Handbills announcing the coming of this first regularly scheduled train had been printed in St. Louis and circulated in every town along the rail line between Iron Mountain and Poplar Bluff. Demonstrations of various kinds had been arranged for in several towns and an arrival time for the train at each point announced.
According to the schedule, the train would arrive at Piedmont at 9 in the morning of Oct. 10, 1871. A speaker's stand was set up near the depot and a plot of ground smoothed for the use of the band that would come along the train. Excursion rates to Poplar Bluff and return were announced and many tickets were sold.
Due to various operating delays, one of them being the running out of cordwood for fuel for the engine at Des Arc that necessitated the bringing of more wood from Gads Hill on push cars, the train did not arrive here until 2 in the afternoon.
That first train consisted of a small, diamond-stacked, wood burning locomotive; one baggage car; one express car; and two coaches, all the cars being open platform type. The train was crowded for the rear coach, -the official car, -carried not only the band; the president and vice president of the railroad, Jay Gould and Thomas Allen; Governor Benjamin Gratz Brown of Missouri and members of his staff; but also food and drink for the official party.
The other coach was for passengers, some of whom also became mixed in with the official party at various stops along the line after the liquid refreshments began to take effect and class and other distinctions fell crashing. During the more than two-hour delay at Des Ark it is reported that Allen went among the passengers in the public coach inviting the men passengers to join the official party and partake of the refreshments.
Many of them did, and it appears the members of the crew also were invited or came along without invitation. Probably that was before the days of Standard Rule G, for it appears that when the train did arrive at Piedmont everyone on it, -the men, at least, -was in a mellow mood.
When the train arrived at the Piedmont depot, the engine was detached from it and moved a short distance down the track to keep smoke and hot ashes from falling on the gathered celebrants. There was some mistake of judgment made in the placing of the engine which resulted in considerable confusion a little later.
But there was confusion right at the start. The band was unloaded and grouped, a little bit raggedly, it is reported, on the cleared space and started the music promptly. From reports coming down to us from more than 80 years ago it appears the music was at least loud if not entirely harmonious. But no one cared, least of all the Governor of Missouri who was experiencing exceeding difficulty.
It appears Governor Brown had prepared several speeches for the several occasions of train stoppage of that day. Due, no doubt, to the many stops made, the large number of people he was required to meet and greet, and possibly, to some misjudgment as to the potency of the alcoholic refreshments taken he read the speeches at various stops, then discarded them.
At Piedmont it appeared that somewhere along the line the wrong speech had been discarded. the Governor was sure it had not been, for he had been reading and practicing it at Des Arc. But it could not be found and the Governor could not remember what it was he wanted to say at Piedmont.
The Official party and members of the crew, who had heard the practice session of it at Des Arc, were called together to help the Governor remember. No one could be of much help. In the meantime the band played and played; the crowd grew restless.
And then the speech was found. The conductor had it; had picked it up with other papers outside the station at Des Arc.
It is unfortunate no one now is living who remembers what the Governor said that day. One living person who was present remembers he started to read the speech, found some trouble that way and finally threw it to the winds and just talked. this person says it was a good speech but he doesn't remember what was said.
From the surrounding circumstances it seems some oratory that well might have been immortal was lost that day.
During the course of the Governor's oration the confusion became even greater; so great, in fact, he gave up and quit talking until the immediate trouble could be controlled. It has been mentioned that the engine, a quite distinguished little locomotive named "Helen Gould" and bearing the number, No. 1, had been set some distance away from the train.
It just happened that it had been left sitting just under the water tank, a wooden structure; and sparks from the fire had set the tank on fire. Since fires almost always are more interesting than the speeches of politicians, the Governor was forced to wait for the end of the more thrilling excitement.
This was the first time a railroad train brought a high public official to Piedmont and from almost every standpoint one of the most successful of such visits. In later years, Governors and former Governors; Senators and former Senators, and even candidates for President of the United States came here by train. But all of these filled speaking engagements at places other than the railroad depot.
At one time a President of the United States was scheduled to speak from the rear platform of a train here, or so local members of his party believed. The train was due to arrive some time after dark and quite a delegation was at the station to meet it and hear the President. But something went wrong with that deal also.
Alas the train did not stop!
Despite the lateness of the hour, -it was nearly 4 in the afternoon, -when all was ready to proceed southward a large number of Piedmont folk rode it on to Poplar Bluff. Two more stops were made for speech making, one at Mill Spring and one at Williamsville. These took up more time and the return train did not get the Piedmont excursionists home until well after midnight.
But to those who made the trip, the loss of sleep was well paid for by the thrill of riding that first regularly scheduled train. Others who missed their chance regretted it more and more as the years went by.
Truly Oct. 10, 1871 was a great day in and for Piedmont and one that remained in memory as long as life continued for a great many Piedmontians.