Part II
The Race to Tampa

Tampa of 1883 was a town in decline, steadily losing population and in need of a railroad. Situated on the best harbor on the gulf coast, the first railroad there would reap vast riches from the potential growth of the port and would have control of shipping on the Gulf of Mexico to the West Indies within their grasp. Also there was the reward of vast amounts of land being offered by the State of Florida and Hamilton Disston for the first railroad to enter Tampa.
Only one man would have the power and determination to push the little narrow gauge South Florida Railroad to its destiny at Tampa and he was Henry B. Plant, a shrewd Connecticut Yankee whose Savannah, Florida & Western RR had pushed as far south as Gainesville and Jacksonville, Florida. However Plant could not enter the territory of the Florida Southern Railroad south of Gainesville and Palatka, Florida due to an agreement reach between the two roads allowing the Savannah Florida & Western to build over the Florida Southern’s unfinished grade to Gainesville. Plant tried to buy the Florida Southern but was unsuccessful, so in May of 1883 he instead purchased the South Florida, which connected, to his railroad by way of the St. Johns River steamboats. With Plant at their helm the South Florida changed from a kitten to a roaring lion. Immediately he made deals with all the roads building to Tampa except one, the Florida Transit & Peninsular of Sir Reed. The Florida Southern was given territory south of Bartow to Charlotte Harbor and North of Pemberton’s Ferry to Gainesville in which Plant and his South Florida RR promised not to invade these regions if the Florida Southern gave up its designs on Tampa Bay. Plant also purchased a large block of Florida Southern bonds to grease the wheels a little.
Henry B Plant
Henry B. Plant. Photo from the Henry B. Plant Museum Collection.

Next came the Jacksonville Tampa & key West Railway which was constructing a standard gauge railroad between Tampa and Jacksonville and already had grading at Jacksonville, Tampa and Bartow. Plant made them a deal where they would have exclusive territory between Jacksonville and Sanford if they too would give up on building to Tampa. Also Plant not only purchased their incomplete grades at Tampa and Bartow, he also transferred the Jacksonville Tampa & Key West’s charter in which the South Florida would also receive their very liberal land grants, but the South Florida only had six months to complete seventy-four miles of railroad through the tropical wilderness of central Florida.
The International Railway that had constructed some grade in Tampa and Jacksonville was simply bought off and they just disappeared from the scene. This may have been part of the deal with the Jacksonville Tampa & Key West as both roads were being constructed side by side.
The race was now on with the Florida Transit and Peninsular to be the first road in Tampa and to acquire the best port facilities on the bay. Additional land grants from the State and from Hamilton Disston were also at stake.
Plant quickly transfer his best and most able construction engineer, Colonel Henry S. Haines to head up the South Florida construction team. Put in complete charge he ordered enough 40 pound rail to reach Tampa and seven new locomotives from Baldwin and Mason. Material for 190 freight and 10 passenger cars were also ordered. Delivery was promised in August.
Construction on the grade began on the first of June 1882 with 200 men laboring on the line west of Kissimmee. John C. Reynolds was the locating engineer. On the Tampa end the railroad purchased fifteen miles of grade from the Jacksonville Tampa & Key West and shipped from Cedar Key 168 men and one locomotive, the “Herald”. By the end of the month 25 miles had been graded from Kissimmee, which reach Lowry Lake in Polk Count y.
South Florida 6
South Florida number 6, the “E.B. Haskell” , photo from the Harold Vollrath collection..

