SAM Shortline Railroad, Cordele


the Depot in Plains was completed in 1888. by the 1920's 6-10 thousand bales of cotton were shipped from here annually. It's been restored to its 1976 appearance as Jimmy Carter's Presidential campaign headquarters. To the right is the SAM Shortline railroad.
the Depot in Plains was completed in 1888. by the 1920’s 6-10 thousand bales of cotton were shipped from here annually. It’s been restored to its 1976 appearance as Jimmy Carter’s Presidential campaign headquarters. To the right is the SAM Shortline railroad.

It used to be the main way we traveled, but now there are few passenger trains left. One that remains in central Georgia is now mostly for day-trippers and tourists. The SAM Shortline is now operated by the Heart of Georgia Railroad using completely enclosed and air conditioned passenger cars. The name “SAM Shortline” derives from the original railroad’s name, the Savannah, Americus and Montgomery, and from the name of the line’s founder and president, Colonel Samuel Hugh Hawkins, a prominent 19th century Sumter County capitalist.

Downtown Plains, GA
Downtown Plains, GA

I’d been looking for an excuse to take a trip on this railroad, but hadn’t found a reason to drive almost 3 hours south of Atlanta. A co-worker’s funeral services were scheduled for Saturday evening in Tifton (even farther south), so I decided to make a day of it. That meant leaving at 6:30a to make a 9:45a train departure (yawn!). This day was the “Conductor’s Favorite Train Ride.” It leaves from the Georgia Veterans State Park platform, drops you in Plains, GA for an hour, then heads back. The scenery was soggy golf courses, small towns, pecan orchards and roadsides creeping with kudzu, but it was pleasant and a very stable ride. I got a coach seat for $29.99 plus tax. Fancier seating is available. Premium seats are $37.99 in the Americus Car (which was empty this rainy day) or you can have a Lounge seat in the Historic Hawkins car for $41.99.

Downtown Plains, GA.
Downtown Plains, GA.
SAM Shortline3
The train is run primarily by volunteers.

The train runs most Saturday and Sundays in season, plus special event days. The “Conductor’s Favorite” is the shortest of the routes (which is probably why it’s the favorite?) and leaves from the park. There are other departure points, such as the Cordele Depot. Make sure to check the schedule! You can book tickets on line, but I found it difficult to find the link. You can also call to book the ticket. Since I was booking less than 24 hours before the trip, I called. Just over 100 passengers were on the train this rainy day, about half of the previous week.

The train is staffed almost entirely by volunteers and I was surprised as how many there were. Each car had about 3. Just the engineer and a couple others are staff positions, so most of the positions are run by volunteers. I have no idea how they attract so many. There is a kitchen car, with hot dogs, popcorn, local pecans, toys, candy and drinks of all kinds.

A visit to Plains means a variety of peanut treats, like this peanut butter ice cream with chocolate swirls. It's also the heart of pecan country.
A visit to Plains means a variety of peanut treats, like this peanut butter ice cream with chocolate swirls. It’s also the heart of pecan country.

It took under 2 hours to get to Plains, GA for our one hour stop. It’s a small, old fashioned downtown still visibly proud of being the hometown of a former US President. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter still make their home there. The Depot has been restored to look like it did in 1976 when it was the Presidential headquarters for Carter. I had a grilled cheese and a bowl of peanut ice cream for lunch with tea for about $10 including tax and tip. I sat at a community table in the small restaurant and visited with guests and volunteers alike.

This is a good ride for the family. These are the coach seats.
This is a good ride for the family. These are the coach seats.

It’s a trip I can recommend for those looking for an easy day in comfortable, friendly surroundings.

History of SAM

The tracks date to about a decade before the Civil War. Following the SAM’s arrival, Cordele quickly became known as the “Hub City” of the region, as three other railroad mainlines pushed through the new town—the Georgia, Southern and Florida (Norfolk Southern), the Albany, Florida and Northern (abandoned), and the Atlanta, Birmingham and Atlantic (CSX). The SAM also helped to spawn the development of towns in the sparsely populated lands east of Cordele. Growing settlements were given names like Seville, Rhine, and Lyons as a result of the Hawkins family’s recent travels in Europe.

But the boom times were quickly over.  The SAM Railroad was placed into receivership in December 1892. Though railroads continued, the entire area went into a slow decline. In late 1999 and early 2000 with the threat of abandonment looming large, the State of Georgia (Department of Transportation) stepped in to purchase the remaining sections of the line. The state had previously purchased the portion of the old SAM mainline from Helena to Vidalia, that part of the line having been operated by the Georgia Central Railroad.

For some time, residents of Plains, including former President Jimmy Carter, have dreamed of operating a passenger train to bring tourists to their community. After much lobbying, that dream became a reality when the State of Georgia created the Southwest Georgia Railroad Excursion Authority during the 2000 session of the General Assembly. The purpose of the Authority is to develop and oversee the operation of a passenger excursion train to run from Crisp County through Sumter County. Thus was reborn the SAM Shortline, and after more than two years of careful planning, track rehabilitation, and equipment acquisition, passenger trains began rolling once again down the historic mainline!

