When Mid-Georgia said goodbye to 'Nancy'
Editor's note: Archie McKay was city editor of The Macon Telegraph when this story appeared on the front page May 1,1971.
By Archie McKay
M iddle Georgians by the thousands said goodbye to Miss Nancy Hanks Friday as the 24-year-old lady made her last trip through Middle Georgia.
With 500 festive passengers aboard, including several top railway officials, the Nancy left Atlanta at 6 p.m., arrived in Macon more than one hour late, and was destined to reach her final home in Savannah in the wee hours Saturday.
Crowds lined each stop and byway, many with signs bidding the Nancy a final goodbye. At least 200 Maconites were at Wesleyan Station, a historic stop for the train until recently.
Though the atmosphere on the train was festive, it was a sad crowd which waved at the Nancy along the stops between Atlanta and Macon.
In Griffin, hundreds lined the rails and displayed a sign reading "Hi and Goodby, we love you, Nancy."
One unscheduled stop was made in Morrow when a passenger pulled the emergency stop cord, according to Jim Sims of Macon, district chief in charge of the lines south of Atlanta.
The stop didn't bother Mrs. Carrie Stokes of 1468 Second Ave., who was taking Paige and William Slocumb of 530 Pierce Ave. on their first train ride.
"It is the last time these children will get to ride a train imagine," she said.
Several Middle Georgians made the trip to and from Atlanta aboard the Nancy.
Marshall Corbitt of Gordon, a railroad man himself, made the trip as a passenger, confessing that it was his first trip aboard the Nancy.
Mr. and Mrs. Watson Rocker of Millen took the day off from her school teaching and his banking to give their children a first ride on a train.
"We were just hoping that the courts will keep the trains running," Mrs. Rocker said.
Friday was the last run for Nancy Hanks II as well as several other famous passenger trains, due to the takeover by Amtrak of passenger service on most lines.
The Nancy was one felt not to be needed after studies by Amtrak officials.
There were few tears aboard the Nancy, but many people along the tracks held hankies to their faces as the old favorite passed by.
Part of the time lag was due to a steam engine which pulled the 10 cars from Atlanta to Jonesboro.
Robert J. Darden of Macon, retired engineer, came back for one last run and engineered the steam engine from Atlanta to Jonesboro.
From there, it was the regular crew with Engineer J. H. Carter Jr. of Macon at the throttle and H. H. Epperson as conductor.
Many retired railroad employees turned out along the way.
John C. Garner, 80, of Atlanta, a fireman and engineer for 40 years before he retired, said he showed up to watch the Nancy arrive in Atlanta its last time because he was curious, and again because he just thought he should be there.
O.L. Stamps, 71, retired general foreman of the Central of Georgia, said "I came here on the Nancy's first trip 24 years ago, and I thought I'd like to be here for the last one."
It was easy to spot the retired railroad men because of the heavy chains attached to their railroad watches.
The trip from Macon to Atlanta belonged to the railroad buffs of the nation. Few, if any, were from MiddIe Georgia.
All were checking railroad watches and commenting on where the Zurich Zephyr and other famous trains were now on their schedules.
However, the crowd getting aboard for the final run from Atlanta to Savannah was all Georgia, and knowledgeable about what was taking place.
Mrs. James Nettles, the former Miss Melba Porter of Wadley, now of Atlanta, who was the maid of honor on the first trip of the Nancy, made the last ride.
Richard W. Franklin of Savannah, president of the Central of Georgia, presented Mrs. Nettles a dozen roses.
She called her last trip "as exciting as the first. I never looked on it as a train ride, but as a party."
She recalled the first ride of the Nancy, July 17, 1947, for passengers Friday night.
"Everybody who was anybody was aboard that train and I think most of them who are still alive are aboard tonight."
She called the last ride "a sad occasion, but you know when the money is not being made, something has to give."
Mrs. Sylvia Mills of Milledgeville, with her two children, echoed the sentiment. "This may be the last time my children have the chance to ride a train and myself, also."
Newsmen roamed up and down the length of the train, and were rewarded with nostalgic stories from people who rode the first Nancy and were back to make the last sad trip.
"I'll soon be 70 and this train has been part of my life," said Bessie Lifsey of Barnseville. She rode the first Nancy II.
Not even the railway officials were prepared for the reception along the line.
Perhaps the largest crowds were at Forsyth and Macon. Horns were blown, lights flashed and hundreds of cameras were in evidence.
Rain fell on the Nancy from Macon to Atlanta and again on the return trip.
Engineer Carter held a heavy hand on the throttle and whistle and District Chief Sims said the Nancy might make Savannah somewhere near on time in spite of the delays.
Archie McKay was city editor of The Macon Telegraph when this story appeared on the front page May 1,1971.