Flora Cardwell enjoyed 'man's work'
Held responsibility for running depot during World War I, Depression era

By Mary K. Hamner
Journal Correspondent

Welded from two railroad lines and part of another, the Louisiana and Arkansas Railway was at one time one of the best transportation systems in the South. It provided quick service to a territory rich with agricultural, mineral, and timber resources. It operated over one hundred miles of lines.

Around 1896 William Buchanan, a successful lumberman, built the L & A Railroad. He was the first sawmill man to haul logs into his mill by rail. He built a log road south from Stamps, Arkansas and utilized it to haul logs to his mill after timber within reach of economical hauls by team had been cut.

Buchanan continued to move south with his rails and purchased the Arkansas Louisiana Southern running from Cotton Valley to Sibley. The L & A built south from Sibley and the extension through Castor and on to Ashland was completed September 23, 1900. The L & A Railroad was extended south to Winnfield in 1902 and north to Hope, Arkansas in 1903. Castor and Ashland had depots as early as May of 1903.

Flora Morgan Cardwell finished school in Ashland when she was seventeen. The L & A was to become an important part of her life.

"It was during World War I and I began working at the Ashland Depot as an apprentice," she said in a 1985 interview. " I didn't get paid but I learned the work. Ellis Hood was working there and knew how to handle the trains. I studied and learned how to make reports and then taught him."

In 1917, Flora took the Train Rule Examination, passed it, and went to work as agent at Goldonna. Her father worked the log woods and moved around a lot, so Flora bought a house in Goldonna and took her mother and five sisters to live with her. The work was demanding and it was an unusual job for a woman in that age. Heavy lifting and cleaning were a part of her work detail and she recalled this incident.

"I was cleaning the freight house and there was a fifty gallon drum of gasoline to move. I became overbalanced, fell down, and the barrel landed in my lap. I was stuck with my back to the wall," she said. She was overjoyed to hear the whistling that signaled the approach of the young man she was dating. "It didn't hurt me, I was pretty tough, but I sure was glad when he came in and helped me out."

Cardwell was assigned to Castor Depot as vacation relief and then the Company sent her to Frogmore. "I couldn't stay at Frogmore," she said, " there was no place for a woman to stay. Other agents traveled across the Mississippi River and found housing. They went across on the log trail on a barge. They wouldn't let a woman ride that barge."

She arranged a swap with another agent and finally moved to Castor to stay in 1933.

"The town adopted me, helped me out," she said. "I was busy. There was a heavy schedule of trains. I sometimes worked a seven day week and at times far into the night."

The depot and its telephone served as a message center for the town and the surrounding area. "I wasn't supposed to use it for that, but I did," she said.

Pete Cardwell was the foreman on a local highway construction job. "He was the sassiest little somebody you would ever know. He had a load of gravel on a railroad car and he didn't unload it. I told him I would have to charge him demurrage," she said.

Pete threatened to slap her if she charged him demurrage. She charged him, he didn't slap her, and after they were on better terms through their association in a church group, the couple married. Their marriage lasted until Pete's death forty years later.

Flora Cardwell's career with L&A Railway spanned forty-nine years and eight months. She saw the company at the height of its business years and then was witness to a gradual decline. Her decision to retire was difficult. "I loved being a depot agent but Pete was sick and I needed to care for him."

Asked if she would like to do it over again, she replied, " No. I got by the first time. I might not next time."