The Reader Railroad: From Shortline to Movie Line

Zoie Clift
For over a century The
Reader Railroad, which ran through Nevada and Ouachita counties, carried
everything from timber to tourists. Though it is no longer rolling, steam
locomotive No 2. has a steady role these days. That of movie star.
The train has 16 film credits to its name and a solid
and versatile film career in it’s wake.   In 1985, ABC Television and Warner Brothers came to
south Arkansas and used the railroad cars and station for the filming of train
shots for the miniseries
North & South.
More recently, crews

Brother Where Art Thou?, 3:10 to Yuma, There Will be Blood,
and Appaloosa have all
needed the railroads rolling stock for authentic footage. Over the years stars
such as Johnny Cash, George Clooney, Russell Crowe, and Helen Mirren have been
on the trains. 
Richard Grigsby
has served as general manager of Reader Railroad for 33 years.  Located in
Reader, this historic railroad operates the last exclusively steam-powered
short-line common carrier standard gauge railroad remaining in the
As to it’s history, the
short-line railroad, known to some as The Possum Trot Line, started in the
1880’s when Lee Reader came to the state to erect a sawmill.
The railroad was
originally built as part of a lumber company when logging camps were harvesting
virgin timber from the area.  The extension to Possum Trot went into the
woods, bringing the timber to the mill.
Over the past decades,
the railroad has had several owners, all lumber companies. In 1925, it was
established as its own company, separate from the mill.  After oil was
discovered and several other industries were established in the area, Reader
became a common carrier that same year. The railroad operated until 1991.
The railroad owns an
impressive stash of equipment including two oil-burning locomotives, one
wood-burning locomotive built in 1907, passenger cars, excursion cars,
flatcars, boxcars, a tank car, and stove-heated caboose cars. Staff are also in
the midst of constructing a little rail 1915 era motor car. Even though the
train no longer runs, it’s present trek in the film business makes sure the
equipment is showcased and that the history of the line is carried on.
According to Grigsby, the railroad plans to stay on the
current film route track. Grigsby said they’ve had a couple of calls about new
film possibilities but haven’t secured anything as of yet. He said they haven’t
ruled out returning to the excursion and tourism aspect of the line as well.
They work on both the track and equipment with these plans in mind. 

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