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Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Mastodon

I have three more post cards of a water craft carrying a train. It is the “Mastodon”
barge that was used by the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) to ferry trains across the Mississippi River just up river from New Orleans.
So far, my research has told me that the barge was around between 1910 and 1930, but it could have been built long before that because the SP went all the way to New Orleans. In 1892, they proposed the building of a bridge across the Mississippi to facilitate their trains crossing the river. Unfortunately, a depression hit the United States and put a stop to that idea.
So, from about 1910 to the mid-1930s the SP ran the trains across the Mississippi on the Mastodon, the Southern Pacific Railroad's ferryboat, powered by tugboats. The barge took the Sunset Limited passenger train across the Mississippi River from the SPRR dock at Elmira Street (in what is today referred to as Avondale) to the Elysian Fields terminal on the New Orleans side.
It was a journey of about ½ mile.
The barge operated close to 10 miles up-river of New Orleans. The area where it operated is close to 2.5 to 3 miles west of the current Huey P. Long bridge. The Huey P. Long bridge was built in the mid-1930s and it incorporated both rail and vehicular traffic. This would have quickly ended the career of the Mastodon.
Today, this bridge is a huge railfan location and one can find post cards of trains crossing on the Huey P. Long bridge just like there are post cards of the trains crossing on the Mastodon.
Unfortunately, when I turn the post cards over, I can find no information about the publishers or the printers of these cards. On the front of the top post card, there is a number in the bottom right hand corner. It is 617-7. If I knew more about the personalities of each publisher or printer, I could tell you who published this card. I do know that it is from the Divided Back Era, so it is from March 1, 1907 to 1915, more or less. This corroborates the guestimate above, which I picked up from the University of Texas files of pictures of the Mastodon. The middle picture gives us no hints about the printer or publisher on the front, but there is a number at the bottom middle of the card: R-53960. I know that Curt Teich used a similar numbering system for one set of the cards he printed. I believe that it was E. C. Kropp from Milwaukee used a very similar system. The bottom post card has the number 104 in white on the bottom left of the front of the card. It is the only card that also includes the now familiar description of the front of the card on the back upper left corner. However, none of this helps me to identify the printer or publisher of this post card. Alas, I can only sit back and admire their handiwork.


  1. The Mastodon was built by New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden NJ in 1909. At 360' long and 50' wide, it was the largest car float of its time.

  2. Elmira Street is in Algiers. The Southern Pacific yard was in Algiers, a couple blocks from Elmira St. and basically bisected Algiers, the west bank part of incorporated New Orleans. Even though the yard has been gone for 40+ years, it's swath is just now, in the last 15 years beginning to be developed. The S.P. ran the length of greater New Orelans' west bank from Avondale where the Mastodon would be just upriver from the Huey P. Long Bridge to the Algiers yard where another "incline" ferry crossed the river to the depot at Elysian Fields.


If you know anything about the history of the cards, the trains or the locations, please add them.