On February 11, 1882, sixteen men of Bentonville secured an Arkansas charter for the Bentonville Railroad Company. The purpose was the construction of a standard gauge railroad from Bentonville to Rogers, now a division point on the Frisco. The company had an authorized capital of $40,000 but the initial amount invested is unknown. Bentonville residents bought common stock and some donated land for right of way. Goodspeed's History of Benton County, Arkansas, published in 1889, stated the line cost $42,000 to build and equip. The major players in the new venture were:
John Smartt, President, moved to Bentonville in 1871 from Kentucky. He was a physician. N. S. Henry, General Manager, owned a hardware store on Bentonville square. He later became active in real estate and replaced Smartt as President in 1890. David H. Woods, Vice-President & Treasurer, was a merchant.
The first priority was obtaining land for the 5.25 mile single track from Rogers to Bentonville. The right of way was only 60 feet wide. Benton County courthouse records show the first property purchase took place in April 1882. Some property acquisitions involved condemnation proceedings. Several land purchases had a one-dollar consideration. One skeptical seller sold land to the railroad with the proviso that the sale would be void if the railroad did not commence full operation by October 15, 1883.
Grading of the right of way was a small expense. The terrain from Rogers to Bentonville is Boone chert and limestone. No expensive bridges or trestles were necessary. The rise in elevation from Rogers to Bentonville across the Osage Prairie is only 82 feet or a gentle ruling grade of 0.3% per mile. Grading finished by December 1882 and track laying followed immediately. The line had 4.38 miles of steel track, including a 633- foot siding in Bentonville. and one mile of iron track. The track was likely used. Ballast on for the roadbed was non-existent as the track rested on the soil. The untreated ties required replacement in 1888 and again in 1898. The citizens of Bentonville barely could wait for the completion.
In April 1883, Conductor C. M. Robinson operated a test train as far as the rails were completed. Construction progressed on a simple plank depot located on the southwest side of Bentonville Square. The assessed value of the new depot was only $800. There was great excitement when the depot well diggers encountered lead ore. The new line had a water tank, locomotive roundhouse and turntable. Real estate records show the railroad had no buildings in Rogers so the assumption is that the line used the Rogers Frisco depot. Monday, May 1, 1883 was a banner day for Bentonville. The tracks were complete and the first regular train stood at the depot awaiting service. At 2:00 p.m. some 100 people boarded the train, with a cornet band, for an excursion to Rogers. The Bentonville Advance reported "The trip was a most pleasant occasion and celebrated the grandest epoch in the history of our town."
The Bentonville Railroad had no freight cars and relied on the Frisco for freight car supply. It had at least two locomotives. Nothing is known of locomotive No. 1. The second locomotive, No. 2, was purchased new from the Pittsburgh Locomotive Works in 1884. It was a 4-4-0 or American type widely used by railroads for light duty. The railroad had at least one passenger car, No. 1, when passenger service began in May 1883. In April 1888, the line purchase a brand new passenger car, car No. 2, from an unknown builder. A special night excursion ran to celebrate the new car's entry into service. Red crimson red plush upholstered the seats of car No. 2. Three months later a new baggage-express car, No 102, entered service. The car builder was H. J. Werkerline of Bentonville. The passenger cars were of wood construction as steel construction was rare at this time. In June 1894, the Fayetteville Sentinel reported the sale of a long unused locomotive from the defunct Pacific & Great Eastern Railroad of Fayetteville to Bentonville interests. It is possible the locomotive ended up on the Bentonville Railroad. The line also had one hand car and a cowcatcher equipped caboose to keep cattle away. The use of the cowcatcher caboose suggests the caboose functioned as the front of the train from Rogers to Bentonville. The use of the caboose at the head end would also avoid costly switching charges at Rogers.
M. F. Hendrick, Engineer, A&O Railroad - July 1902 - Photo was taken in Rogers, Arkansas in the middle of Walnut St. - Notice the old Rogers water tower in the background on the right
For most of its fifteen-year existence the Bentonville Railroad operated two daily passenger round trips besides the main business of hauling freight. In the Official Guide to Railways, a monthly publication used by railroad ticket agents, the line listed its length as seven miles, a modest exaggeration compared to other railroads of this era. Timecards published in the Bentonville Democrat show the line had two sidings, Dickson and Bentonville June, at which passenger trains regularly stopped. The Dickson siding was named for H. D. Dickson who operated a nursery and apple evaporator next to the siding. The early timecards allocated 25 minutes for the trip or 12.6 miles per hour. Contemporary newspaper accounts referred to the trains of the Bentonville Railroad as either "the Cannonball" or "the dinky." The term Cannonball also applied to Frisco limited trains. The more logical term was "the dinky" as this term today describes short passenger runs.
This image shows one of the Bentonville evaporators. Notice the train car in the background to the right
The first passenger schedules provided service only and did not permit good connections with the six daily Frisco trains serving Rogers during this era. For many years, morning and late afternoon roundtrips were the norm. In 1898, the running time rose to 30 minutes (11.5 miles per hour) due to deteriorated track and equipment. The line experimented with a nightly roundtrip in early 1890. This improvement lasted until June 1890. The service lasted until June 1890. The service ended because "the night trains took more people out of Bentonville than they took in." In early January 1892, N. S. Henry, General Manager, abruptly stopped the one Sunday roundtrip. The Board of Directors was upset and directed Henry to reinstate Sunday service effective January 8, 1892 even though the Sunday run did not cover costs. The Bentonville Railroad also operated excursion train trains with the first record excursion to Rogers taking place on October 20, 1884.
