Lancaster and Chester Weird Little Railway, Published 17 May 1950The other day I rode the Lancaster and Chester Railway. Surely this is the zaniest railway in North America. It operates from two obscure little centers called Lancaster and Chester, in South Carolina, but it boasts of two Canadian officials. Actually, although it is a practical operation, it is also used as a toy, and as a come-on for some of the funniest advertising in North America. Its president is Elliott Springs, who makes Springmaid garments and fabrics.
Formerly, it showed a map of. its lines, and if you studied them casually, you would discover, to your astonishment if not confusion, that it had more mileage than any other railway you ever saw. But if you looked closely, you might see, in very fine print, two little words: "And connections." What the mentally ebullient Mr. Springs did was to take the 29-mile line, build up all the railways of Eastern North America around it, and show the Lancaster and Chester Railway, and connections.
No Such Trains
Also part of the advertising was to publish gaudy stationery, showing fantastic cars, straight out of cartoons, as part of the system. Then was devised a crazy timetable. It shows operating such trains as The Purple Cow. The White Horse, the Black Label, and so on. Significantly, the train which leaves at 1.30 in the morning runs twice as fast as any other. Of course the plain fact is that these trains only run in Mr. Springs' head! There are no euch trains at all.
It gets sillier. He burlesques the little marginal notes of the railways, thus (f ) stops only during quail season or (h) put on brakes here for Richburg. Actually, of course, it meant the train set its brakes at one station so it could stop at the next.
Its top brass is most impressive. Mr. Springs' vice-president is a lady, Mary Williamson. Two Canadians are on its board. Air Marshal W. A. (Billy) Bishop of Montreal and Ottawa is a vice-president. Its "Canadian representative" is E. S. Stuart Merrett, 10 Richelieu Place, Montreal.
Surely never so glamorous a group of headlines ever were assembled on one directorate. We can pass over lightly such names as J. C. Stanley, the Nickel tycoon. But Charles Mac-Arthur, Nyack, NY and husband of actress Helen Hayes, is an honored personality on the board. So are many others. He has recruited one veep from Xenia, Ohio, only place in U.S.A. of any consequence beginning with the 24th letter of the alphabet.
Most spectacular listing is W. F. Halsey, vice-president in charge of White Horse Supply, may recall that Admiral Bull Halsey said he was going to ride up to the Mikado's palace in Tokyo on a white horse.
Tire prices like Gooderich, poets like Benet, and illustrators like James Montgomery Flagg are in the charmed circle. Also among the Who's Who is Hamilton E. Fisher, comic strip creator of Joe Palooka.
The immortal Bobby Jones, "Grand Slam golfer of the '30s is attorney for the L and C; while Lowell Thomas, radio-commentator is set down as advertising agent. Clair Maxwell1 is clearly listed as "news butcher." The completely inland landlubberly line also has a "marine superintendent". He is R. J. Reynolds, who makes Camels for a living, and whose address is given as Sapelo Island, Georgia.
And more, and more crazy stuff.
This then, is the road I rode recently, putting my total at 143 railways ridden on this continent.
I board a four diesel train in the yards at Chester, while my wife, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Leo Burkholder, waited with amused patience at the station.
Not Always Closest
Once more I discovered what I already knew, and that is the best place to get news is not always closest to the source The engineer and conductor were fine fellows, but they knew next to nothing about that crazy time table, they had never stud ied the impressively foolish list of vice-presidents in the Rail way Guide; they were unaware of all President Springs' amusing antics. Actually, I learned more about the L and C from our own advertising chief on The Citizen, Len Gates, than I learned from the South Carolina engineer and fireman.
I found out the railway had five diesels, four of which were on that train. It has one steam engine for stand by, but she is dead in Lancaster yards.
My ride on the Lancaster and Chester was not the longest trip I had, but in view of the fact that Mr. Springs plays up his line with such fantastic effectiveness, I felt that this was, for a railroader like myself, a dedicated occasion.
You may have seen Mr. Springs' ads. He depicts a lady coming out of a store. The pink wisps on the ground beneath suggests she has lost her unmentionables. This, warns the ad. would not happen to her if she wore Springmaid things.
I too have a souvenir of the Springmaid Line. The engineer does not carry ordinary waste. He features odds and ends of rags from the mill. Seeing my hands dirty from clambering up the locomotive, he handed me a strip of cyclamen-red textile. Today it occupies an honored place in the back of my Pontlac car.
I still haven't got round to that railway down at Thurso.