Rail laying began on both ends with over 1500 men at work in August. Three schooners arrived in Tampa over the newly completed dock with seventeen miles of rail along with one locomotive, number 6 “E.B. Haskell” a Baldwin built 4-4-0, some cars and construction equipment. All material to Tampa passed through the Florida Transit & Peninsular’s port of Cedar Key, greatly benefiting their biggest competitor. On the Kissimmee end all material arrived by boat at Sanford and was loaded on special trains bound for the construction site. It was reported by the Tampa Guardian on September 29, 1883 that ten carloads of rail left Sanford on a special train, which was preceded by the regular freight of 16 cars.
By October on the Tampa end material trains were running two miles out but delays set in when local sawmills could not keep up with the demand for ties, but to keep the men busy a 15,000 gallon water tank was constructed at Tampa near Government Spring. During that month on the Kissimmee end there was a delay caused by heavy trestle at Reedy Creek. Also in October two more locomotives arrived at Sanford, the number 7 “R.M. Pulsifer” and the number 8  “H.B. Plant” both were built new by Mason and were 0-4-4 boogies. Also arriving were twenty flat cars, 100 tons of rail and 100 workers. By the end of the month 32 miles have been graded on the Kissimmee end and 28 miles on the Tampa end leaving only a 13 mile gap.

Rail laying was again delayed in November due to heavy cuts at Lake Alfred and Fort Cummins where over 216,000 yards of sand and clay were remove from the highland of Polk County. On November 20, 1883 a record was set in the south when 100 hands laid 11,200 feet of track in a single day west of Horse Creek, which is near the town of Davenport.

On December 10, 1883 the first time card was issue for both ends of the extension and transfer service by stagecoach and wagon would bridge the gap.
Kissimmee End
Lv. Sanford 9:00 AM
Ar. Horse Creek 1:20 PM
Lv Horse Creek 3:00 PM
Ar. Sanford 6:50 PM
Tampa End
Lv. Plant City 8:30 AM
Ar Tampa 10:00 AM
Lv Tampa 2:00 PM
Ar Plant City 3:30 PM

On the Tampa end a mix train was operated while on the Kissimmee end there was a regular passenger train, which would also carry a stock car for hunters and explorers. By the 28 a new schedule was issued for the Kissimmee end when the road was completed to Ft. Collins, but the location of this point is lost to the world but was probably near the future Haines City, which was named after H. S. Haines in 1887 to induce trains to stop at the town and it succeeded, they did stop.
Finally on January 20, 1884 just five days before the Charter was to expire, the last spike was hammered down at Saddle Creek, five miles east of Lakeland. Regular train service was established on January 25th by a special train carrying officials to a special celebration at Tampa. Here the future of the South Florida Railroad’s future was assured, as Tampa became a major city and port beating out the Florida Transit & Peninsular and grabbing the best terminal facilities in the area. The mainline would survive as a narrow gauge for two more years but when the standard gauge Jacksonville Tampa and Key West finally completed their line from Jacksonville to Sanford on February 20, 1886 forcing Plant to prepare for the day to standard gauge his line later on in the year. This was finished on September 21st on the Sanford & Indian River and on the 22nd for the mainline.
Port Tampa
 South Florida Railroad’s Port Tampa facilities. From the University of South Florida Special Collections.

In 1884 construction of the Bartow Branch began which was completed by January 1, 1885 to comply with the South Florida Charter. This Branch began at Bartow Junction (present day Lake Alfred) passing through Winter Haven, Eagle Lake and Gordonville before reaching the terminus at Bartow. This branch crossed some of the finest citrus growing land in the state was soon standard gauged on September 23, 1886.
South Florida 12
South Florida RR 12, a Baldwin builders photo from authors collection.

To comply with the terms of the agreement between the South Florida and the Florida Southern, the South Florida finished the construction of the 57 mile Pemberton’s Ferry Branch in May of 1886. This branch began in Bartow, running due north to Lakeland where it crossed the South Florida mainline and from there ran north to Pemberton’s Ferry where it interchanged with the Florida Southern which had just reached that point. The Florida Southern held trackage rights over the Pemberton’s Ferry Branch to reach its Charlotte Harbor Division at Bartow. From there the Florida southern ran south to Punta Gorda crossing the yet to be discovered Bonevalley phosphate mining district. This branch held out the longest as a narrow gauge branch but pressure to interchange phosphate cars bound for Tampa Bay forced both the South Florida and the Florida Southern to standard gauge south of Pemberton’s Ferry on August 7, 1891 ending the narrow gauge South Florida Railroad.
South Florida 20
South Florida 19, a Baldwin builders photo from the authors collection.

