Yours truly was once present at the annual stockholders' meeting of a major Class 1 railroad. The topic of discussion was the ongoing attempt by another carrier to gain entry to a lucrative traffic area that the railroad in question controlled, and the regulatory interventions and legal briefs that said Class 1 was filing in the hopes of keeping the competitor out. One stockholder, though, raised the question from the floor that if the competitor did overcome all of the legal and regulatory hurdles that this carrier was trying to lay in their way and got to the point where it was a matter of "just turning dirt," whether the Class 1 would consider granting trackage rights so that "we can glean at least a little bit out of all that traffic." The president and CEO replied sagely, "I see you know your railroad history."

Trackage rights agreements were (and still are) popular. They save the tenant railroad the major capital costs of construction and right-of-way acquisition; they give the landlord railroad a way to manage the presence of and often to keep a dangerous competitor in a permanent secondary position as well as to glean "just a little bit" of revenue in usage rights and maintenance fees from traffic which otherwise would have gone glimmering. When Santa Fe decided that come hell or high water it was going to gain its own entrance to San Francisco, Southern Pacific was motivated to grant trackage rights on the critical "Tehachapi Loop" segment between Mojave and Bakersfield. Rock Island used Union Pacific trackage from Limon to gain entry to Denver. In more recent days, just a few years ago four local refineries in the Bayport area near my home town of Houston sought an agreement with BNSF to construct a branch line and break Union Pacific's monopoly on their rail transport. UP fought like a tiger—environmental impact filings, regulatory interventions, quiet support for grassroots NIMBY organizations—but when BNSF gained Surface Transportation Board approval to begin construction, almost as if by magic Union Pacific found it in their hearts to offer trackage rights, even though they had been arguing for years that there was "insufficient capacity". 

In the early 20th century Missouri Pacific was sitting in the catbird seat for rail traffic between the Southwest and the East via St. Louis. Their fast passenger main served the Arkansas capital of Little Rock and had the most direct routing into the city of St. Louis, while at the same time they had a fast freight route which diverged at Poplar Bluff and crossed the Mississippi on a bridge which the MoPac owned and controlled at Thebes before heading north along the Illinois side of the river, avoiding the grades and curves of the line through the Ozarks, to East St. Louis. There traffic could be directly interchanged with the eastern railroads bypassing the congestion and bottlenecks of the T. R. R. A. bridges in St. Louis. The Cotton Belt system, building north through Arkansas, managed to negotiate trackage rights over this freight main into East St. Louis. This allowed them to share many of the advantages MoPac enjoyed for freight traffic, although any passenger traffic had to enter through the St. Louis congestion from the east. The timetables tell the tale; in this same edition of the Official Guide Missouri Pacific's best service from Dallas to St. Louis, the Sunshine Special, shows an en route time of 16 hours southbound and 16˝ hours northbound. For freight traffic, though, Cotton Belt's all-merchandise train The Blue Streak actually edged Missouri Pacific's best freight time from Dallas to the East St. Louis gateway.

Enter Southern Pacific. They had bested Texas & Pacific, which was originally chartered to operate the southern transcontinental route as far as Yuma, and won their own route from the West Coast into New Orleans in 1883. With their share of the Overland Route they had the only fast connection from northern California to the East, and in the joint R. I.-S. P. Golden State Route they had excellent connections from southern California to Memphis, Kansas City and Chicago as well as an adequate connection to St. Louis. Was that good enough for "The Octopus?" No, They Wanted It All...and if that meant starving their putative partner Rock Island into multiple bankruptcies and eventual liquidation, that was Just Too Bad. In the Cotton Belt system S. P. saw a potential merger partner which would augment their system end-to-end, allowing them to route California freight over their own rails all the way into the important gateway cities of Memphis and St. Louis. While the Interstate Commerce Commission held short of allowing a formal merger, in 1932 they did give Southern Pacific the green light to purchase, control, and manage the Cotton Belt system, resulting in a merger in all but name.

Southern Pacific and Cotton Belt's main focus was and always would be freight. However, in May of 1941 Southern and Norfolk & Western would combine on a new streamliner from the nation's capital to the gateway city of Memphis which became the Tennesseean. Cotton Belt and their S. P. masters saw the opportunity in play for a share of the passenger traffic to and from Dallas and the new train. They rushed this collection of equipment into service...the accompanying advertisement touts, and I quote: "Ultra-Modern Chair Cars and Diner-Lounge." Reading between the lines...if the equipment was all-new the advertisement would probably have said so, and I have never seen Cotton Belt listed in the secondary literature as the operators of a true streamliner. This makes me believe that the "ultra-modern" equipment was in fact heavyweight cars from the 1920s which had been freshened up with new paint, upholstery, and of course air-conditioning...although I remain open to correction.

[Edit 2014-12-06] And correction has come: A Google Books scan of Cotton Belt Locomotives by Joseph Strapac reveals that four years earlier, in 1937, Cotton Belt did indeed purchase ten new semi-streamlined coaches from Pullman; this became the nucleus of their Morning Star fleet. It appears, however, that most of the rest of their equipment was steel heavyweight cars which had been purchased secondhand and refurbished.

