HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
Life in Trilby During It Heyday — A Young Boy’s Fascination With Trains
By BUDDY NOTT
I was raised in the small community of Trilby in Pasco County at the time the Atlantic Coast Line was a major switching junction on the west coast of Florida. Many trains, passenger and freight, came and went daily, stopping to take on coal and water as well as splitting into separate trains.
There was #38 going north from the St. Petersburg/Tampa area in the morning to Jacksonville and #37 coming south on the return trip at night. (Or was it vice versa). Then #42 and #41 connected with these for runs to Dade City, Plant City and Lakeland. There was also the small train that ran daily to Sanford and back. This was known as “The Goat” and usually was three coaches, sometimes only two. The most prestigious of all was the Southland that ran from Tampa/St. Petersburg to Chicago. This one came in about eleven o’clock in the morning going south and split into two sections at Trilby, one to Tampa, the other to St. Petersburg. The two came back about seven in the evening and consolidated into one before continuing on to Chicago.
Each time the Southland pulled into the station, numbers of passengers were required to change trains. This meant lugging suitcases, and there was only one porter per train, and he didn’t really like to play Red Cap. Especially in the tourist season, several of us boys would meet the train and hustle suitcases for the passengers for tips. The usual tip was a dime, but sometimes we hit a bonanza and got a quarter. A pittance by today’s standards, but with Cokes and Baby Ruths a nickel and a picture show or popcorn a dime, we loved it.
As best I remember, train fares in the local area at least, were approximately one cent per mile. This was not always true as the short two mile trip to Lacoochee was ten cents and the fare to Linden, some eleven miles, was thirteen cents.
Linden was the scene each year in May for the Linden Picnic, a tradition that still exists today. Usually several of us boys rode “The Goat” over for a day of fun, games and eating. Baseball games, foot races, sack races, horseshoes and other events went on all day long. Girl watching and flirting became very important in later years. At noon the ladies of the area covered the huge tables with every kind of food, and after listening to a long-winded orator a couple of men would be asked to return thanks, and each would try to outdo the other. We ate as if there would be no tomorrow. We would always try to hitch a ride back in the afternoon to save our thirteen cents return fare.
Riding trans was always exciting. The News Butch, there was one on most trains, was a young man who sold newspapers, magazines and sandwiches, and he was the envy of most boys. It seemed to be an exciting and fascinating career of travel. Only once did I ride in a Pullman. I had gone with my father to visit an aunt in Jacksonville, and on returning to Trilby at night a railroad friend of Dad’s put us in a sleeper. I was about five at the time, and I really attained a status among my less traveled friends for having gone Pullman.
My most remarkable ride occurred when I was about fifteen. Three of us had gone down to Zephyrhills, about seventeen miles distant, to visit some cute girls The lights went out on the 1929 Model as we were driving with no way to get repairs so late at night. Knowing a train was coming through soon, which would pass through Lacoochee, we waited and climbed on the steps under the vestibule platform, holding on for dear life as the train sped through the night. We were terrified that the conductor world raise the platform and find us and do whatever they do to young boys hitching rides on trains. Thank heavens it stopped in Lacoochee, and we walked the two miles to Trilby, ending another great episode involving the unbelievable stupidity of young boys at times.
My father, although he worked for ACL for a number of years, could never quiet understand boys’ fascination with trains. He did admit that the first train he ever saw so scared him that he ran and hid. To him trains were a nuisance that blocked railroad crossings to aggravate him. He swore that they knew when he was coming in his car, blocked the crossing and then switched needlessly to prolong his agony of waiting to cross.
The coal chute and water tank were located very close to the main crossing, and that added to the time trains spent across the road. Now the coal chute, which towered some one hundred feet up and was loaded with coal for refueling the engines, was not one of my favorite items. As boys we just had to climb the ladder to the top at night, from time to time, despite the threats and warnings from railroad officials and parents. I was always terrified of the height but would not be backed down by my adventurous friends. I’m sure my handprints are still on those handrails where I gripped them, so hard did I hold on.
On Halloween you could count on the movie ad board beside the Post Office, which was about four by five feet, to find its way to the top of the coal chute or the water tank. Some of usually took it down the next day as a favor to the theatre owner but with no admission of guilt in connection with the act. Most times he would give us a pass to the Saturday movie.
Most of the passenger train engineers had a distinctive style of blowing the locomotive whistle and most could be identified as they approached Trilby. One of the favorites, “Ole Dunbar,” was recently determined to be a relative of my wife, who died before she was born. Many times we remarked, “Ole Dunbar is on the Southland tonight.”
There are many more train stories I love to recall, most of them during World War II, but none were as exciting and enjoyable as those of my boyhood years. The Trilby passenger station is gone now. It was acquired by The Pioneer Florida Museum and today stands at the entrance to the museum grounds in Dade City.
I have noted in the past that steam engines may make their way back because of more efficient burning of coal and the high cost of diesel fuel. The engines may make it, but the passenger trains as most of us knew them never will.