Builders of Wooden Railway Cars ... and some of other stuff

Brinkley Car Works & Manufacturing Company

Gunn & Black

The partnership of Gunn & Black was into several different businesses. By 1879, It owned a sawmill near Brinkley, Arkansas, and a door, sash and blind factory in Memphis, Tennessee.

Brinkley—incorporated 6 August 1872—was a railroad town. It had been settled in 1852 by railroad workers on land granted to the Little Rock & Memphis Railroad at a point halfway between Little Rock and Memphis. As is common to Arkansas towns, it went by the charming name of “Lick Skillet” until its formal incorporation. {254}

On 1 July 1879, the partnership opened a three foot, six inch gauge rail line from its mill at Brinkley, 11 miles northwest to the town of Cotton Plant. Though it had no separate corporate entity, this private line was known as the Cotton Plant Railroad. {249}

Two years later, the three foot gauge Texas & St. Louis Railroad announced its intention to build northward from Texarkana, on the Texas/Arkansas border, northeast to Bird’s point, Missouri, opposite Cairo, Illinois, bringing this line through Brinkley. {250}

Gunn & Black reacted by incorporating its private railroad 16 Apr 1881 as the Cotton Plant Railroad. A few months later, they converted the line from three foot, six inch gauge to three foot gauge. {249}

A year later, on 22 June 1882, Gunn & Black organized the Batesville & Brinkley Railroad, with the stated intention of building north from Brinkley to Newton, Arkansas, on the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern main line, and then up the White River to Batesville. The Batesville & Brinkley Railroad—known locally as the Gunn & Black Railroad—probably a carry-over from its private days—immediately bought out the Cotton Plant Railroad and extended its line north from Cotton Plant, reaching Colona (25 miles) 1 January 1883, Tupelo (40 miles) 1 January 1884, Auvergne (48 miles) 1 November 1885, and Jacksonport (60 miles from Brinkley and 4 miles past Newton) 10 November 1886. {249}

For what reason we don’t yet know, the partnership was apparently ended in 1882, and was succeeded by the corporate Brinkley Car Works & Manufacturing Company. A local history attributes the later success of this business to “Major Black,” with no mention of Mr. Gunn. {251}

We cannot determine from that history on what basis the one entity replaced the other. At one place it says the partnership “sold out.” At another it says the partnership “was dissolved.” And at another simply says it was the successor. [But see below.]

It is hard to determine from the local history which activities were attributable to Black himself and which to the Brinkley Car Works & Manufacturing Company, so we shall let it {252} speak for itself  —

“... It at several times had large railroad contracts, building about twenty-five miles of the Little Rock & Memphis Railroad, and about forty miles of the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas Railroad. He built what is known as the W. & B. R. V. Railroad as far as Tupelo, Ark. He built the Brinkley & Helena Railroad, and at the time of his death was busily engaged in extending the road through to Indian Bay, about twenty miles of which was ready for iron.”

The Batesville & Brinkley Railroad owned five or six locomotives, but we don’t know yet how many cars, nor of what type. {249}

By the time the Batesville & Brinkley reached Jacksonport, the Texas & St. Louis Railroad had built its line through Brinkley to standard gauge, so the Batesville & Brinkley converted its three foot line to standard gauge. [249]

The aforementioned local history, published in 1891, had this to say about the  Brinkley Car Works & Manufacturing Company {253}  —

“... they have a pay role of some 260 persons, 120 of whom are employed at the saw-mill in the woods, and cut down 68,000 feet of timber per day, the rest being employed in constructing railroads and in the general car repair shop. Every facility incident to this particular industry is embraced within the works, the tools and machinery being of the most modern and improved kind, and only skillful and experienced workmen are employed. This company ships about 220 carloads of lumber, consisting of flooring, shingles, moldings, lath, pickets, doors and window sashes, per mouth, to Memphis, Tenn., where they have one of the leading lumber establishments in the city, it having been established through the efforts of the late Maj. Black. Prior to Mr. Black's decease, which occurred in September, 1889, he was president and director of the company, with O. M. Norman, manager, and H. H. Myers, secretary and treasurer, but after his death Mr. Norman was made president, director and manager, and Mr. Myers became secretary, treasurer and director. This company also owns the Brinkley, Helena & Indian Bay Railroad, and about 36,000 acres of land in Monroe County.”

In 1900, the line of the Batesville & Brinkley was leased to the Choctaw, Oklahoma & Gulf , and four years later that line was leased to the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific. {249}

Cast of Characters

William Black (1836-1889) was a native of Toronto, Canada, who came to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1856. He worked at ship carpentering for awhile before going into the grocery business. {251}

Black served in the Civil War, though with which side we haven't been able to determine. He participated in “all” the battles around Memphis, and apparently ended his service with the rank of Major. {252}

Soon after the war, he gave up his successful grocery business and went west across the Mississippi River about 65 miles into the Arkansas forests. There, in partnership with John Gunn, he set up a sawmill  just south of Brinkley. {252}

The mill was successful and was moved several times before becoming the Brinkley Car Works & Manufacturing Company in 1882. {251}

In 1884, he established the Brinkley Lumber Company in Memphis. {252}

At his death, Black was a director and stockholder in the Little Rock & Memphis Railroad, was president and principal owner of the Brinkley Car Works & Manufacturing Company, president of the Monroe County Bank, vice-president of the Brinkley Oil Mill Company, and principal owner of the business of T. H. Jackson & Co., “the largest mercantile firm in Eastern Arkansas.” {252}

John Gunn (1824?-1893+)  is a bit of a mystery. The only concrete evidence we have found to date is a blurb in the New York Times for 9 September 1893 that reports the following:

St. Louis, Mo., Sept. 8 — A voluminous transcript was filed in the United States court today. It came from the Western District of Arkansas. John Gunn of Shelby County, Tenn., states that he is an illiterate man, that he can scarcely read, and is able to write his name only by great effort, though he is worth over a million. He was in business in Helena, Ark., with William Black, who acted as manager, and was also President and General Manager of the Brinkley Car Works and Manufacturing Company. Now he wants the court to recover about $100,000 that he alleges he was “book-keepered” out of.

The Southern Business Guide for 1879-80 lists a Gunn & Black door, sash and blind factory. But it also lists a Gunn & Fagan foundry and machine shop. Could this have been the same Gunn? If so, our John Gunn may be the same as is listed in the 1880 census as running a paper factory and machine shop and in the 1890 census

Can you tell us more? Please do!

09 April 2006

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