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The town of Sulphur Rock (Independence County) was the location of the nation’s last mule-drawn (also called bobtail) street car, which ceased operation in 1926. The demise of the street car line was considered so significant that it was commemorated by the United States Postal Service.
Sulphur Rock was bypassed by less than a mile when the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad was constructed in 1883. Only very poor roads connected the town to the railroad. To overcome that obstacle, local street car service was provided, with the Sulphur Rock Railway Company building that connection within two to six years after the railroad passed through, according to various sources.
The single track from the depot split before it reached Sulphur Rock, where it looped through downtown on either side of the highway. The Hill-Fontaine Cotton Company of St. Louis, Missouri, is credited with being the main promoter of the line. The company brought a street car from St. Louis, the first of two cars to operate in the line’s history. When nearby Batesville (Independence County) shuttered its trolley service around that time, one of its cars was apparently taken to Sulphur Rock for use there. The first operator was Sam Tuggle, who served until 1902. Tuggle was also the majority stockholder in the line in its later years. Other early operators were Will Northern (1902–1908) and Sterling Johnson (1908–1910).
John “Skipper John” Huddleston and Dick, the large white mule that powered the trolley for over sixteen years, were the most famous “partners” who operated the line. He took over the line’s lease in 1910, basing it at his Huddleston’s Hotel on Main Street. He and Dick kept the line operating beyond its prime as a novelty in its last years. In 1926, the old trolley and Dick were retired by Huddleston, who began hauling freight in a truck from the depot to the town.
That same year, the state highway department was planning for a Batesville to Newark (Independence County) road that would pass through Sulphur Rock. The trolley tracks hugged both sides of the old, narrow highway in town. Sam Tuggle, who still had control over the line though he no longer operated it, was not cooperative with the highway department in giving a right-of-way. When word got out that the highway department was considering bypassing the town in favor of another location, an act of vigilantism took place. One night in the summer of 1926, four local men pried up several sections of the tracks, thereby destroying any future of the line. Tuggle, realizing he was beaten, removed the rest of the track, and the highway was built through town. The trolley cars were said to have been in such bad shape that they were junked.
In recognition of the Sulphur Rock Street Car being the last bobtail trolley car in the United States, the Postal Service issued a first-class, twenty-cent commemorative stamp on October 8, 1983. It was one of a setenant (joined) block of four stamps depicting four streetcars from around the country. Reproduced as a line drawing, the side view of the trolley featured a white mule pulling the car guided by its operator and transporting several passengers.
The old trolley line is memorialized in the town. A community park was built in the mid-1980s on the site of the old Huddleston Hotel. Trolley Car Day, founded in the late 1980s, is an annual festival hosted in early summer by the townspeople. A replica trolley car pulled by mules plays a prominent part in that celebration.
For additional information:“Sulphur Rock’s Street Car.” Independence County Chronicle 7 (October 1965): 3–10.
“Days of Historic Sulphur Rock Car Line Are Numbered.” Newport Daily Independent. November 21, 1924, p. 1.
Robert D. CraigKennett, Missouri
Last Updated 11/8/2007
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