The Sandersville Railroad is a privately held shortline railroad with a long history of providing excellent freight service to Washington County. The railroad's nickname is The Kaolin Road.
The Sandersville Railroad has achieved some of the highest standards of any shortline railroad in the United States. With 10 miles of mainline track the railroad operates a modern fleet of locomotives and railcars. Its customer service is technologically driven and provided with a personal touch.
The Sandersville Railroad interchanges four times a day with the Norfolk Southern in Tennille. Its freight moves on one of Norfolk Southern's 13 through trains on the same day it is delivered to Tennille. The railroad has a repair shop located in downtown Sandersville.
The following history of the railroad is reprinted from www.sandersvillerailroad.com.
The Sandersville Railroad was organized in 1893 by a group of prominent local citizens because the town needed another railroad to compete with the Augusta Southern. The Central of Georgia was most helpful in getting the new company started because it gave the Central access to Sandersville. The new railroad was only three miles long and ran from Sandersville to Tennille.
In 1916, Ben Tarbutton was asked to take over the operation of the Sandersville Railroad by the organizing group. They were getting older and wanted a young businessman to run the company. The owners agreed to sell him the company at a favorable price if he agreed to operate it for five years. Back in those days, the railroad hauled freight, mail, express, and passengers.
In the 1930s, it was common practice for railroad officials to exchange passes for passenger rail travel allowing the recipient to ride for free. Ben Tarbutton wrote the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad and asked for a pass. The Pennsylvania Railroad president wrote back that the Pennsylvania covered many thousands of miles while the Sandersville Railroad went only three miles. Tarbutton replied, "Yes, that is true, but my railroad is just as wide!" Ironically, the Sandersville Railroad is still operating today while the Pensy is not!
Ben Tarbutton’s positive approach played a large role in his success in building the traffic base for the railroad and locating the kaolin plants on the Sandersville. These clay plants have been important customers for the railroad throughout its history.
In 1938, Champion Paper and Fiber Co. decided to develop its kaolin deposits in Washington County. Clarke Marion, Executive Vice President of Champion, requested that a study be made to determine the best location for their kaolin processing plant. An extensive report was prepared and presented to Mr. Marion. The report's first choice for the new plant was in Milledgeville on the Georgia Railroad. Second choice was in Oconee on the Central of Georgia, and third choice was in Sandersville. Mr. Marion studied the report carefully and said: “I do not care where the plant is built as long as it is on Ben Tarbutton's railroad." This was the beginning of the kaolin industry in Sandersville.
February 1941 - Sandersville Locomotive Shop
Champion's decision to locate its new facility on the three-mile short line gave others the confidence to follow. In 1940, United Clay Mines, now Kentucky-Tennessee Clay Company, built its plant in Sandersville. Burgess Washington Clay began operations in 1945, becoming Thiele Kaolin in 1947. Next to locate in Sandersville were Burgess Pigment and Georgia Pigment (now Imerys Pigments and Additives and J.M. Huber).
In 1958, Georgia Kaolin -- now also Imerys Pigments and Additives -- built its plant in Washington County. The year before, the railroad had built a six-mile rail extension to Kaolin, Georgia, where the Georgia Kaolin plant was built. This expansion of the railroad opened a whole new territory for industrial development and growth.
Ben Tarbutton laid the groundwork for the industrial development of the railroad. When he died in 1962, his sons, Ben Jr. and Hugh, assumed the responsibility for running the company. The brothers are still at the helm of the thriving short line today, along with their sons, Ben III and Charles.
Today, the railroad is fortunate to serve other customers in addition to the kaolin industry such as PolyPipe, Weyerhaeuser, and Crossties of Virginia. These industries provide many good jobs and a significant diversification for the community, as well as for the railroad.
The Sandersville Railroad could not have achieved the phenomenal growth of the last half century without the strong support of its customers, employees, Norfolk Southern, and local government.
Our loyal employees have worked hard through the years to aid us in our efforts to build a strong service-oriented company. They have stuck by us and helped make the railroad what it is today.
Of course, there would be no need for any of us without our customers. Through the years, we have worked together with a spirit of cooperation and witnessed the unparalleled growth of the clay industry and the corresponding prosperity for our whole community. We are very fortunate to have such outstanding friends and associates as customers.
Since the beginning of the company, we have had strong ties to our trunk line connection -- first the Central of Georgia, then Southern Railway, and now Norfolk Southern. The Norfolk Southern has provided excellent leadership in the industry and has been extremely cooperative in supporting the Sandersville Railroad and its customers.
The Sandersville Railroad has received marvelous assistance from the local community. The City of Sandersville, the City of Tennille, and Washington County have been extremely helpful in our industrial development activities by providing needed services when asked.
The Sandersville Railroad has a storied railroad tradition spanning more than 100 years. While we are very proud of our past, we are committed to the future growth of our business by remaining focused on providing top-notch service to our customers.