Ocklawaha Valley Railroad, Florida, History
The Ocklawaha Valley Railroad, (note Spelling), was one of the most interesting railroads in Florida History. It is also a "Perfect" line for model railroaders interested in models of the old Seaboard, Southern, Atlantic Coast Line or the Florida East Coast, as it connected with all of them. Besides Jacksonville Terminal Company, no other railroad connected with all four of Florida's major rail lines.
By 1908, the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, had pushed a STANDARD GAUGE branchline from Ocala, eastward to Silver Springs, Florida. At the Springs, Mr. E.P. Rentz, owned and operated a large lumber mill. Rentz, leased the branchline and by 1909, he had renamed it the Ocala Northern Railroad. Within a few short months he had a crew of 300 men pushing the railroad north to Ft. McCoy. Rentz, built a huge mill on the hilltop and tapped the mill with a steep spur. Rentz, began to think in terms of a Florida Empire and pushed his railroad from Ft. McCoy to Bay Lake, Orange Springs, Kenwood, Rodman Junction, Silver Lake and finally Palatka, by 1912. The plans were to continue north across the St. Johns River in Palatka to Hastings, Toccoi, Mandarin and Jacksonville. At the same time crews were pushing the Ocala Southwestern a sister road toward Tampa. The completed OCALA NORTHERN system would have been a nice addition to the States railroad mileage, but it was never completed. Connections were made with the Seaboard Air Line, and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroads, in Ocala, and the Georgia, Southern and Florida (Southern RY.), Atlantic Coast Line, and Florida East Coast, in Palatka.
By 1914, Rentz, the railroads and the Lumber Mills were in receivership. The courts ordered the line reorganized under Mr. H.S. Cummings of Rodman, Florida. Rodman lumber operated a company town of some 400 residents, and a mammoth mill, which made tool handles, for industry throughout the United States. Cummings, renamed the road the OCKLAWAHA VALLEY RAILROAD. At Rodman Junction a short spur was built into Rodman itself. Though this spur was to appear on the maps of the OV, it may have belonged to the Rodman Lumber a small part of their far reaching logging network.
Under Cummings, thousands of new crossties were put in place, ballast was laid and brand new 60 pound steel rail was spiked down from Ft. McCoy to Palatka. New Baldwin Mogul and Ten-wheeler Steam Locomotives were ordered, along with deluxe passenger coaches and even an observation car. "The Silver Springs Special," a passenger train with the status of a name, was christened to run between Palatka, SILVER SPRINGS and Ocala. For a short time there is even evidence that Cummings arranged through pullman cars to and from Silver Springs.
The New South Farm and Home Company owned a massive quarter of a million acres along the railroad and sat about creating colonies, towns and villages. Burbank, Florida, like the other towns along the line quickly developed industry, at once sporting a gas plant, canning factory, lumber and feed businesses. Orange Springs and Silver Springs capitalized on tourism, while other colonies followed Burbank's example.
About this time Mr. Cummings learned of Florida's first railfan. A tiny Billy goat had come to Ft. McCoy in the family of one of the Ocklawaha Valley's engineers. The first day at the new house found little Billy had chewed through his rope and ran to the depot. Billy developed a knack for boarding the outbound train and then reboarding a train for home. All of the train crews kept a sharp lookout for "Billy" as he traveled his favorite railroad. He became legend. Mr. Cummings heard of the goats legend and never one to miss a public relations opportunity, gave all settlers along the line, their own little "Billy, the Ocklawaha Valley Railroad Goat." To this day, many goats in the Marion and Putnam County reigons could trace their ancestory to "Billy", one has to wonder if any of the new breed likes trains?
