Pieces of the old Rogue River Valley Railway still survive to this day.

Smoochin' on the Rogue River Railway — the little engine that couldn't

Johnny Barnum was busting his buttons, walking down the aisle and taking tickets. His story had been printed in newspapers across the country and the 13-year-old was a national sensation.

"The youngest railroad conductor in the world," of 1893, he dressed the part from head to toe. He wore a swallow-tail coat over a white shirt and a buttoned up vest, and, though his black tie was loose and his shoes a bit scuffed, the lettering on his oversized hat told the world that this little man was: "Conductor — RRVR" (Rogue River Valley Railway).

Chugging the six miles between Medford and Jacksonville on an unpredictable schedule, the RRVR had been in business since 1891.

The rules on the car were simple and Barnum had no problem enforcing them. There was no smoking while riding and no one could spit on the floor.

The local newspaper marveled at what a good job he was doing.

"He's taking lessons in the guttural rendition of 'TICK-ETS' and pays as little attention to the passengers as does the average real man conductor."

As it often does, the trouble came in the form of teenagers. Pretty young Jacksonville girls quickly discovered that handsome young boys were catching the last roundtrip coach in the evening. As slow as the train traveled, the opportunity for some serious smooching was just too good to pass up. Johnny learned to look the other way.

His father was William S. Barnum, chief engineer, general manager and eventual owner of the line. He was an energetic and cantankerous character with a foot-long white beard and could probably work up more steam than his railroad ever would.

Before Johnny started to help, Barnum had to do just about everything. He'd stand on the platform, shout, "All aboard," then take off his conductor's hat, run up to the front of the train, stoke the engine's boiler with wood and set the throttle on low.

While the train crawled along the track, Barnum donned his conductor's hat again, leaped off the train, waited for the last car to pass, then jumped on the rear platform and entered through the back door.

He collected everyone's tickets, climbed over the tender car and into the locomotive. There he drove the train until he had to play conductor again.

If only the train had kept to its schedule. No matter what engine Barnum bought or what he tried to do, the railroad became a laughing stock.

The nicknames grew increasingly sarcastic. It was the "Tea Kettle," then the "Cannonball," the "Jerkwater," the "Rogue River Fast Mail," and finally the "Toonerville Trolley" — taken from a rickety old commuter car featured in a popular comic strip.

By 1926, it was all over. Johnny moved to Portland and Barnum sold the railroad to the city of Medford.

With no more late-night smoochin' on the Jacksonville Cannonball, teenagers had to get creative with their social interactions. Anyone who's ever been a teenager knows it probably didn't take very long.

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at

Correction: The original version of this story mistakenly referred to the information center as a replica of the depot. It is in fact the old depot.

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