The Ocklawaha Valley Railroad and
The Rodman Lumber Company
Donald R. Hensley, Jr.
As we covered in previous chapter, “The Rentz Lumber Co. & its Ocala Northern Railroad” both the lumber company and its railroad entered bankruptcy protection in May of 1913, separate receivers were put in place and both the companies were ultimately split apart from one another. I have since found out that a lumber wholesaler in Atlanta that went bankrupt early in 1913 set in motion for the failure of Rentz and his railroad. This wholesaler owed Rentz for a very large shipment of lumber and of course owed the railroad for the transportation. The lumber company’s sawmills and lands were sold to other concerns and disappear from the public records. The railroad limped along under Receiver J. Boyd until April, 1915, when the Assets Realization Co., the major owner of the $155,000 in mortgage bonds was the high bidder when the railroad was put up for public auction. The Ocala Manufacturing Company made a deal to buy a 2 mile logging line built by Rentz across the Ocklawaha River south from Silver Springs along with two locomotives and twelve logging cars for nearly $10,000. This line would be use by Ocala Manufacturing to log pine from that area. Later on the Wilson Cypress Company would also utilize this line for their own logging purposes.
The Ocklawaha Valley Railroad was born on April 16, 1915 with Charles Marshal of Assets Realization as its President and Treasurer, W.B. Denham (former superintendent) as 1st Vice-President, S.P. Hollinrake (former General Freight Agent) as Superintendent & General Manager and A. K. Spencer retained his job as Mechanical Superintendent. The railroad was reborn with a hope of a bright future and plans were made to expand toward Leesburg, but the mortgage company needed to see if the railroad was able to make its bi-annual mortgage interest payments first. Unfortunately the answer was ultimately no.
The OV inherited three steam engines from its predecessor. The 109, 110 and 112 kept the same numbers on the OV. Four wood coaches, one wood combination coach and baggage (Jim Crow car) and one baggage & express car rounded out the roster.
Traffic sources on the OV included the Arlo Box Company which was logging the small trees left behind by Rentz and the Wilson Cypress Company logging in the cypress ponds south of Silver Springs.
Rodman Lumber Co.
In 1830 before Florida was granted statehood, John Rodman petitioned United States and Spain for a land grant of about 16,000 acres. This grant became known as The Rodman Grant. Between 1892 and 1954 the property changed hands several times and was subject to numerous timber leases and naval store leases.
In 1892 John J. Cummings purchases the property and begins large scale timber and naval stores production. In January of 1900, the town of Rodman is created and the town grows to contain churches and a school, a commissary, a hotel, and housing for the several hundred men who worked there. A short railway line connected the town with the St. Johns River which provided all the transportation for the area. All supplies came in by boat and all the timber and naval stores went out the same way. Rails and locomotives were brought in by boat and logging tram lines were built into the woods. It wasn’t until the Ocala Northern crossed one of their logging lines in 1911, and a junction was built, that Rodman was finally connected to the nation’s rail network.
Henry Spurgin Cummings the brother of John Cummings, was the youngest son of William and Olive Cummings. Henry S. Cummings spent his childhood in Colleton County, South Carolina, and later learned the sawmill business under his father and older brother in Hampton County, SC. Henry Cummings traveled south in March,1900, and he settled in an area southwest of Palatka, Florida, where he took over the family sawmill business in Florida. His brother John returned to manage the family sawmill in South Carolina.
Henry S. Cummins supervised the building of the first mill in January of 1900. Said to be the first all steel and concrete sawmill in the state of Florida. It is a double circular, cutting 80,000 feet of long leaf yellow pine a day. There is also a most modern planning mill and three kilns. The first timber was taken around Rodman, some hundred thousand acres having been cut over, much of which is now in use for farming and ranching purposes.
There are about fifty million feet ready for the return from Dunnellon where logging is now going on. This timber runs about 2500 feet to the acre at present; while that around Dunnellon averages around 3500. Dunnellon is the county seat of Levy County, in which the company has some hundred and fifty million feet of fine long-leaf, cutting upon which was commenced in 1916. Eighty-five thousand feet a day arrive at Rodman from the woods, where it is sawed and shipped out to all parts of the country. Seven miles of company rail-road connects the mill direct with the Ocklawaha Valley Railroad, while water shipments are made possible by the proximity of the St. John's River, only four miles away. Four locomotives are employed about the plant; two of forty tons and two of twenty-five.
