Reader remembers Magnolia Route of the Port Royal Railroad

features@beaufortgazette.comJuly 23, 2012 

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Thanks to Pierre McGowan of St. Helena Island for sharing a story on the old Port Royal Railroad.

The rail recently has been removed, and the line is being converted into a rail trail.

"The Magnolia Line"

By Pierre McGowan

Aug. 3, 1945. I was a signalman on board the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Tingey (DD-539). At midnight our ship and four others eased under the Golden Gate Bridge from the Mare Island Naval Shipyard and set course for Pearl Harbor to refuel before heading to Okinawa and the invasion of mainland Japan.

Three days out, the first atomic bomb exploded over Japan, and for those of us on board those five destroyers, the war was over.

We were redirected to San Diego and had an unexpected 30-day leave. I had $12 in my pocket and started hitchhiking east to a place called Frogmore.

Two days later I was in Phoenix and computed that at my rate, by the time I got home it would be time to head back to the West Coast to begin what turned into a nine-month tour of occupation duty in Sasebo, Japan.

It was time to take some serious action. From Phoenix, I caught a ride on a B-17 bomber to Memphis. A slow, easy ride mostly sitting in the bombardier's seat watching the good old USA slide under us at about 175 mph. I picked up $17 in a craps game with the crew.

From Memphis, I hitchhiked to Augusta, Ga., arriving after dark. I kept on going east toward Allendale, where at 10 p.m. I was 10 miles from nowhere and there was zero traffic in sight. About a mile south of me I could hear the lonesome wail of a steam locomotive heading east, pulling a line of freight cars. Oh, how I wanted to be on that train.

It did, however, jar me into remembering the daily run of the passenger train from Augusta to Port Royal. Back to Augusta I went and proceeded directly to the train station. Awaiting me there was food, a shower (the first in four days) and a comfortable bed.

The best part of my trip home still was ahead of me. The "Magnolia Route" train left Augusta at 7:30 a.m., crossed the Savannah River and headed east. What a nostalgic ride that was. Once we reached Allendale, familiar sights came into view. I feel honored to be one of the few of us left who rode the Magnolia Route.

In naming the rail trail along that line from Port Royal to Yemassee, I sincerely hope that the name will include the word "Magnolia."

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