Managed by the Department of Natural Resources, the SAM Shortline’s trains are operated by two qualified Heart of Georgia Railroad engineer/conductors, a qualified SAM conductor and trainman, and a staff of volunteer car hosts and commissary car workers. The excursion train is powered by the HOG’s locomotives, primarily #1209 and #1309, modified EMD GP-9’s. Most of the passenger cars were purchased from the Maryland Area Rapid Commuter Agency and were originally Budd stainless steel sleepers of Norfolk and Western and Pennsylvania Railroad heritage. They were acquired by MARC and converted into coaches for commuter train use.

Samuel H. Hawkins historic train car.
Samuel H. Hawkins historic train car.

Among the most historic pieces of equipment operated by the SAM Shortline is the “Samuel H. Hawkins.” Named for the original SAM’s founder and president, tavern-observation car #1508 was built by Budd in 1939 and ran on the Florida East Coast Railway as the “Bay Biscayne” before becoming the 6607 on the Seaboard’s passenger car roster.

Peruvian chicken in Decatur, La Brasas

La Brasas has no indoor seating, just some iron patio furniture outside. With the cool weather this week it was an easy place to sit and eat, but most of their business is take-out.
La Brasas has no indoor seating, just some iron patio furniture outside. With the cool weather this week it was an easy place to sit and eat, but most of their business is take-out.

You can get decent rotisserie chicken at most grocery stores these days, but there’s something special about the Peruvian chicken at La Brasas, a hole-in-the-wall, red brick shack on a Decatur side street. The bird always comes out juicy and tender. You have to eat it with your hands for a true experience! In addition to perfectly cooked chicken (just $3.99 for a quarter, dark meat) the corn on the cob is very good (as explained to me by a preschooler who said he and his mother just couldn’t wait for daddy to get there and had to go ahead an eat their dinner).  What I love is their cold potatoes with a spicy, cheese sauce. The Huancaina Sauce (pronounced: wan-KAY-eena) is the perfect foil to bland, sliced potatoes. It’s garnished with a single black olive and half a hard boiled egg. It’s really filling. I found this recipe that looks close to what I’ve tasted.

La Brasas, 2

It’s hard to beat a little red brick, hole-in-the-wall restaurant like this. Great prices, Great food. Nice folks. It’s a limited menu and don’t expect any “atmosphere.” Most people call in a to-go order because the only dining is on the front patio. Parking in the back.

La Brasas

310 East Howard Avenue

Decatur, GA 30030


Exploring Woodmen of the World grave markers at Oakland Cemetery


This is part of my occasional series on history, by studying Oakland Cemetery.

If you visit cemeteries often, you’ve probably noticed the tree stone monuments. Several can be seen in Oakland cemetery. Two organizations are given credit for their proliferation, Modern Woodmen of America and Woodmen of the World.

Joseph Cullen Root originally founded Modern Woodmen of America (MWA) in January, 1883. After heated arguments, Root was thrown out of the group. Root then organized Woodmen of the World, in 1890, which is perhaps better known. Root wanted to create a fraternal benefit society that would “bind in one association the Jew and the Gentile, the Catholic and the Protestant, the agnostic and the atheist.” He used the name ‘woodmen’ because he was inspired by a sermon that talked about “woodmen clearing the forest to provide for their families.” The Woodmen of the World organization is probably best known for its gravestones. From 1890 to 1900, WOW’s life insurance policies provided for special grave markers, free of charge for members. From 1900 to the mid- 1920’s, members purchased a $100 rider to cover the cost of the monument. By the mid-20’s, the organization had discontinued the grave marker benefit due to cost.



The society designed a four to five foot high tree trunk monument pattern for adults and three stacked logs for children. WOW would send a copy of the pattern to the local stone carver in the deceased woodman’s hometown, so that all of the tree stones would be similar in appearance, though they were not identical. Other decorations were added to the tree trunk to make each marker more individualistic. Many times, the tree stone pattern was altered; sized differently, cut in a different manner, or branches were added or broken off each time a family member was buried. Many of these tree show sawed or broken limbs traditionally symbolizing a life cut short.

An occupation or hobby in the wood industry has never been required to be a member of Woodmen of the World. Still, the main symbols found on the tree stones include axes, mauls, wedges, any type of tool used in woodworking. Doves became popular as well. The WOW motto “Dum Tacet Clamet” meaning, “Though silent, he speaks” was often inscribed as well.

WOW later created a simpler template of a log that would rest atop a regular gravestone. Members could order the log to be placed on a deceased woodman’s regular grave marker. A woodman emblem is now available and can be attached to a regular gravestone.


Further History

In one of the best known events in the Woodmen’s history, the company launches first a radio staion and in in 1949, a television station. One of WOW-TV’s first performers was local resident, Johnny Carson, who had a daily show called The Squirrel’s Nest. Meredith Corporation bought out the radio and TV station in 1958. In 1999, the Journal Broadcast Group from Milwaukee purchased the stations and the historic call letters were changed.