Some of the structural timbers turned out from the mill would be eye-openers to the man who thinks that all Florida long pine needs is a dipping in phosphorus to make good matches. One day there was one piece 24" x 26", thirty six feet long; while another 27 inches square passed out the day before. All sales are made out of the Rodman office and shipments are made direct to the customer.
Trip to Rodman's operations around Dunnellon. Winter of 1916-1917.
Published in June-July of 1917 Logging magazine. By the "Log Gink".
“Our train on the Ocklawaha Valley RR pulled away from the depot at Rodman where we inspected the mills and farms of the Rodman Lumber Co. We are now en-route to Ocala, were we will turn ourselves over to the Frantic Ghost Line (sometimes alluded to by pendants and in timetables as the Atlantic Coast Line) to be taken on to Dunnellon. A few miles outside of this city, we shall come upon the woods from whence comes all this longleaf yellow pine timber which we have seen under the saws at Rodman.
But first we must get to Ocala, which is no sixty-minute sprint although' the actual distance from Rodman is only forty miles. In the course of the forty, it becomes necessary for us to stop at some score stations long enough to handle a flock of freight and to inquire after the health of the population, individually and collectively. But finally we did arrive some time well after noon, after passing through the famous Silver Springs, the town, not the spring’s self, where the water is wonderfully clear. They have a flat bottom boat on the springs, provided with a pane of plate glass through which one may watch the gambols of turtles, alligators and other inhabitants of the Floridian waterways. Unfortunately, although' on this occasion our train remained at the Spring's long enough for its passengers to have taken the window boat out one at a time, we were informed that it would leave "any minute" and so discreetly remained aboard.
After lunch at Ocala - an exceedingly attractive little city by-the-way, very prosperous, and well worth a visit if you happen to be in those parts- we connected with the Frantic Ghost and entered upon the last leg of our outward bound voyage. The left rear truck of our car was suffering from flat foot and added greatly to the rhythmical charm of the journey, striking the rail regularly once a second or less. And so it was nearly supper-time before we arrived at Dunnellon; although the train at one time must have acquired sufficient speed to kill a couple of cows. We passed their corpses lying beside the right of way; but of course there is always a chance that they died of old age or natural causes while waiting for the train to pass!
At Steen: In the vicinity of Steen and evenly deployed over Levy County, the company owns one hundred and fifty million feet of standing long leaf yellow pine. The country is comparatively level, but low and inclined to swamp in spots. Except in the swamps, where almost anything may be expected, the undergrowth is confined to palmetto. The timber averages thirty-five hundred feet to the acre and is cut in forty foot lengths for the most part, averaging about a hundred feet to the log. Forty-five logs constitute a car-load, and twenty cars are dispatched daily to Rodman under a contract with the Coast Line. Work in the woods at Steen started in August of 1916, so that the greater part of the hundred and fifty million remains to be removed.
Fifty-six pound steel on seventeen heart pine ties to the rail length opens up the timber; Coast Line cars being used, operated by the company's own locomotives. One thirty-ton and one forty-ton Baldwin are engaged in the woods work. They also have five Kilby cars and a track laying machine, which last was not in service at the time of our trip.
The logging operation is carried on with a Clyde Universal Logging Machine and a McGiffert Loader of the modern four-wheel truck and steel swinging boom type. Both of these machines are used for skidding and loading; going back a thousand feet from the track. The Universal is in charge of J.R. Campbell and captures some six hundred logs a day with its two lines. The McGiffert is in charge of W.B. Redcliff and secures the needful balance of about three hundred logs; with a single line, so that honors are easy.
In round figures, it costs three dollars a thousand to lay logs on the cars at Steen, including all expenses plus some heavy railroad work for the far future. Future costs, without this railroad overhead, will show a more material reduction. The total cost of logs in the stacks at Rodman was five dollars a thousand at the time of our trip.
Our immediate objective was the Universal, and lofting lightly from stump to stump, the Leaping Lizzie burned down the miles until we arrived at a synthetic lake caused by floods. Here we descended from the decks and hearing the McGiffert snorting away about a mile to the west, changed our objective long enough to hoof it over and watch Loader-man Redcliff skid and load a few logs in past-professional style.
