The Branchville and Bowman Railroad

Branchville to Bowman, SC

The Branchville and Bowman Railroad, nicknamed the "Coffee Pot", was one of those odd little short lines that evolved from a logging railroad, created one or more towns, made ambitious (or delusional, as some less charitable souls might say) business plans, saw circumstances nip the opportunity in the bud, became worn down with high operating expenses and meager revenues, and as a railroad eventually wilted away. The "Coffee Pot", however, though hardly a visible trace remains of its ROW, managed to change in such a fashion that it continues, in a sense, as a viable business today.

The B&B's forebear was the Smoak tramway, a three-foot gauge wooden-railed logging line built in 1884, which served the Smoake family mill in Branchville. E.T.R. Smoake went in with another lumberman and an Orangeburg investor in 1890 to charter and build the Branchville and Bowman. It followed initially the route of the Smoak Tramway away from Branchville. The new line extended five additional miles east to terminate at the new town of Bowman, which the Orangeburg investor, Sam Dribble, had helped found. (Today, Mr. Dribble might be considered a "developer"!)

The B & B remained a three-foot narrow gauge line. It hauled supplies (most notably fertilizer, for which a boxcar was dedicated), crops (particularly cotton and byproducts), lumber, forest products, and passengers. The fare for the roughly one hour 11-mile trip from Branchville to Bowman at that time was twenty-five cents. Because of the gauge difference, it could not exchange cars with the SC & Ga RR in Branchville. The Branchville end of the "Coffee Pot" instead ran parallel with the SC & Ga''s Columbia branch just north of town, where the B&B's platform lay between the two roads. Freight was interchanged between trains across this platform. The other end of the line in Bowman lay just west of the town''s Main Street, which later became part of US Hwy 178.

The owners of the B&B at one time aspired to involve themselves in the ambitions of the ill-fated Charleston, Sumter, & Northern, aiming to become a link in a route (under the auspices of SAL, presumably) that would stretch to Savannah. The plan was to extend the line on from Bowman to the CS&N junction at Vance to the northeast, and to extend southwest from the other side of Branchville toward the Hampton & Branchville at Miley. The only concrete action taken on this scheme was some grading done south of Branchville. The collapse of the CS&N, and its swift preemptive dismemberment by the ACL's proxy Charleston & Northern, put an end to these plans.

By 1925 the "Coffee Pot" was in a sorry state. It was down to one locomotive and eight worn out units of rolling stock. That year Earl and Walter Dukes, who had leased and operated the railroad since 1920, purchased it. In a move that perhaps foreshadowed the future of old-style short line railroading, the Dukes brothers immediately shut down railroad operations and obtained in exchange the second operating certificate issued by the State of SC for highway motor transport. Since the brand new trucking industry was apparently overseen by the state Board of Railroad Commissioners at this time, such a transaction was possible. The company soon acquired the next eight highway motor transport operating certificates to be issued. Today's legacy of the narrow-gauge "Coffee Pot" is Bowman Transportation Company, the first common carrier trucking company formed in South Carolina.

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