From the pages of the Official Guide, June 1941

Cotton Belt Route herald

The Morning Star

St. Louis Southwestern Railway (Cotton Belt)
May 11, 1941

5 Train Number 6
Daily Miles Services Daily
11 15P Dp 0.0 St. Louis, MO (Union Station) (CT) T C Ar 7 12A
11 23P 2.3 St. Louis, MO (Washington Ave. Sta.) 7 01A
11 56P 14.3 Valley Junction, IL 6 29A
RF12 07A 20.3 Dupo, IL DF 6 08A
RF12 28A 36.8 Valmeyer, IL T DF 5 35A
RF12 35A 42.2 Maeystown, IL DF 5 25A
RF12 42A 47.8 Fults, IL DF 5 15A
RF12 56A 55.9 Prairie du Rocher, IL T DF 5 02A
RF 1 12A 68.3 Reily Lake, IL T DF 4 43A
RF 1 19A 74.8 Menard, IL DF 4 32A
1 23A 75.8 Chester, IL T C 4 27A
RF 1 34A 84.7 Rockwood, IL DF 4 10A
RF 1 36A 85.9 Cora, IL T DF 4 07A
RF 1 43A 91.4 Raddle, IL DF 3 56A
1 53A 98.4 Gorham, IL T 3 45A
RF 2 01A 104.7 Howardton, IL DF 3 33A
F 2 14A 114.0 Wolf Lake, IL T DF 3 15A
RF 2 19A 118.3 Ware, IL DF 3 09A
RF 2 26A 124.0 Reynoldsville, IL DF 2 57A
RF 2 31A 127.6 McClure, IL DF 2 50A
RF 2 36A 132.0 Gale, IL DF 2 40A
F 2 40A 135.4 Thebes, IL T F 2 35A
2 45A Ar 138.2 Illmo, MO T C Dp 2 30A
2 50A Dp Ar 2 20A
F 2 53A 140.1 Ancell, MO T F 2 08A
3 11A 151.0 Delta, MO T 1 42A
F 3 35A 164.6 Bell City, MO T F 1 07A
F 3 40A 167.1 Ardeola, MO F12 59A
F 3 49A 172.8 Avert, MO T F12 46A
F 3 59A 178.8 Idalia, MO T F12 32A
4 11A 185.8 Dexter, MO T C 12 18A
4 26A 194.4 Bernie, MO T 12 01A
4 41A 202.6 Malden, MO T C 11 40P
4 54A 210.1 Campbell, MO T C 11 18P
F 5 01A 214.5 St. Francis, AR T F11 05P
5 07A 220.4 Piggott, AR T 10 54P
F 5 16A 223.5 Greenway, AR F10 44P
5 28A 230.3 Rector, AR T 10 32P
5 39A 237.6 Marmaduke, AR T 10 16P
5 58A 248.3 Paragould, AR T C 9 53P
F 6 19A 260.4 Brookland, AR F 9 28P
6 40A Ar 269.5 Jonesboro, AR T C Dp 9 10P
6 55A Dp Ar 8 50P
F 7 05A 276.4 Gilkerson, AR F 8 35P
F 7 17A 282.1 Otwell, AR F 8 21P
7 32A 290.1 Weiner, AR T 8 07P
F 7 42A 294.4 Waldenburg, AR F 7 56P
7 56A 299.9 Fisher, AR 7 45P
8 09A 306.2 Hickory Ridge, AR T 7 34P
F 8 20A 312.2 Tilton, AR F 7 23P
8 32A 317.4 Fair Oaks, AR T 7 12P
8 59A 331.6 Hunter, AR T 6 41P
F 9 10A 336.9 Zent, AR F 6 29P
F 9 15A 339.0 Fargo, AR T F 6 24P
9 25A Ar 343.7 Brinkley, AR T C Dp 6 12P
Memphis Section
45 Connecting Train Number (Southern/Norfolk & Western) 46
9 00A Dp 0.0 Washington, DC (ET) T C Ar 7 50P
12 55P Dp 172.5 Lynchburg, VA (ET) T C Ar 3 55P
11 40P Dp 617.8 Chattanooga, TN (CT) T C Ar 3 25A
7 10A Ar 928.5 Memphis, TN (Union Station) (CT) T C Dp 8 00P
(Cotton Belt)
8 10A Dp 0.0 Memphis, TN (Union Station) (CT) T C Ar 7 40P
F 44.8 Forrest City, AR T C F
9 40A Ar 69.0 Brinkley, AR T C Dp 5 58P
5 Continuing Train Number 6
9 50A Dp 343.7 Brinkley, AR T C Ar 5 50P
F10 01A 351.8 Keevil, AR
10 15A 358.7 Clarendon, AR T C 5 27P
F10 31A 365.3 Roe, AR F 5 10P
F10 39A 371.0 Ulm, AR F
10 53A 378.0 Stuttgart, AR T C 4 51P
F11 10A 388.9 Humphrey, AR
F11 21A 395.7 Wabbaseka, AR
F11 29A 400.1 Altheimer, AR
F11 36A 404.3 Rob Roy, AR
12 07P 411.8 Pine Bluff, AR (Station) T C 3 56P
12 38P 433.9 Rison, AR T F 3 23P
12 51P 443.9 Kingsland, AR T
1 03P 451.5 Fordyce, AR T C 3 03P
F 1 09P 457.1 Thornton, AR
1 21P 465.3 Bearden, AR T
1 48P 481.6 Camden, AR T C 2 25P
2 22P 501.9 Stephens, AR T
2 36P 512.0 McNiel, AR T C 1 43P
2 45P 517.2 Waldo, AR T C
3 00P 529.2 Stamps, AR T C
3 08P 533.6 Lewisville, AR T C F 1 12P
3 55P Ar 563.5 Texarkana, AR-TX (Union Station) T C Dp 12 25P
4 05P Dp Ar 12 15P
F 4 24P 576.6 Redwater, TX T
F 4 31P 582.1 Maud, TX T
F 4 47P 595.5 Bassetts, TX T
5 02P 603.6 Naples, TX T C F11 23A
5 09P 610.6 Omaha, TX T C F11 17A
5 25P Ar 624.4 Mt. Pleasant, TX T C Dp 11 01A
5 30P Dp Ar 10 55A
F 5 47P 633.4 Winfield, TX
5 56P 640.1 Mt. Vernon, TX C 10 35A
F 6 04P 646.5 Saltillo, TX
F 6 10P 651.3 Weaver, TX
6 26P 662.7 Sulphur Springs, TX C 10 09A
F 6 38P 672.7 Ridgeway, TX
6 50P Ar 681.7 Commerce, TX C Dp 9 44A
6 53P Dp Ar 9 42A
7 17P 696.2 Greenville, TX C 9 25A
F 8 04P 729.0 Murphy, TX
8 12P 734.4 Plano, TX C 8 31A
F 8 18P 739.3 Renner, TX
F 8 23P 743.2 Addison, TX
8 50P Ar 756.2 Dallas, TX (Union Depot) (CT) C R Dp 8 00A

