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Columns | "Cannonball's Tales"

The Legend of
the Olive Ghost Train

By W. T. Block, Jr.

In October, 1930, a number of people stood in front of the probate judge in the coal mining country around the Marion County courthouse, dividing the property of the recently deceased Widow Hargraves. The widow's home had just been sold for $500, and the judge had arranged for relatives to adopt her two younger children. Her 18-year old son Tim stood in front of the judge as he said:

"Tim, times are real hard here in West Virginia since our coal mine closed down, and I want you to have a chance to progress elsewhere. I understand your Uncle Mart Hargraves works for a sawmill in East Texas."

"Yes, Your Honor," Tim responded, "but we ain't heard nothing from Uncle Mart in years."

"Well, Tim, I'm going to give you $100 from your Mama's estate, and I want you to buy a train ticket to Texas and look up your Uncle Mart. Maybe he can find you a job in a sawmill."

Tim found an old envelope among his mother's papers with the return address of "M. W. Hargraves, Box 46, Olive, Texas." A day or two later, Tim bought a ticket on the Southerner Railroad to New Orleans and another on Southern Pacific for Beaumont, Texas.

It was a bright moonlight night that October 30th when Tim Hargraves reached Beaumont, and he went straight to a booth and asked for a ticket to Olive, north of Kountze. The ticket master inquired, "A ticket to Olive? Why, that's a ghost town, and all the houses except 2 or 3 are gone. The East Texas Railroad passes nearby, but are you sure that's where you want to go?"

"Yes," Tim replied. "I've got to find my Uncle Mart." The next evening, Tim boarded the train, and the conductor told him he'd let him off at Olive, but that was no place to be after dark.

A few miles past Kountze, the train stopped as Tim prepared to exit. The conductor added, "That's the abandoned post office over there. You'll find a couple of families, including old Jules Berg, living a mile or so up that dirt road."

Suddenly Tim felt quite alone as he started down the dirt road into the forest, carrying his suit case. But there was a full moon in front of him, and the music of all the forest insects, the crickets and cicadas, filled the night air with their song. It never occurred to Tim, though, that there were also predatory varmints, including wolves, bears and panthers, in the surrounding woods.

After walking a quarter mile or so, Tim heard the chug of a steam locomotive, followed by a loud whistle, but he knew it was not the train he had just left. And intermittently the engine's headlamp flickered to his left, because the nearby pine trees sometimes blocked his view. Suddenly, with the full moon beaming in back of it, a locomotive started across the dirt road a hundred yards or so ahead, and Tim even saw the profile of the engineer in the cab. And then he counted five loaded log cars before the engine and its hissing sounds disappeared into the forest.

Tim hurried forward, and although he found evidences of a wide path through the forest, he could find no railroad tracks or crossties.

Bewildered, Tim kept walking until he saw the lights in the windows of a nearby "dogtrot" house. He knocked on the door until a voice within hollered, "Who's out there?"

"I'm Tim Hargraves from West Virginia, and I'm looking for Mr. Berg."

After a few moments, the front door opened, and a gray-haired man observed, "I'm Jules Berg, and how can I help you?"

"I'm looking for my Uncle Mart Hargraves, who I understand works for a sawmill somewhere around here?"

"That's a long story, young man." Berg could see that Tim was both tired and scared, so he invited him in to rest. Tim then related to Berg about the log train that had crossed the road ahead of him. He added that, although he had found a wide path through the forest, he could find no tracks or crossties on it.

"Yeah," Berg responded. "That's the old Olive ghost train and it makes one round trip every Halloween Eve. Ain't nobody but you seen it in recent years though. And there ain't no tracks or crossties on the old Olive tram road anymore 'cause they were all torn up years ago. By the way, what did your Uncle Mart do at the sawmill?" Tim said he did not know what his uncle did for a living.

"I knew your Uncle Mart Hargraves years ago when I was planer foreman at Olive," Berg continued, "but that was before the sawmill cut out and was torn down in 1912. Mart left here then and moved to Fuqua, in Liberty County, where he was engineer on the Kirby mill log train, before he died about ten years ago. My guess is that that was your Uncle Mart in the cab of that ghost locomotive you saw tonight."

Berg let Tim spend the night at his house, and the next day, as Tim prepared to return to Kountze, Berg gave him a letter and said:

"Young man, go back to Kountze and catch the Santa Fe train to Honey Island. Give this letter to Rufe Williams, who is dry kiln foreman at the Kirby mill, and if he needs a hand, he'll hire you. Just tell him that old Jules sent you."

The last that was heard about Tim Hargraves, he was still a sawmill hand at the Honey Island mill, but that was a long time ago. No one has reported seeing the Olive ghost train in many years now, but some Halloween night, if a locomotive should dart out ahead of you into a dirt road near Kountze, it's probably old Mart Hargraves, running late as usual and headed for the mill with a load of logs.
W. T. Block, Jr..
"Cannonball's Tales"
July 3, 2006 column


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