In one of my previous articles from July, I shared a little bit about my grandpa’s train that now sits at the Collier County Museum. In this one, I wanted to elaborate about the history of his train and the company that logged cypress trees from the swamp.
To learn about the history of the Deuce and my grandpa, I interviewed my dad, Parker Oglesby, who was the youngest of Cecil and Piccola Oglesby’s six children. My grandpa, Cecil Oglesby Sr., was in his 20s when he began to work for the Lee Tidewater Cypress Company. At the time, he and my grandma were both unemployed. With no money coming in, they were worried about how they were going to put food on the table. Grandpa Cecil heard about the tradition Southerners do on New Year’s Day that provoked good luck and wealth, which is to cook and eat black eyed peas, hog jowls, and collard greens. So, observing the superstition, and despite finances being tight, this is exactly what they did on New Year’s Day. The following day, one of Cecil’s friends reached out to him and offered him a job for the Lee Tidewater Cypress Company. From then on, you can be certain they had that same meal every New Year’s Day!
My family has also carried on the tradition. My grandpa worked for the company out of Perry, Florida for several years and altogether he worked for the company for over forty years. His starting pay was $1.80 per day, which is interesting to think about since in today’s time that can barely get you a small order of fries from McDonalds! One day the company got offered an opportunity to come down to Collier County and log the Fakahatchee strand for the Cypress trees. So, my grandpa and grandma packed up their belongings, got in one of the box cars on the train and moved down to Lee Cypress. Grandpa Cecil worked from daylight until dark, Monday through Saturday, and when he moved to Lee Cypress he was promoted to engineer of Engine No. 2, also known as the Deuce, being paid 63 cents an hour.
The Deuce was known as the labor train, which carried the sawyers and girdlers to the logging sites that were in the swamp. The train would leave Copeland around 5:15 every morning and wouldn’t return until around 5:30 in the evening. When he would bring home the workers on the Deuce, he would blow the whistle a special way so my grandma Piccola would know that he was on his way home, and she would have supper cooked and ready by the time he got there. Riding on the train through the Fakahatchee was always an experience; grandpa Cecil would tell the family that there would always be deer, panthers, bears and all kinds of other wildlife out on the tracks and around them, trying to get away from the terrible bugs and mosquitoes. He would always have to blow the train’s whistle to scare them off of the tracks.
The money the workers were usually paid with when they moved to Lee Cypress were coins that had a ‘J’ stamped in them, which stood for CJ Jones Lumber Company. The workers along with my grandpa would have to use these coins to buy their groceries and such at the store in Copeland, because it was the only place that would take them. They got paid with a combination of these coins as well as the normal U.S. dollar. In 1957, the Lee Tidewater Cypress Company went out of business and when they shut down, my grandparents along with their first few children moved back up to Perry, Florida. The trains were all stationed in what was known as the “Red Barn” when the business shut down, until train collectors from around the country came and bought them all.
The Deuce was found by the museum when Collier County was constructing the exhibits, wanting to have one about the logging in the Fakahatchee. John Thompson, who was a train collector, owned the Deuce at the time and had donated the train to the museum in March of 1987. The Collier County Museum found out Cecil Oglesby Sr. operated the train and reached out to him, as well as the family, to see if anyone had any personal belongings they would like to add to the exhibit. Our family donated his engineer cap, the railroad lantern he used and even some of the coins known as “jiggle lou” that he was paid with.
When the museum was planning the grand opening, they asked my grandpa Cecil if he would be the one to cut the ribbon, but he passed away before he could do so. The museum still wanted someone in the family to cut the ribbon, so my grandma Piccola was the one who did the honor. The majority of our family was there for the grand opening back in the ‘80s, to support my grandma and remember my grandpa on the special day.
If you are interested in learning more about the Deuce and the logging of the Fakahatchee, you can hop on the train that still stands at the Collier County Museum today!
University of Florida student Savannah Oglesby has lived in Everglades City her entire life. A lover of nature; some of her favorite things are sunsets, night lightning and mountains. She enjoys adventures and spending time with family, friends and two orange tabby cats. She also enjoys travelling, taking photos of nature, learning about extreme weather and seeing the world in different perspectives. Savannah’s love for Everglades City, and its history, is endless.