By 1922, Mr. Cummings was quickly fading from the railroad he loved, aged and quite ill. His mill closed in 1922 and he gave up his interest in the railroad company. It sold at a bankruptcy auction, with every major railroad line present for the bidding. Every connecting railroad saw the line of the OV as a perfect inclusion. Though each railroad desired it, they were afraid of a high stakes fight. Each railroad had sent its agent to the auction to watch the competition. Each had orders that if the competition bids, they were to out bid them what ever the price! To prevent this bidding war, over what several of the railroaders termed, "some of the most important route miles in the state," the railroads allowed an independent company to win the contest unopposed. Little did anyone know it was a fatal mistake. Assets Realization of New York, bought the line for scrap value and they had no other interest except to tear it up! Protests came loud and clear from the New South Company, the settlers, the towns and colonys and even the connecting railroads. Seaboard saw their toe-hold on Palatka slipping away. The FEC and Southern would bid farewell to their route into the heart of the State and for the ACL, the chance to shorten their Palatka-Ocala line would be gone forever. The hard fought case went all the way to the Supreme Court, with the decision in favor of the people and railroads of Florida. Overturning a lower court decision, the Supreme Court ordered that the OV railroad would not be abandoned. Yet, in the 1923 records of the Florida Railroad Commission records it says; "Having been torn up by the owners in spite of the laws, or the orders of this court, or the desires of the connecting railroads, and the citizens of that section," we have no recourse but to declare the Ocklawaha Valley Railroad abandoned." Because of legal battles brought on by its illegal abandonment some of the rails and ties were left, piecemeal, to rot in the woods. Some of the equipment that was sold, later operated scrap trains on the Florida Railroad near Mayo(another logging line turned common carrier). The stated goal of the scraper was to sell the metal to France as they were recovering from the Great War or failing that, sell everything to Cuba. Perhaps its justice that those plans failed and the railroad equipment was scattered across the country. One of the strangest sightings was an old wooden flatcar at Moncrief Yard in Jacksonville, still faintly lettered "Ocklawaha Valley RR," about 1960.
THE OCKLAWAHA VALLEY AS A MODEL RAILROAD:
The OV makes a great model railroad be it 1908 to 1923 or in the what-if years since the real abandonment. A railroad that connected with all of the mainline companies in the State offers many modeling opportunities. Fans of the ACL, SAL, FEC, or SOU. should take note, here is an opportunity to run trains of any and all of those lines in a semi freelance world. I model the OV in HO scale as a very busy shortline/bridge road, circa 1955, an early all-diesel railroad (mostly Baldwin built, in keeping with the lines history). A huge baby-face OV Centipede diesel rolls out of Palatka with the Silver Springs Special, carrying through Silver Springs sleeping cars off of the Southern and Atlantic Coast Line and a daily St. Augustine-Tampa Coach and lounge off of the Florida East Coast in a FEC-OV-SAL routing. Each railroad contributes to the pool of equipment. Tomorrows train might be headed up by a Seaboard E Unit or ACL F Unit. Freight trains carry bridge traffic between all of the connecting lines as well as heavy local service. In Palatka, The port, paper, lumber, doors, windows, feed, furniture, and fruit and meat packing. In Ocala, Mobile Homes and Travel Trailer factorys, mill work, live stock, fruit, bricks, oil and gas distribution. These are just some of the ideas for industrys along the model railroad. If you like Florida, and if you like Florida Railroads, you are bound to fall in love with Florida's lost railroad. The Ocklawaha Valley.
THE LOGGING LINES:
Two logging lines with 4 different locations served the OV. One left the mainline at Silver Springs, and headed due east/southeast, and the right-of-way can be seen just south of the highway bridge at Moss Bluff, also Oak Junction, westward and all directions at Ft. McCoy, these were all RENTZ LUMBER lines. At Rodman, both north, and west, as well as south, and east, well into what is now The Ocala National Forest, the Rodman lumber lines tapped the woods. Another disaster struck in the midst of the illegal abandonment; a disaster that sets the imagination of every railroad fan into action. While pulling the logging lines up and removing them from the woods so much of the O.V.'s trackage had been stolen away and removed that several large pieces of the various logging railroads equipment, had to be left behind. There is or was a 2-6-0 steam locomotive without its tender, left in a clearing, somewhere in the woods. In one place an engine has been seen laying on its side in a creek. Many of the locals claim to have seen these engines and some even claim they can still find them.
(SEE NOTE A BELOW) E.P.Rentz had been lumbering in laurens County, Georgia, at Dublin. He was behind the Dublin and Southwestern Railroad which sold out to the Wrightsville and Tennille in 1907.