In 1887, the only year for which detailed operating data are available, the Bentonville Railroad carried 9,259 passengers. Some 5,077 passengers went from Rogers to Bentonville while 4,182 passenger journeyed from Bentonville to Rogers. The ticket collector was Conductor C. M. Robinson. He was as affable Missouri native who served as a jack of all railroad trades as he operated the train and functioned as brakeman and fireman. He was extremely obliging and would stop to pick up passengers between stops, take children to school and accept eggs instead of cash. During harvest season Robinson would stop the train so passengers could pick apples and peaches from the orchards adjoining the roadbed.
The Bentonville Railroad was an originating railroad as it sent out more freight than it received. In 1887 the line received 2,838 tons of freight from the Frisco while sending out 5,447 tons. Some 42% of the total traffic involved forest products (a term that included timber and agricultural products). followed by merchandise, likely all incoming products, at 34.2%. The main outgoing commodities in 1887, prior to the development of large fruit orchards in the late 1890s, likely were tobacco, railroad ties and lumber. In 1893 Bentonville's newly built Macon-Carson brandy distillery in Bentonville, at the time the largest west of the Mississippi, swelled the traffic volume. Unfortunately for Bentonville shippers all rail freight shipments required the use of the Frisco. In common with railroads of this era, the Frisco charged captive customers whatever the traffic would bear and allocate scarce freight cars as it deemed fit. Even the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887 provided little immediate relief for communities such as Bentonville. The Frisco charged high rates on all traffic and limited access to markets not served by the Frisco. In the early years of the Bentonville Railroad this meant most outgoing shipments went to St. Louis, some 335 miles away rather than the 100 miles closer Kansas City. The Frisco preferred St. Louis because the railroad lacked a Kansas City connection until 1892.
The Bentonville Railroad carried U. S. Mail in closed pouches to and from Rogers, The line earned $300 from mail carriage in the year ended June 30, 1888. The Bentonville Railroad provided Wells Fargo express service. The express companies specialized in small packages, as the Post Office Department did not offer parcel post service until 1913.
The line offered checked baggage service on the 5.25-mile run. A rare piece of Bentonville memorabilia is baggage check No. 208 covering baggage from Rogers to Bentonville on the Bentonville Railway. The hand made brass check was the work of Alonso Finis Milligan of Rogers. Mr. Milligan was born in Bentonville in 1875 and died in 1950. The check refers to the Bentonville Railway and this confusion in terminology was common throughout the life of the Bentonville Railroad. Baggage checks were made in pairs with one baggage check connected to the baggage by a leather band. The customer presented the baggage tag at the destination baggage room upon completion of the trip.
Financial data on Bentonville Railroad is sparse. The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) did not begin collecting detailed financial and operating data on railroads until 1888. For the year ending June 30, 1888 the line posted total revenues of $13,581 and a very healthy net profit of $4,243. The 1888 ICC report showed that freight accounted for 57.4% of revenues, passenger service 40.4% and mail the remainder. From the 1888 net income of $4,243 the line had debt service expense of $3,220 on debt of $22,575. The debt service created an intolerable financial burden. No dividends were paid in 1888 to holders of the $13,725 par value common shares. The high debt service expense suggests the line ws bled at the expense of the common shareholders. It is highly likely that the line overstated its net income. It most certainly deferred track repair, as a common theme of contemporary newspaper reports was the dilapidated state of the line's track.
On February 24, 1890, the Bentonville Railroad mortgaged all its property to collateralize a $25,027.71 demand note issued to N. S. Henry, General Manager and D. H. Woods, Vice President and Treasurer. A demand note is repayable in full when requested by the note holder. One cannot imagine a financing method mote inappropriate for a illiquid enterprise such as a railroad. One month later Messrs. Henry and Woods demanded repayment in full. The railroad could not repay. The Benton County Circuit Court ordered a public foreclosure sale on the Benton County courthouse steps on June 2, 1890. The sale procedure suggests the foreclosure was a friendly transaction. F. M. Bates, General Passenger Agent of the line, handled the sale for the Court. He appraised the railroad as having a value of $25,000. As was then customary Mr. Bates had to post a bond of $50,000 (equal to twice the appraised value). The bond came from a group of Bentonville men including Dr. Smartt, President, several directors of the line and most surprisingly Messrs. Henry and Woods the very plaintiffs who had initiated the foreclosure action. The June 2, 1890 sale saw Messrs. Henry and Woods bid a winning $25,000. From the facts of the sale, it seems likely the demand note and foreclosure sale was planned friendly action by all parties. Mr. Bates earned $3 for the property appraisal and conducting the sale for the Court. Transfer of the railroad's property to the new owners took place April 21, 1891. Henry and Woods then formed a new Arkansas corporation on May 23, 1891. It had the same name as the Bentonville Railroad Company of 1882. This procedure spared the new owners the expense of relettering the rolling stock and reprinting ticket stock. Mr. Henry replaced Dr. Smartt as President while Mr. Woods continued as Vice President and Treasurer. The Bentonville Railroad Company of 1891 had an authorized capital of $40,000 with $36,400 subscribed. The actual issued stock is unknown.
Although in the above article it says there was only a platform depot in Bentonville, here is a photo that had been in the old Elk Horn Barber shop, It shows a train depot for this train line off to the right. The photo has a date written on it of 1884.
This is a copy of an 1897 Sanborn plat map of Bentonville showing the train freight depot. This depot is not where we think of it today. It was located about a half mile southeast of the Bentonville Square, probably around where the old ice house is now located. This map shows an evaporator plant to the far left of this map, it was located on S. E. 3rd St.