THE SANDERS-TROTTI TRAM COMPANY AND THE GULF, SABINE AND RED RIVER RAILROAD
Before the Kansas City Southern Railroad built south from Shreveport to Dequincy about 1895, Western Louisiana had old-growth pine timberlands totalling 25,000 square miles, with no rail transportation available to carry finished lumber to market. Loggers floated timber down the Calcasieu and Sabine rivers to sawmills at Lake Charles and Orange, but that activity would prove to be peanuts compared to the payrolls that sawmills in the Louisiana pineries would subsequently offer. Today the names of the ghost towns spawned by those magnificent forests are scarcely remembered and their histories are all but forgotten.
In 1905 the Sanders-Trotti Tram Company at Fields and Starks was Southwest Louisiana's largest logging firm, and the 100-mile long Gulf, Sabine and Red River Railroad was perhaps the longest logging tram road in the South.
The need for it arose in 1877, when two Pennsylvania lumbermen, H. J. Lutcher and G. Bedell Moore, moved to Orange to open a sawmill. Their first mill there was quite modest, but very quickly, it became wholly dependent upon the erratic movement of saw logs floated down the Sabine River. As the years passed, Lutcher and Moore Lumber Company purchased huge blocks of Louisiana timberlands, 260,000 acres in north Calcasieu and south Beauregard parishes, 60,000 acres of cypress swamplands near Lutcher in St. James Parish, as well as 100,000 acres in north Newton County, Texas.
In 1884, Lutcher-Moore began building the Gulf, Sabine and Red River Railroad east from Niblett's Bluff, La., north of Orange, and to that end, they completed twenty miles of logging tram road at first. In that year, they also shipped three locomotives and 40 log cars by steamboat from Orange to Niblett's Bluff to haul logs to be skidded into the Sabine River and floated down to Orange. In 1888, the company was using three locomotives, 175 loggers, and 80 tram cars to haul 800 logs to the river daily. By 1900 the loggers were consuming all the marketable timber on 25 acres of forest each day.
By 1894 the Lutcher and Moore Lumber Company owned a "lower mill," which cut 125,000 feet of lumber daily, and soon afterward, they added the "upper mill," with the company's daily appetite for logs increasing to 250,000 feet daily. The owners not only continued to buy whatever logs were available from the private contractors on the river, but they also tired of doing their own logging in Louisiana. Hence, they contracted in 1894 with J. E. Craddock and J. C. Arbogast, a firm which supplied Calcasieu Parish logs to the two Orange sawmills until 1903.
In that year, W. J. Sanders, W. J. Powell, E. C. Hart and others organized the Sanders-Trotti Tram Company, with a capital stock of $50,000, with intent to replace the previous contractor, Craddock and Arbogast. At that time, there were two logging camps at Fields and Starks (known originally as Stark) scattered along the Gulf, Sabine and Red River rails. Company headquarters was also maintained at Fields at first, along with the commissary, tenant houses, boarding house, blacksmith and machine shops, and school. In 1905 the headquarters and other buildings were transferred to Starks.
Only rarely was machinery sent away for repairs. Not only did the blacksmithing and machine departments build their own tram cars, they also repaired all locomotives and steam machinery. Loggers were not hired if they drank, and hence, saloons were taboo.
By 1905 the Red River main line trackage had increased to 100 miles, and additional miles of spur lines crowfooted out in all directions. By then there were ten locomotives and 161 tram cars in use on the line. The owners also used 15 teams of mules and 80 oxen for hauling logs on the eight-wheel wagons to the steam log loader. A team of oxen consisted of four yokes of eight oxen. Later a steam rehaul skidder was also used.
The operating department at Sanders-Trotti included W. T. Sanders, general manager; E. G. Hart, secretary and bookkeeper; W. C. Smith, commissary manager; Dr. J. H. Thompson, tram physician; W. J. Bilbe, woods foreman; Arthur McMahon, team foreman; Frank Smith, track foreman; Sam Isbell, saw foreman; Adam Mitchell, engineer of main line locomotive No. 7; V. Carter, engineer of locomotive No. 6; Marion Ashworth, engineer of No. 3; Charlie Molander, engineer of No. 4; W. T. Hantz, chief machinist; and C. T. Hereford, chief blacksmith.
As of 1905, Sanders-Trotti was supplying about two-thirds of the logs needed at the Orange mills. They employed 160 men in the forests, who sawed 260,000 feet of pine stumpage (log measure) daily. Logs were then hauled to the Niblett's Bluff skidway, where each log was branded with the Lutcher-Moore log brand before being skidded into the Sabine River. The monthly payroll was $8,500, and many of the loggers lived either in the boarding house or in the 35 company tenant houses at Fields. The commissary there stocked $7,500 worth of inventory at one time.
After being moved to Starks in 1905, the company headquarters remained there for many years. Logging on the Gulf, Sabine and Red River line continued at full pace until 1920, after which the daily rate was reduced, but its eventual doom was already foretold. After the Great Depression began in 1929 and lumber demand plummeted to a low ebb, the big band saws at the two Lutcher mills screeched to a halt for the last time, and the big lumber company sputtered and gave up the ghost. Later all remaining timber on the company lands was sold to the nearby Louisiana sawmills at Singer and Dequincy. A photograph that the author prizes shows the last lot of logs being rafted down the Sabine River in 1930 by the Lutcher-Moore raftsmen.