The Silver Springs & Western Rail Road
Donald R. Hensley, Jr.

Silver Springs & Western
Silver Springs and Western's  Porter built 0-4-2T Steam Dummy pulling an ex-Florida Southern narrow gauge coach that has been re-gauged to standard.
This is a good look at the inner workings of a Porter Dummy, the special box cab, along with other special features kept these locomotives as silent as possible,
to avoid scaring horses on the streets. (Hensley Collection)

    The Silver Springs & Western (SS&W) was a true "Ghost Railroad" as very little is known or has survived about this little line.  Bare with me as I piece together a history of this tiny ghost using what information I could dig up using my notes and the internet.

Projected in 1891 to connect the Florida Southern (Plant System) at Ocala, Florida with Herbert L. Anderson's development six miles east at the popular resort at Silver Springs. Construction began in 1895 in Ocala, with plans to build the road as an electric railway,  but as the developers wanted to keep costs low with no public funding, it was very slow going. By January of 1901 the railway was finally put through to Silver Springs, but they had purchased an used steam dummy to provide the motive power for this tiny tramway instead of electric trolleys. The rails were very light, no heavier than 25 pounds to the yard, so the Porter built Dummy was a perfect fit, but I suspect it caused a lot of double takes, as it must have appeared that the passenger car was pulling the engine. Built from near the intersection of Osceloa and Wyomina or Third Street in Ocala,  the railroad first curved East, then North, before following the Florida Central & Peninsular to Silver Springs Junction and Silver Springs. 

    Above is a Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Ocala (University of Florida) Ocala facilities of the Silver Springs & Western consisted of the car shed which housed the Dummy with its ex Florida Southern narrow gauge coach, that was rebuilt by the Plant System to standard gauge. A warehouse was connected to the car shed, while a freight house with a large loading platform connected with the other buildings. While the above map doesn't show a physical connection with either the Plant System or the FC&P,  it was not needed as the only freight shipped was trans-loaded to and from steamboats at Silver Springs. Passengers transferring from either the Plant System or FC&P could easily walk from both nearby depots.

Ocala map 2
    The index of Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Ocala (University of Florida) give a general view of the railroads in Ocala, though the Silver Springs & Western had to be added by me.

silver springs junction    
    This aerial from 1942 (University of Florida) shows both railroads location at Silver Springs Junction, note that the FC&P never had a wye here, Southbound trains backed down to Silver Springs while Northbound trains pulled in but backed out. The SS&W grade was still visible after 30 plus years. The FC&P grade to Silver Springs was also visible after 20 years of abandonment.

Silver Springs
    This 1942 aerial (University of Florida) shows that the Silver Springs and Western entered the Silver Springs area from the West and then curved around the West shore of the springs. The FC&P entered from the Northwest and touched the North end of the springs. The Ocklawaha Lumber Co./Silver Springs Lumber Co./E.P. Rentz & Sons complex North of the Springs came in about 1900, these and their related Ocala Northern Railroad (Ocklawaha Valley RR) will be discussed next month.  The SS&W had no physical connection here as freight was offloaded at the FC&P/Steamboat depot and carried  over to their tracks.

silver springs depot 
   The FC&P depot at Silver Springs (from the Smithsonian) is shown here with the Hart's Line Okeehumkee at the dock. An FC&P box car is spotted at the depot (see closeup below) for loading. The SS&W track is very visible on the left, which ends by the small building. The SS&W would spot either their small flat car or box car here for loading.

FC&P box car

    A nice view of the end detail of an FC&P box car. The small door had a dual purpose and could be used to help vent the car for vegetable and fruit service or for loading long pieces of lumber which would be hard to load trough the door.

SS&W Track 
   The SS&W ended at this spot, which makes one wonder if the little building was owned or rented to the little road. The side track of the SS&W is hidden by fence.

A Silver Springs & Western boxcar can be seen in this view of Silver Springs (from the Smithsonian). The car is behind the small building seen above so the SS&W had a second track at this location.  (See closeup below)

SSW box car 
   The Silver Springs and Western's only box car, note the small window to help light the interior. Here we can see the track from the other view, but it has now has a very homebuilt bumper post.


    Here we see the Dummy with its coach at the spring.  ( from the Florida State Photographic Archives)  The boat houses that were owned by Anderson and Martin are on the far left. The crystal clear springs were a great attraction as it was possible to see all the way to the bottom and the tourist were fascinated with watching the very visible aquatic life including alligators and snakes.


    Here is another view of the Dummy at Silver Springs (courtesy of the Florida State Photographic Archives). Note the very low tech flat car on the right. The small wheels and lack of  truss-rods would limit the load to a couple of tons.  This side track is the same one that the box car was on and may have been the only siding on the railroad.  There were no turning or runaround facilities on this road, the train backed to Ocala, the coach always entering the car shed first. The freight cars would be coupled to the front of the engine and pulled to Ocala and pushed towards Silver Springs.

official guide of June 1900

    Researching the Silver Springs & Western was a chore and a half. Very little can be found using the standard research sources. I have yet to find a schedule in either a newspaper or Official Guide. I found one entry in an equipment register, where I did confirm the gauge as standard, but it only listed the single engine and 1 car (the coach), no box or flat car as pictured here. The were no listings in Poor's Manual of Railways as the company was privately owned with no publicly traded mortgages.  Local newspaper reported very little news about the line. One newspaper mentioned that  it was called  "The Vinegar Route" which I'm still scratching my head over. Was this an in-jest or did they actually haul vinegar from somewhere? 

    There was a short history of the road in "Ocali Country" where it mentioned that the Plant System tore out it's switch with the road when the SS&W began carrying freight between Silver Springs (via Jacksonville & Palatka from riverboats) and Ocala at a cheaper rate, but I can not imagine that this is even remotely true. It would have been the Florida Central & Peninsular who would have been hurt by this traffic, not the Plant System.  But the SS&W was no threat to either of these big roads. None the less the SS&W defaulted on its local bank issued loans around 1902 and Anderson was placed by the courts as receiver. Its impossible to even guess when the SS&W turned it's last wheel. According to State of Florida Comptroller reports, taxes were accessed on the line from 1901 to 1909.  I would say by 1905 the road was dead.

    However by November 6th, 1905 the E.P. Rentz & Sons had purchased the Silver Springs Lumber Co. and was pushing his logging line north towards Fort McCoy. On December 12th of 1909 he had decided to incorporate his logging road as the Ocala Northern and he needed an entrance to Ocala. In March of that year he purchased the SS&W from Anderson, thus officially ending the life of this little road. As the SS&W was in such bad shape with the light rails and rotting ties, Rentz decided to take up an offer he had from the Seaboard Air Line to lease and operate the Silver Springs branch to the Junction along with trackage rights into Ocala, using the depot and yards. This saved Rentz and the Ocala Northern from rebuilding the SS&W and gave them a good relationship with Seaboard.
We will look at the Ocala Northern and Ocklawaha Valley next month...................................

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