Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Nancy Hanks: A Horse Of A Different Color

When I moved to Savannah in 1977 people were still talking about "The Nancy." It was the familiar name for "The Nancy Hanks II." a daily Central of Georgia train that ran round trip from Savannah to Atlanta. Abraham Lincoln's mother seemed like an odd choice as a name for anything in the South until I quickly learned that Nancy Hanks was also a record breaking trotting mare at the turn of the 20th century.

Nancy Hanks in 1892 shortly after her record breaking run

In fact, the Central of Georgia Railroad is best remembered for two trains named after famous race horses, the other being the much better known, Man o' War (1917-1947). That train made two 117 mile runs a day from Atlanta to Columbus. But it is The Nancy that gained fame among Georgians. The name was first used on a short-lived train in 1892-93. It was revived in 1947 and remained in use until 1971 when railroad across the nation ended virtually all of their passenger service. The train featured reserved-seat deluxe coaches, a grille and lounge car, a dome car in its later years, and maid service. The color scheme was a mix of blue and gray inside and out with a logo on each car.

The Nancy Hanks at Wadley, Georgia, in 1948

At 7:00 a.m. every day "The Nancy" pulled out of the Central of Georgia Depot and Train Shed in Savannah for its 294 mile, five hour and forty minute run to Atlanta. For twenty years the train was popular with a wide variety of travelers ranging from businessmen to children on school field trips to families visiting relatives and friends to shoppers - the famous Rich's flagship store was across the street from the Atlanta Terminal. Day-trippers had about four hours of useful time before they had to return to the terminal for the 6:00 p.m. departure and return to Savannah. By the late '60's improved highways, government regulations, labor issues, taxes, and subsidized competition spelled the end of privately-owned passenger rail service across the country, a service that had rarely made a profit for railroads for decades. So it was with The Nancy Hanks II. She made her last run on April 30, 1971 just one day before the creation of Amtrak, a publicly funded rail passenger service. 

Twenty-four years earlier, on July 17, 1947, The Nancy Hanks II made her first run from the Georgia coast across the blistering midland to the state capital. Today, people still talk fondly about that trip. Some would be thrilled at the prospect of taking it again. Should a ride on The Nancy Hanks III become a reality I hope to be among them on their journey across Georgia.

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Atlanta's Terminal Station in 1955. Demolished 1972.


Photos and illustrations:
Kentuckiana Digital Library


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