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Early railroading in Pulaski

Pulaski has been an outstanding mining town, zinc, iron and steel producer, furniture and hosiery manufacturer, health resort, and other industries.
First, and most important, it was a railroad town. Like many communities, it grew out in all directions from the water tank that furnished water for the thirsty steam locomotives.
When the railroad was surveyed through the Martin farm, the surveyor must have gotten in the area behind what is now a shopping plaza in east Pulaski, sat his compass due west, and followed that course a mile or more to the area of West Commerce Street.
It was there that Bertha Zinc Co. was once located. From Commerce Street, a village grew, that became Martin’s Tank, later Pulaski City, and finally, the town of Pulaski.
I have often wondered why they didn’t call it Mountain View, the beautiful name of the Martin Farm. The surrounding area was natural to become the industrial town that it did.
There was the railroad and Peak Creek, running parallel through a comparatively flat valley surrounded by rolling hills and ravines.
The terrain then changed to steep mountains that contained the ore necessary to bring about the establishment of furnaces and ore processing plants.
Off to the north was a mountain full of high quality anthracite coal that might some day furnish power for factories.
Even before the town became incorporated, Pulaski Land and Improvement Company, a northern concern, moved in and acquired land that makes up a large part of what is now the town.
This company laid out the town in one large survey. Streets were for the most part laid out parallel, and avenues perpendicular to the long straight tangent of railroad that lay in an area that had once been a swamp.
For all of the previous years Peak Creek had found its own course through the low-lying area, unnecessarily taking up good industrial and business property.
Pulaski was ahead of Florida in converting useless farmland into land available for useful purposes.
In the late 1880s a group of men were put to the task of bringing large cut stones down from the mountains west of town. They were used to construct two high walls 100 feet apart, running east and west through almost the entire width of the town, and Peak Creak was contained between them.
In years that followed slag from the Pulaski Iron Company furnace was poured in the swampy area between the railroad tracks and the south wall of the creek, making the land usable.
Some 60 years later a contractor bid too low on the Peak Creek Intercepter Sewer line, and found himself having to dig a ditch 12 feet deep into the harder than rock slag along the railroad track from Washington Avenue eastward for 1,000 feet or so.
Many railroad men made Pulaski home.
There was a large shopping area east of the main part of town, and a large percentage of the population was engaged in running or keeping running the locomotives that were so much a part of the life of the period.
It was the day of the crews’ deep devotion to the engine, and great emphasis was put on speed. Daring engineers became heroes.
“Casey said, ‘Fireman, Don’t you fret. Keep knockin’ at the firebox door, don’t give up yet. I’m gonna run her ’til she leaves the rail, or make it on time with the southbound mail.’”
Schedules were uncertain, and the railroad companies hired workers they called “call boys,” whose important job it was to go to private homes and wake crews who would be relieving those coming in, so that men would not have to be paid to wait.
Railroading is not what it used to be when Martin’s Tank came into being. The shops are gone from east Pulaski, and passenger service is a thing of the past.
I wonder what would be where Pulaski is now if the railroad had never come.
I feel sorry for those who may never know the sound or smell of a steam locomotive coming to a stop at the old train station near Washington Avenue, and exuding a long breath of steam just prior to leaving out for Bristol.

-Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.

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