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Papa and the Rough Riders April 17, 2006

Posted by Kim in Florida, History, Railroad, Tampa.
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Transports loaded with soldiers ready for the Spanish-American war - Port Tampa, Florida

(…click here for more photos.)

Growing up, we kids used to listen to all sorts of “Railroad” stories from Papa (our grandfather). Papa was a retired railroad engineer who had worked much of his adult life for the H. B. Plant Railroad which later became part of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. One such story concerned an incident he said took place in 1898 at Port Tampa. As you may or may not know, Port Tampa was the debarkation point for troops and equipment leaving for Cuba and the Spanish American War in June of that year. Papa had a regular run out of Port Tampa and one evening, his freight train loaded and ready to leave, he looked up from the paperwork he was completing in the station-house and saw his train leaving the station without him. Unable to catch the train before it cleared the yard, Papa commandeered a horse & buggy to chase it down and was able to catch the train near Plant City just east of Tampa. It seems that a slightly impaired group of “Rough Riders” had decided to take his train for a joy ride. Papa had been able to catch them due to their lack of knowledge on how to keep the engine properly fired. He would conclude his story with a description of the joys of having to back his train back to the station with the help of these good-natured drunks.

Now Papa was known to embellish a tale from time to time and I recently read an excerpt from one of Teddy Roosevelt’s writings I found on Floripedia that made me wonder about this one.

… [camping in Tampa]
It was the evening of June 7th when we suddenly received orders that the expedition was to start from Port Tampa, nine miles distant by rail, at daybreak the following morning; and that if we were not aboard our transport by that time we could not go. We had no intention of getting left, and prepared at once for the scramble which was evidently about to take place. As the number and capacity of the transports were known, or ought to have been known, and as the number and size of the regiments to go were also known, the task of allotting each regiment or fraction of a regiment to its proper transport, and arranging that the regiments and the transports should meet in due order on the dock, ought not to have been difficult. However, no arrangements were made in advance; and we were allowed to shove and hustle for ourselves as best we could, on much the same principles that had governed our preparations hitherto.

We were ordered to be at a certain track with all our baggage at midnight, there to take a train for Port Tampa. At the appointed time we turned up, but the train did not. The men slept heavily, while Wood and I and various other officers wandered about in search of information which no one could give. We now and then came across a Brigadier-General, or even a Major-General; but nobody knew anything. Some regiments got aboard the trains and some did not, but as none of the trains started this made little difference. At three o’clock we received orders to march over to an entirely different track, and away we went. No train appeared on this track either; but at six o’clock some coal-cars came by, and these we seized. By various arguments we persuaded the engineer in charge of the train to back us down the nine miles to Port Tampa, where we arrived covered with coal-dust, but with all our belongings.

The railway tracks ran out on the quay, and the transports, which had been anchored in midstream, were gradually being brought up alongside the quay and loaded. The trains were unloading wherever they happened to be, no attention whatever being paid to the possible position of the transport on which the soldiers were to go. Colonel Wood and I jumped off and started on a hunt, which soon convinced us that we had our work cut out if we were to get a transport at all. From the highest General down, nobody could tell us where to go to find out what transport we were to have. At last we were informed that we were to hunt up the depot quartermaster, Colonel Humphrey. We found his office, where his assistant informed us that he didn’t know where the Colonel was, but believed him to be asleep upon one of the transports. This seemed odd at such a time; but so many of the methods in vogue were odd, that we were quite prepared to accept it as a fact. However, it proved not to be such; but for an hour Colonel Humphrey might just as well have been asleep, as nobody knew where he was and nobody could find him, and the quay was crammed with some ten thousand men, most of whom were working at cross purposes…

Source:
Excerpt from: Theodore Roosevelt. “The Rough Riders.” 1899.

I see some similarities between these two stories and wonder if they could be related. If so, which version is the more accurate? I know Papa’s was certainly exciting to the ten year boy I was when I first heard it. I don’t think the latter version would have had the same punch.

If interested, you can find a series of short movies taken by Thomas Edison in Tampa and Port Tampa during the debarkation in 1898 here.

Train at Port Tampa April 17, 2006

Posted by Kim in Florida, Railroad, Tampa, Train.
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South Florida Railroad’s Port Tampa facilities. From the University of South Florida Special Collections.