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le_state After making his fortune on steam valve patents, Paulsen Spence returned to the South and began developing industrial railroad operations in the gravel-rich region of southeastern Louisiana. Beginning in 1947 with the tiny Comite Southern, later in 1950 Spence purchased the nearby Gulf & Eastern Railroad and its related sand and gravel operations. Throughout the 1950s, he purchased nearly three dozen recently retired steam locomotives in a variety of wheel arrangements and sizes, storing them on the Gulf & Eastern property -- which he renamed the Louisiana Eastern.

In addition to using some of the locomotives to ferry gravel moves out to a mainline connection with the Illinois Central, railfans in the area grew fond of short tourist hauls operated on the weekends with one of the steamers. As noted, Spence had visions of developing much larger gravel operations in the area and even managing a through-line that would offer a freight bypass around New Orleans. However, the entrepreneur died suddenly in the fall of 1961, and with no one else to take on the daunting project of maintaining his impressive fleet of second-hand steam, most of the equipment was scrapped.

Only four Louisiana Eastern locomotives still exist today: at the Three Rivers Rambler Railroad, the Southeastern Railroad Museum, the Wilmington & Western Railroad, and the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway.

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spence At the end of World War II, Paulsen Spence was 50 years old and his patents had made him a very wealthy man. He is not known to have said how he developed an interest in railroading and steam locomotives. A year after his death a newspaper article quoted an unnamed acquaintance as saying, “Even when he was a boy, his mother used to always find him down by the railroad tracks.” True perhaps, but in part Spence's interest in steam locomotives appears to have been an outgrowth of his interest in the technology of steam power. Regardless of his motivations, with the decline of Spence's responsibilities after the war, there was time to pursue other interests.

Since his death, Spence has been called "innovative, brilliant, and eccentric." He accomplished great things in his lifetime and dreamed of greater. Perhaps Spence should be best remembered for his 1953 observation, "Few things in my life ever gave me more of a thrill than owning those engines."

Louis R. Saillard

HawkinsRails thanks fellow railfan Michael Palmieri for use of the C.W. Witbeck photos below from his collection

Steam Locomotives

Louisiana Eastern #1

  • builder:Baldwin Locomotive Works
  • arrangement:4-4-0 American
  • built:1919, Baldwin #52207
  • fuel:coal/water
  • notes:
  • blt Red River & Gulf #104
    to Louisiana & Eastern #1, 1946
    to Stone Mountain Scenic, 1961
    to Southeastern Railroad Museum, 2008
    named "General II"
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    In 1946 Spence discovered and purchased a jewel in the form of a 45-ton Baldwin 4-4-0, No. 104, stored on Louisiana's Red River & Gulf Railroad in almost new mechanical condition. Built for the RR&G in September of 1919 at a cost of $19,791.74, the locomotive had been stored at Long Leaf, La. since January 1, 1928, when passenger service declined. The No. 104 had last been used on the daily 50-mile passenger run from Long Leaf to Alco and Kurthwood, La, and RR&G Secretary R. D. Crowell claimed it had only five years of total service. It had been first retired in April of 1926 and then run only one more month, June of 1927. The railroad claimed the tires and running gear were virtually new. Missing a few gauges and valves, however, the locomotive was not operational.

    Louis Saillard

    Louisiana Eastern #2

  • builder:Baldwin Locomotive Works
  • arrangement:4-4-0 Atlantic
  • built:1922, Baldwin #55390
  • fuel:coal/water
  • notes:
  • blt as San Antonio & Aransas Pass #60
    to Southern Pacific #260
    to Louisiana Eastern #2, 1954
    to Stone Mountain Scenic, 1962
    to Three Rivers Rambler
    stored, out of service
  • See also our Louisiana, Texas & Pacific riding railroad collection for more on Louisiana Eastern #2

    Louisiana Eastern #4

  • builder:Baldwin Locomotive Works
  • arrangement:4-6-2 Pacific
  • built:Jan 1928, Baldwin #60339
  • fuel:coal/water
  • notes:
  • blt Gulf Mobile & Northern #425
    to Gulf Mobile & Ohio #580
    to Louisiana Eastern #4, 1950
    to Valley Forge Scenic #425
    to Wilmington & Western #425
    currently Reading & Northern #425
  • See also our Blue Mountain & Reading tourist page for more Louisiana Eastern #4 images

    Louisiana Eastern #10

  • builder:Baldwin Locomotive Works
  • arrangement:2-8-0 Consolidation
  • built:1901, Baldwin #18632
  • fuel:coal/water
  • notes:
  • blt Colorado Midland #202
    to Louisiana & Arkansas #425
    to Louisiana Eastern #10, 1948
    scrapped, 1951
  • Louisiana Eastern #11

  • builder:American Locomotive Company
  • arrangement:2-8-2 light Mikado
  • built:1926, Alco-Schenectady #67102
  • fuel:oil/water
  • notes:
  • blt Abilene & Southern #20
    to Louisiana Eastern #11, 1954
    scrapped 1963
    last operating LE locomotive
  • Louisiana Eastern #17

  • builder:American Locomotive Company
  • arrangement:0-6-0 Six-coupled
  • built:1919, Alco-Cooke #60182
  • fuel:coal/water
  • notes:
  • ex Mobile & Ohio #45
    ex Gulf, Mobile & Ohio #45
    to Louisiana Eastern #17, 1950
    scrapped, 1962
  • Rolling Stock

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    Another significant member of the Louisiana Eastern story arrived on the scene in 1958. Wilbur T. Golson was a 44 year old Captain in the Louisiana State Police, working on the state-wide police radio network. He had taken a few railroad photos with a 4x5 Graphic, but did not consider it a serious interest. After meeting Bill Witbeck in the unbelievable clutter of negatives, books, locomotive drawings and camera equipment that was Witbeck Studio, he was introduced to Paulsen Spence.

    On his first visit to the Louisiana Eastern, Wilbur took a few photos of the operating engines and sent copies to Spence. Wilbur would recall that Spence liked the photos and told him, "If you need any engines moved for pictures, just do it yourself." A startled Golson replied, "Mr. Spence, I've never moved a locomotive in my life," and according to Wilbur, Spence said, "Well, now is the time to learn."

    There was indeed a place for Wilbur in the LE scheme of things. On Sundays during the summer months, the Louisiana Eastern ran a free passenger train at 3:30 pm for railfans and invited guest, such as the Baton Rouge Boy Scouts. Wilbur later wrote, "This in turn led to a job and a new interest for me. I qualified for trainman, fireman and finally engineman, and became the engineer on the Sunday specials. The regular work-a-day trainmen did not like to spend their days off playing trains. The special became the retired railroad men's train, assisted by serious railfans who along with Paulsen enjoyed real steam power. During the weekdays, I gained experience hauling gravel with the switchers."

    The Sunday specials generally consisted of one of the LE 4-4-0's along with a heavyweight Pullman "Rio Yaqui" and a former circus train observation car "Ernestine Rose" that Spence had acquired, although never painted or lettered. There were notable exceptions to this consist, however, such as on August 3, 1958 when the power was LE No. 15, a rare ex-Illinois Central oil burning 4-6-2 (ICRR No. 1180); one of only three owned by the ICRR. The Sunday specials incidentally, were scheduled to arrived at the ICRR interchange at Shiloh in time to salute the northbound Panama Limited with a whistle blast.

    Louis Saillard

    Lagniappe

    Links / Sources

    This page was updated on 2017-07-23