Railroads in Alabama — Columbus and Western built through Vincent to Leeds

St Clair County, Alabama | A History of Railroads 1916-1965

Columbus and Western Railway plotted to build their line in 1887 from Childersburg to Pell City and then west to Birmingham. But landowners resisted and Columbus and Western built through Vincent to Leeds instead. Columbus and Western was the line were the most famous event in railroad history occurred. John Henry raced the Ingersoll/Sergeant steam powered rock drill in September of 1887 on the southeastern side of Oak Mountain where Oak Tunnel is now located near Leeds. John Henry drove his steel rods by hand 13 feet and nine inches into solid rock while the steam powered mechanical drill only reached a depth of nine feet. But the real story had a twist. The rock drill used compressed air for drilling in underground mines and steam power for building tunnels. Old timers say the salesman demonstrated the air compressed rock drill to the owners of local coal mines the day before, and had to switch to kerosene tanks to heat water for the steam drill to work, so he had problems during the race keeping the steam flowing. John Henry died that hot day in September from heat complications and was buried near Oak Tunnel. The ill-fated steam drill was donated to the Margaret mine operations. Columbus and Western was absorbed by Central of Georgia.

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