There were two mills at Silver Springs, The Ocklawaha Lumber Company which laid tracks with 30# pound rail into the an area known as the Copley Lands. The rail from this operation came from the narrow Gauge Southwestern Railroad of Florida when it was abandoned between Green Cove Springs and Melrose.
The second mill was operated by Scanlon and Foley which were part of the giant Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company. Rentz bought this mill and railroad which included stationary steam engines, saw mill, dry kilns, dry shed, 8 lumber trucks, hotel, logging camp, office, store, boarding house, and miles of 40# pound rail. Several railroad cars and locomotive number 96 as well as a large skidder were included in the deal. Rentz also purchased 6 standard gauge flat cars from Kilby Locomotive and Car Company.
RAILFANNING THE OCKLAWAHA VALLEY RR TODAY:
At Silver Springs, the train station was also the Steamboat wharf, this two story station faced the tracks on one side, and was over the head of the Silver River, on the other side; right where the Glass Bottom boats load today! At Burbank, the R0fW is easy to find as is remains of the old church (update: church torn down summer of 2002) and a few other scattered buildings. Daisy, has one large house (hotel?) remaining. Ft. McCoy, has R0fW visible just west of town, north of the highway, at the bottom of the grade, near the high power lines. In town a historic tour passes the old mill pond, railroad shops, foundations and such. Bay Lake, is mostly gone with a few scattered buildings. Orange Springs, the depot burned 20 years or so ago, the R0fW can be seen but it is hard to spot, some great stories of the old line hang on. The bridge over Orange Creek, still has some pilings visible...modelers note that it was a large bridge. Highway 310 is on the grade for a short distance where it crosses part of the lake. Kennilworth, was visible up until 8 years ago, might still be there. Rodman, is gone except for HUGE foundations, millions of bricks and one old hotel, permission + fee allows private vehicles to enter the old ranch (timber land) and explore. Silver lake, is still private and MAY hold a building or two from the railroad era? In Palatka, the GS&F and OV shared trackage with the OV having its yards at the waterfront at both ends of 4th St., rails are still found as are R0fW, timbers, bridge approaches (FEC) and myriad other interesting items. The O.V. used the old G.S.& F. depot for a short time and then moved into the new G.S.& F. station on the waterfront at the east end of the downtown business district. The G.S.& F. station was beautiful made of brick, with turrets, built like a castle, todays waterfront park occupys the site. The FEC and ACL operated out of Union Station, which is still in use by Amtrak.
OCKLAWAHA VALLEY FACTS AND TIMETABLE:
ON Railroad (Standard Gauge) 1908-14
OV Railroad (Standard Gauge) 1914-23
PALATKA (FEC, SOU, ACL)
FT. MC COY (RENTZ)
Oak Junction (RENTZ?)
SILVER SPRINGS (RENTZ)
OCALA (ACL, SAL)
(SEE NOTE A BELOW) KNOWN ROSTER: ON/OV/Rentz Lumber/Rodman Lumber
Unknown, #96 believed to be renumbered as Rentz Number 1
4-4-0 Rogers 1859, ex IC 276 Rentz #2
4-6-0 Baldwin, new 2/1911 Rentz #101
4-6-0 Baldwin, new 2/1911 ON #110
believed the ON/OV had at least 8 road locomotives
believed Rodman Lumber had 12 locomotives, one still runs on the Kentucky Tennessee Tourist Railroad.
Rentz Lumber had at least another 6-8 locomotives besides the engines belonging to the ON/OV.
OV PASSENGER CARS:
#101, former #13 Long Island RR Coach
#102, former #26 Long Island RR Full Passenger Coach
#103, former #58 Chicago Great Western Full Coach
#104, former #60 Chicago Great Western Full Coach
#105, combination baggage/mail car
#106? possible Observation lounge ex CGW # 87?
records also say that a new coach and observation or lounge car was purchased at the same time as the new Baldwin Locomotives.
Railroad commission records show the ON had 4 first class passenger cars and 3 second class passenger cars.
Roster information and equipment history courtesy of Donald Hensley. Many thanks Don.
NOTICE B: If you have information, comments, photos or experiences to share, or if you are interested in modeling or visiting some of the OV sites on this web page please write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org