Sumter to Darlington

The Last Ride on the Sumter to Darlington Line!

Note: See clarifications and follow-up to this story at the bottom of the page.

Daddy and Joe were probably the last passengers on the Sumter - Darlington ACL line.

One night, while the tracks were being taken up somewhere up the line toward Darlington, a dinky engine, little more than a glorified tractor with an engineers cab, was working the line hauling into Sumter the rail, in gondolas, for spotting in the Sumter yards.

Daddy and Joe, having closed the store at 7 pm and gotten out around 7:30, came along Charlotte Avenue to the ACL crossing, just in time to see the little engine about to depart to head up the line for another load. They asked, were told that the next gondola was "just up the line a little piece" and then asked could they ride.

Sure.

Not until they were on board and in motion, and well out of town, did the two-man crew close the sliding windows against the breeze, and the smell hit Daddy & Joe. The crew was sauced. Plastered. Zonked.

When they weren't home by 10 pm — no answer at the store — somebody had seen Daddy's car parked, lights off and locked, in the shadows where they left it.

Mother — and all of us — were about to have a stroke — when in they came.

The little engine, puttin' along at a crawl, just kept on, mile, after mile — with the crew all jolly and having a good time, and Daddy and Joe warily enjoying the last ride on the line, but it went on, and on, and on.

Finally, Joe asked just how far was the gon.

I forget the answer —- but it might just as well had been in New York, at the speed they were crawling.

It took allot of coaxing and $20 bucks - an "ouch" amount back then — to get the inebriates to reverse direction and putt, putt back to town.

Follow-up from Frank Bagnal:

Joe can't remember for sure where they were headed but it was not for another gondola ... they were finished for the night and going "home", probably to Hartsville.

Also, it was the groundman who was tipsy (not drunk) and who told Joe they were going "just up the line for another load", but the engineer, a younger man, was OK, and did not hear what the groundman told Joe.

They only got a little beyond Rocky Bluff Swamp before Joe asked the engineer, and the problem was not their hesitancy to return, but they were low on fuel. I forget to ask about the money given them.

Other Q/A by phone:

Was the engine / crew RR or contractor? The latter.

What kind of engine? Gasoline powered, like Montague's once had.

When did you get home? After 9:00pm

About how fast were you running? Twenty mph. The real zinger was that, when they first got on board, Joe used an oil drum for a seat, and quickly found out that the cover had a puddle of oil on it, so Joe had oil-soaked pants for the trip.

Thanks to Frank Bagnal for contributing information about this route.

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