Woodmen of the World is one of the largest fraternal benefit society with open membership in the United States. The not for profit organization provides not only insurance, but also investment, bonds, real estate and mortgage loans to its members. Its 2010 financial performance included gross revenue of $1.2 billion. WOW is active in local communities, providing aid to senior citizens, the physically impaired and orphans. Woodmen of the World has partnered with the American Red Cross to provide disaster relief nationwide. Woodmen of The World Life Insurance Society is located in Omaha, NE.

Even though monument benefits have not been included in the WOW package for years, the society makes sure that “no Woodmen shall rest in an unmarked grave.” A fitting tribute to WOW members, and a brilliant way to augment those striking and outstanding tree stone monuments into cemeteries everywhere.

More information

More history is available in a blog post by Joy Neighbors Woodmen of the World and the Tree Stone Grave Markers

And another blog post by Joyce M. Tice explains Woodmen burial rituals655025668_7ef1bb85dd

Update on my dream: Progress!


I’ve shared my goals with you. I fondly call it Plan B. But here it is in a nutshell:

  • Sell/give away my non-portable belongs to be free to travel more
  • Save a nest egg so I have something to fall back on between “adventures”
  • Hike the entire Appalachian Trail summer of 2014
  • Teach English in different countries, as a way to travel around the world
  • Blog about it here
  • Find a way to monetize the website, mainly selling ebooks, tour services

I’d like to share an update for those of you who are following along. I’ve made some great progress!

My townhome is a single family dwelling again: For the last couple years, I’ve split my house so that I live in about 500 square feet in the basement and a renter had the top two floors. This has helped me pay down my mortgage. The renter is out! She left a mess, including gouges in the wood floor and I suspect she had NEVER vacuumed. But the floors have been refinished and the carpets professionally cleaned. I’ve scrubbed, polished, and pressure washed, so everything looks better than it has in years. My handyman has just a couple minor things left so that it’s in perfect shape.

House is listed! I’ve found a realtor, Lisa Thompson of Coldwell Banker. She shared with me the sales in my area for the last several months and it’s clear that homes are moving and prices are rising. We listed it for more than I’d hoped, based on similar sales in the area. Keep your fingers crossed and pass the info along to anyone who is in the market for a condo in North Atlanta.

Here are the sales details

I’ve found a room to rent A dear friend has promised to let me rent a room when the house sells. This will be cheaper than finding an apartment. I wish it were a little closer to work, but you can’t have everything. I do love the neighborhood.

Reduce, Sell, Giveaway I’ve been reducing my stuff for so long it’s second nature now. When I can, I’ve sold thingsIt’s not all gone perfectly, and it’s amazing how much a person hangs onto. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to do this slowly because doing it all at once would have been quite a shock to the system. You think that reducing your stuff will be a physical challenge and it is. But it’s much more a mental challenge. And, I really prefer giving stuff away.

Backpacking Gear I’ve selected all the major backpacking gear I’ll need for a hike next year of the Appalachian Trail (that 2, 186 miles, folks!). I’ve asked for 6 months off from my day job (all my vacation time plus time off without pay), but realistically, I won’t get it. If I want to hike, I have to be willing to quit.

Savings Goal, almost there! I’m very close to meeting my saving goal. I should have the goal met by the end of the calendar year. Additionally, I have goals for saving vacation time and sick leave. Those are on track too.

Blogging I started this blog in April 2013. This week I posted my 100ith article. I’m also close to finishing an ebook.

I’ve been busy.

AND I’ve planned in a little escape for myself in the near futue. I’m going to Iceland! More on this later.

Why We Need Nomads

If you’ve read my About page, you understand that I’m working very hard to become homeless. Well, at least to own no permanent home. I’ll be a nomad, living in a place for days, weeks, maybe a year at a time. I’ve stopped wanting “things” so much as experiences and connections to other. Some of my friends are mystified. They don’t get it at all. Well, I’m not trying to convert anyone. I could be wrong. It might all end in tears, but I don’t think so. It could also be wonderful and the best thing I ever did. I only have me to worry about and so I have no real obstacles holding me back. And I know in my heart that I’ll always be disappointed if I don’t try.

I found this post at a blog called Vanessa Runs. The article is Why We Need Nomads.

Vanessa says, “In a society that demands a purpose and a rational explanation for any expenditure of energy, nomads represent travel, movement, and adventure as worthwhile pursuits in themselves.”

The entire article is well written and I can relate to virtually every sentence. I wish I’d said it all myself. But this section is what I loved most:

This is the question that Ben Saunders attempted to answer in his 2012 TED talk. Saunders is a polar explorer and the youngest person to ever ski solo to the North Pole. He ponders his purpose of nomadic travel: 

“Nothing will come of it,” he wisely admits. “We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, and not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. So it is no use. If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy, and joy, after all, is the end of life. We don’t live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means, and that is what life is for.”

And she ends with this poem:

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,

To gain all while you give,

To roam the roads of lands remote:

To travel is to live.”

– Hans Christian Andersen