April 17, 2007
Worth Co. -- Many people don't really care about learning more history, perhaps because they remember their school days when they memorized dates and events and wondered how the information would help them.
But two good friends find that history, especially local history, brings them a lot of joy, even though it took them four years to find something that was almost lost forever.
Sometimes the woods hold secrets that take special people with patience and determination to find out. "Local history is fascinating," says Albert Potts as he walks up a wooded incline.
Albert and his buddy, Bob Gressette, get to explain historical unknowns. "A lot of people I know didn't know anything about this," says David Bryan, a farmer whose land holds an interesting part of history that goes back to the 1840s.
A half-century ago Bob Gressette heard of a railroad that ran near his home, that had a noble purpose-to connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Gulf of Mexico. "Make this area more accessible to the outside world. Farmers could sell their crops and settlers could buy supplies," says Bob.
He didn't feel satisfied with just reading about the Ocmulgee and Flint Railroad, also known as The Brisbane Railroad. "I wanted to see physical evidence of it," says Bob who invited his friend, Albert, to join him.
They spent fours years, off and on, walking through woods, looking for a track bed more than 150 years old. "Yes, exactly," says Bob.
Would they recognize it when they saw it? A lot can happen in a 150 years. "We don't think any rails were ever laid," says Bob.
That made it harder to find. Solid, wooded areas, no open fields made it an almost impossible undertaking to build and almost impossible to later find.
They questioned themselves. "What in the world am I doing here," says Albert.
Thanks to Bob and Albert's diligence, they found 76 miles of track bed in South, Central Georgia between the Okmulgee and Flint Rivers.
The railroad plans called for it to start near Jacksonville, GA, go through Irwinville and end Albany. "Seventy-six miles. We've walked it several times. Back and forth, back and forth," says Albert.
They found the track bed didn't go in a straight line either. "It went the most efficient way," says Bob.
When they found parts of the track bed, it remained in good condition. "We think that it was all done by hand. No animals at all," says Albert. Workers used brute force to move the earth with shovels and labored from sunup until sundown. "It was a tremendous effort all this work done by hand," says Albert.
All that hard, manual labor went for nothing. The railroad never made it. "Money was a big factor," says Bob, going broke before the rails were laid.
All good adventures must come to an end. "Absolutely. It's been a highlight of my life," says Albert as he walked down the embankment.
A historical highlight where something old and almost forgotten became new again.
The pair started another journey of discovery, following the path of one of the first surveyed roads from Jacksonville, Georgia to Tallahassee, Florida.