siding continued straight toward the Houma Airbase Industrial Park. More on that later... The tracks wound up at Colley yard paralleling Grand Calliou Rd. Actually, Colley was just a run around track with a siding for Svoboda Beverages and Caro Produce. The run around was frequently used as a team track. This may have been referred to as Team #2 on old switch lists I have. The name Colley comes from the name for the junction with the old narrow guage sugar plantation line from the nearby Ashland sugar mill. It was originally referred to as Colley Switch. I believe a device for transloading bagasse from either narrow guage railroad of wagon once stood at the end of the line.

An extension past Colley was added in the early 70's. This would be privately owned tracks called the Walter Land Company extension. It served several oil service companies such as IMCO and MI Drilling Fluids. Provisions were made for an extension to Gulf Island Fabrication, presumably for plate steel and pipe shipments, but it was never completed. Several small to medium sized Plymouth dummy engines were used over the years to ferry the cars dropped by the SP to the industries. Gulf Island Fabrication would receive flat cars loaded with plate steel at Colley and truck them to their yard.

The line continuing on toward the Air Base crossed Grand Calliou Rd. and a siding served Antique Brick and BJ Hughes. The line then continued on about two miles to the industrial park where IMCO had a facility. The tracks ended in the middle of what once was the blimp hangar of the Army Air Corps. base. Only the concrete foundations remained. The huge wooden hangar was razed shortly after the Second World War. I car remember an old Illinois Central coach being stored on the hangar track into the early 80's. It was heavily vandalized and eventually scrapped on site.

 

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