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Dearmon col — Kannapolis railroad crossings used to be many

By Norris Dearmon
For the Kannapolis Citizen
Before there was a railroad in our area, there was the Old Wagon Road, which ran roughly along the ridge where the railroad now runs north and south. The exception was that the wagon road had to vary off the ridge in order to find water for the horses.
It left the ridge five times between what are now Kannapolis and Concord. The railroad was built after many problems with the rights-of-way and organization in the late 1840s. Construction began in the early 1850s.
The steepest incline for the railroad between Atlanta and Washington is between Crooks Crossing and north Kannapolis. The old steam engines would often spin their wheels on the tracks, if they were pulling a heavy load. When that happened, the engineer would release some sand on the tracks to get traction. If the sand did not work, he would back the train up and get a running start after building up a new head of steam.
As the area grew, each road built going east or west would cross the railroad. Consequently, there was a potential for accidents. I doubt there were many involving the trains and horse and wagons or buggies.
As automobiles evolved, more wrecks involving trains and cars happened. Between what is now Universal Street and what used to be the Ebenezer Road crossing, there were at least a dozen crossings. The crossings were rough, and some cars would stall on the tracks.
They could not be removed before a train came along. The only warning they had was the sound of the whistle from the train. Along the tracks were installed metal signs designating when the engineer was to blow the whistle. There may be a black dot and two slashes on the sign, which meant he would blow one short and two long blasts of the whistle. There were no bells, flashing lights or cross bars.
After World War II, the steam engines were gradually replaced with diesel engines. Then the wrecks at the crossings became more prevalent. The new engines could travel at a much faster speed and did not make the noise the steam engines made.
Adding to the problem in more recent years, the railway company began gradually raising the tracks as more rocks and gravel were placed under the cross ties. The tracks are now about two feet higher than they were in 1940. Tractor trailer trucks can no longer get across the tracks. The under carriage will get hung up on the rise of the tracks.
Since the construction of the northern and southern underpasses, many of the rail crossings have been eliminated. Where there used to be at least 12 crossings, there are now only two. The number of wrecks between trains and cars have decreased dramatically.
Unfortunately, over the years, many people have been killed on the tracks ó some by accident and others by suicide. Some came about when someone was walking on the tracks and for some reason did not see or hear the train coming. It was if they were hypnotized by the sound of the train. Some were killed when they thought they could beat the train to the crossing in their cars and miss-timed it. Rail crossings will always be dangerous.
Walking the rails used to be quite a fad. Saturday or Sunday afternoon, that gave participants something to do. After all, they had no TVs, and the movies were closed.
I have heard some say, when they were younger, they could walk the rails from First Street almost to Landis without getting off the tracks. That had to be quite a balancing act.
Any activity concerning the rails is always dangerous. Keep off.

Norris Dearmon is a member of the Kannapolis History Associates and a volunteer in the Hinson History Room at the Kannapolis Branch Library.

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