And then we followed the track, as the only alternative to swimming for which neither of us was properly attired, for miles and miles and miles. Finally, around a little curve, we came upon the critter whooping logs in on both lines and loading them with her teeth. The resulting photographs are scattered thru this article.
Five-eighths inch skidding lines are in use, mules being employed in re-hauling the lines to the timber. One hour's work and one hour's rest was the law of labor accepted alike by employers and mules.
On the return journey, we paused long enough to pose the proud line which appears upon this page, as a sample of the sort of sticks they can raise in Florida when they settle their minds on the job.”
Back to the OV RR
World War One or the Great War as it was called back then was going full blast with the entry of the United States in 1917, and one of its consequences was the upward swing of steel prices. Rail steel was at an all-time high in 1917, and with freight and passenger revenues dropping and no chance that the OV could make any of its interest payments on the bonds, Assets Realization Corporation suddenly decided to shut down the railroad and sell the whole thing for scrap. The poor OV was now worth more dead than alive.
So early in November of 1917, the railroad had posted notices along the right of way, alerting the general population that they would cease operations after November 30, 1917. On November 6th, the railroad petitioned the State RR Commission for permission to abandon the railroad. A hearing was held on November 14th and on the 16th they issued an order forbidding the OV to discontinue operations. Management of the OV threaten to not only cease operations, but to dismantle the road. Judge Willis of the 8th Circuit Court granted the RR Commission an order on November 27th to restrain the OV from abandoning operations. The railroad shut down completely on December 6th, though the RR Commission did not learn of this until the 8th. The Commission applied to Judge Bullock of the 5th Circuit Court for appointment of a receiver, which he appointed Hollinrake. On December 10, 1917 the bondholders started foreclosure proceedings setting February 4, 1918 as the sale date.
The Commission appealed to W. G. McAdoo, Director General of the Railroads to intervene, as the Rodman Lumber Company was moving a large amount of lumber from the West Coast to Rodman for the war effort. McAdoo suggests taking the company to court. The Commission with the help of the Courts then was able to appoint H.S. Cummings as receiver on January 26, 1918, as he promised to operate the road financing his own receiver certificates and to pay for a $15,000 personal bond to protect the bondholders from a loss from his operations. One of Cumming's first actions was replacing the steam passenger train with the dual end motor car shown above, built from two REO buses. This freed the railroad to concentrate with its shrinking locomotive roster on the log trains running to and from his mill. With the US Railroad Administration in charge of the Nation's railroads, traffic had been diverted from the OV and through freight was now non existent.
On February 30, 1919 the OV was sold under the decree of the Circuit Court of Marion County, FL, with the authority of the purchaser to junk the property, but only after the Commission gives permission to abandon the property. H.S. Cummings continues to operate the railroad as receiver and general manager until his death in August of 1922. Cummings never paid taxes during his operations and the bonding company had been called upon to make good the loss of $17,000.
A. Christensen was appointed receiver from August to December 1922. Both the Rodman Lumber Company and the Wilson Cypress Company finished logging in September of 1922. All the timber near the railroad had been cut and operations ceased on December 31, 1922.
Rodman Lumber Company Equipment Roster
4-4-0 Lima 1039 5/07 12x16-48” 56,000lbs
sold to Bond Lumber Co. 5 to Putnam Lumber Co. 5
in 1920 at Shamrock, Fla to SI&E 2107 scrap 1927
10 2-6-0 Rogers 16x24 GC&L 210 in 1913
12 2-6-0 Baldwin 53234 5/20 16x24 to OV12 to BSCC 18, to Lee Tidewater 18 to John Thompson to Illinois RR Museum
Rodman Lumber Co., Rodman (Putnam) In 1907 had a 30 mile logging
railroad with 5 locomotives and a 100,000 foot capacity mill,
the same reported for 1910. In 1912, 1917 and 1920 show a 35mile logging railroad.
1917 six locomotives total
Rodman Mill - four locos (2 of 40 tons and 2 of 25 tons) & 1 Clyde Universal Logging Machine
Steen Logging Camp (Levy County)(nearest PO at Dunnellon) with 1 30 ton and 1 40 ton Baldwin
1 Clyde Universal Logging Machine (600 logs a day with two lines) & 1 McGiffert Loader (300 logs a day with one line)