The South Florida was soon merged into the Plant System of Railroads along with the Florida Southern and was included in the purchase of the Plant System by the Atlantic Coast Line. Almost all of the South Florida survives as CSX still uses the mainline from Sanford to Tampa. Only a small part of the Bartow Branch survives in the Winter Haven area operated by the Florida Midland Railroad.  CSX still operates a little of the Pemberton Ferry branch between Lakeland and Dade City. Most of the Florida Southern has been abandoned in recent years.

NO.    NAME         TYPE      BUILDER C/N    BUILT    CYL    DR    NOTES
          Seminole           2-4-0          Porter 353                 12/1879    7x12”                  5/5/1883 explodes at Sanford depot.
          Herald              2-6-0          Baldwin 5435              1/1881    9x16”    35”        To Orange Belt Ry 3 1886
3           Kissimmee         0-4-0t        Baldwin 4105              5/1877    9x16”    36”       Originally ordered for North Pacific Coast “Moscow”. Order cancelled and sold instead to New York & Manhattan Beach # 3 ”Sea Breese”. Resold to the South Florida RR # 3 “Kissimmee” in 1881. Sold and off roster by 1886.  
          James T. Sanford 4-4-0        Baldwin 5990            1/1882    9x16”    42”    To Orange Belt Ry #4 in 1886
         C. H. Andrews    4-4-0        Baldwin 6294            7/1882    9x16”    42”    To Orange Belt Ry # 5, later to Simmons Lbr. Co. and Williamson-Brown Lbr. Co.
         E. B. Haskell      4-4-0         Baldwin 6660            3/1883    11x16”    42”    To Orange Belt Ry # 6, later to Albemarle & Atlantic # 6, to Norfolk & Virginia Beach # 6, to Fosburgh Lbr. Co. # 6
         R.M. Pulsifer    0-4-4t          Mason 704                 1883    13x16”    43”    Off roster by 1886.
8          H.B. Plant        0-4-4t          Mason 705                 1883    13x16”    43”     Off roster by 1886
         H.S. Gaines      0-4-4t         Mason 707                1883    13x16”    43”    Off roster by 1886
10                                4-6-0          Baldwin 6978        10/1883    14x20”    45”    Converted to standard gauge 1891 and later sold to Savannah & Statesboro RR, later to Alexander Lbr. Co. # 4
11                                4-6-0          Baldwin 6991        10/1883    14x20”    45”    Destroyed by roundhouse fire on 1/4/1886.
12                               4-6-0         Baldwin 7047         11/1883    14x20”    45”     Converted to standard gauge in 1891 and later sold to Charleston Mining & Manufacturing Co., Ft. Meade, Fl
13                               4-6-0         Baldwin 7048         11/1883    14x20”    45”     Converted to standard gauge in 1891 and later sold to the Dutton Phosphate Co.
14-16                            Gap in roster.
                               4-4-0        Baldwin 7759           12/1885    15x18”    52”    
18                        4-4-0         Baldwin 7763          12/1885    15x18”    52”    To Ashley Price Lbr. Co. after 1891
19                               4-4-0        Baldwin 7795            2/1886    15x18”    52”    
20                               4-4-0        Baldwin 7798            2/1886    15x18”    52”   Converted to Standard Gauged and later soldTo Atlantic Lumber Co.# 20  in Lake County. Later resold to J.Ray. Arnold Lumber Co. at Groveland, Fla. Scrapped circa 1960.

Rolling Stock
Box Cars 101-175
Flat Cars 201-299, 176-200 , except 270, 273, 290
Stock Cars 270, 273, 290 plus one other
Caboose 1-7
Baggage & Mail 45-56
Coaches 1-24

South Florida RR

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