Train 5 (St. Louis-Dallas): 92 stops; 21:35; 35.0 MPHTrain 5 (Memphis-Dallas): 41 stops; 12:40; 38.0 MPH

Train 6 (Dallas-St. Louis): 70 stops; 23:12; 32.6 MPHTrain 6 (Dallas-Memphis): 19 stops; 11:40; 41.3 MPH



MORNING STAR—Trains 5 and 6.
AIR-CONDITIONED Combination Sleeping-Dining-Chair Cars between St. Louis and Pine Bluff.
De Luxe AIR-CONDITIONED Chair Cars between St. Louis and Dallas.
De Luxe AIR-CONDITIONED Chair Cars between Memphis and Dallas.
AIR-CONDITIONED Dining-Lounge Cars between Memphis and Dallas.

Note—Train No. 5 stops at any station for revenue passengers to, from or beyond Memphis, Shreveport and Mt. Pleasant.

Note—Train No. 6 will stop at any station between Dallas and Texarkana to discharge passengers holding foreign line tickets from beyond Dallas.


The Morning Star

DeLuxe Air-Conditioned Coaches and Pullman-Cafe Cars Between St. Louis and Pine Bluff.
Air-Conditioned Coaches and Diner-Lounge Cars Between Memphis and Dallas.

Daylight Runs Through the Arkansas Rice Fields

Talk to
Nearest Cotton Belt Agent


You did have to hand it to the Pullman Company; they always took care of their first-class passengers. It's obvious from the advertisements and the equipment listing that the raison d'etre of this train, as originally intended, was to provide a connecting link for passengers between Dallas and the Tennessean in Memphis; the St. Louis service was almost an afterthought. The dining/lounge car operated in the Memphis section which left St. Louis passengers bereft of food service north of Brinkley. Enter Pullman: When the railroad did not provide a dining car, or at the very least a stop for meals at a station with a suitable café, they would ensure that there was some kind of food service available for their first-class passengers who rode during meal hours even if that meant removing a section to shoehorn in an ice box and a Coleman-type gas stove where the porter could fry up a steak in the evening or an order of bacon and eggs in the morning...hence the "Pullman-Cafe Cars" between St. Louis and Pine Bluff.

It does appear that the complaints of St. Louis coach passengers reached the ears of Cotton Belt management; by December of this same year they had scrounged up another dining car to provide service to both coach and Pullman passengers between Jonesboro and Pine Bluff. However, the through coach between St. Louis and Dallas no longer operated by that time; through passengers had to change cars to the Memphis equipment between Brinkley and Pine Bluff. During the war years the Morning Star became strictly a Memphis to Dallas train, with through passengers to and from St. Louis handled in a nameless train Nos. 7 and 8. By the early 1950s the Morning Star had devolved into a St. Louis to Dallas through train, the Memphis connection to the Tennessean gone, which stopped for meals at Jonesboro, Pine Bluff Shops, and Texarkana. It would cease to exist as a named train with Cotton Belt's reorganization of passenger service in November of 1952.