We all know that the Missouri-Kansas & Texas Railroad was
responsible for there being a Denison, Texas. That railroad arrived
here on Dec. 24, 1872. But, I wonder how many know that between 1877
and 1895 at least five more railroads found a way to this new North
Texas town and set up their headquarters. Even more were planning to
come, but just never made it.
After receiving a call from Jan Heath, who was raised in Denison and
now lives in Irving, I began doing research on one of those
railroads. Jan was looking for a picture of a train known as "The
Nellie" taken at the railroad station in Ambrose. His dad had loaned
it to me many years ago and fortunately I had returned it. But it
had been lost and Jan wanted a copy for his file.
I began a search for the picture and as luck would have it, I had
copied it and had stored it on one of my many CDs. Then I began
thinking "column," but didn't know anything about "The Nellie." In
fact, I was wrong in thinking that it went across the bridge at
Carpenter's Bluff into Oklahoma.
I found a few things about it and really got confused. So I send out
a "SOS" to some of my railroad friends. Soon tidbits began coming in
Jack Maguire, well-known Denison author wrote a little about "The
Nellie" in his book, about Denison, "The Katy's Baby." In fact, his
father, J.E. Maguire was the last regular engineer on the line
before it was abandoned in 1929.
But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. "The Nellie" was a nickname
for the Denison, Bonham and New Orleans (DB&NO) Railroad. One
railroader said the initials stood for the "Dead Broke and Not
The DB&NO was chartered on Jan. 27, 1887, but by 1901 still hadn't
completed its line from Denison to Bonham and it was out of money.
The Katy stepped in and had it rechartered, then completed laying
track into Bonham, the county seat of Fannin County. The Katy
operated it until 1923 when it was sold to some people in Bonham.
The small railroad originated as a project financed by a group of
bankers and businessmen in Denison and Bonham, according to a Texas
State Historical Association article by Beverly M.J. Christian in
The Handbook of Texas Online.
It's capital was $200,000 and its headquarters was in Denison.
Members of the first board of directors were W.B. Munson, T.B. Narms,
A.R. Collins, W.C. Tignor and Saul Harma, all of Denison; and S.B.
Allen, W.A. Nunnelee, John Sharger and R.W. Campbell, all of Bonham.
Although they were able to begin building the railroad, the project
soon failed, then a new company was incorporated as the Denison,
Bonham and New Orleans Railroad Company on Jan. 23, 1901. Capital
stock was $100,000.
Christian related that the DB&NO RR Co acquired the partly graded
roadbed of the original railroad and in 1901 completed a 24-mile
line between Bonham Junction and Bonham. Between Denison and Bonham
Junction, the DB&NO operated over the MK&T Railway by the Katy under
contract and later leased the line. However, it was not included in
the Katy reorganization of 1923. The line was operated by receivers
from March 21, 1923, until Feb. 6, 1925, when it was bought by
several Bonhamites. In 1928 the 12 employees received total pay of
$15,000 and operation ceased on Nov. 30 that year. The company
abandoned the line the following year.
"The Nellie" was a daily passenger train when it operated between
Denison and Bonham. John Scott said his uncles, Raymond Bemis and
Walter Scott, always referred to the trains as "Nellie." From the
tales they told, they frequently rode the train to the Ambrose or
Ravenna area to go rabbit hunting during the years between 1915 and
the end of the line. John said his 1907 Katy timetable shows two
round trips between Denison and Bonham each day.
Jan said he had heard that when the train passed just west of Bells
from Ambrose and blew its whistle in the evening, that was a signal
for workers to head home. Nellie passed at the same time every day
and workers depended upon her being on time so that they could quit
Maguire said, in his book, that the train was anything but deluxe as
trains are today. He called it a "mixed" train whereby passengers,
baggage and mail rode in one rickety wooden car. Freight, when there
was a shipment, went in cars that were attached to the rear.
People loved the little train's informality on the 28 mile trip.
Maguire said his father recalled how the crew liked to make the trip
more fun for the passengers. When watermelons were in season, he
would stop "Nellie" by a melon patch and everyone would get off the
train and feast on watermelon.
John Markl said the DB&NO left the Denison-Bells line at a point
called "Bona" near Mountain Creek Drive. From there it veered
northeast to meet with the KO&G at Gover, about a mile south of
Carpenter's Bluff. That's about as close to Carpenter's Bluff as
"The Nellie" ever ran.
At that location the KO&G turned from south to east to continue on
to Denison. The DB&NO interchanged with the KO&G at Gover because to
interchange between the two roads at Denison required payment to
both the Southern Pacific (H&TC) and the Frisco (SLSF) to otherwise
interchange cars at Denison in the Katy Depot area.
The DBNO arrived in Bonham from the north, just east of downtown.
John said the last time he was in Bonham the depot still existed,
but had been moved a few blocks to the north.
Roy Jackson of Beechgrove, TN, a railroad buff and an expert on the
Katy Railroad, said that an issue of the KRHS Historical Bulletin
has a graphic of the lines scheduled from an MK&T 1909 timetable. It
shows trains 723 running daily except Sunday and 257 running daily
from Bonham to Denison. Trains 258 ran daily and 724 ran daily
except Sunday from Denison to Bonham. Towns or junctions listed were
Denison, Bonham, Junction, Ambrose, Spies, Steges, Ravenna and
Some of the other small railroad in Denison during that period were
the Denison & Southeastern Railway that went to Greenville chartered
July 27, 1877, the Denison and Pacific Railway, chartered on April
24, 1878, with the idea of establishing a route to California; the
Texas Extension Railway Company, and the Denison and Washita Valley
(D&WV) that was incorporated on Jan. 8, 1886.
DONNA HUNT is a former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in
Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.