Communities: The Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore

  • Share
  • Read Later

"Everything is rosy in Rosebud." insists the official slogan of Rosebud, Texas—and the town newspaper proclaims it in each weekly issue. But Rosebud is really rotting. Along the main street, a dozen business places have shut up shop; the owners of many others would gladly sell out if there were any buyers around. A longtime Rosebud resident, Mrs. Howard Linn, recently showed a trace of the old "everything is rosy" spirit. "We've got a brand-new rest home," she said. "We've got two good hospitals. We've got two good funeral homes, one of them remodeled last year." Then she saw the drift of what she was saying. "Yes," she admitted. "It's a dead town. We know it."

Rosebud is just one among hundreds of similar towns, for across the U.S. the small town as such is dying. Only a few years ago, Niland, Calif., proudly called itself "The Winter Tomato Capital of the World." But Mexican growers, using cheap labor, invaded the U.S. winter tomato market, and Niland's prosperity collapsed. Since 1956 the number of tomato growers in the area has plunged from 300 to 28. Cars, trucks and farm equipment were abandoned by their owners, are now rusting into worthless junk. One of Niland's remaining tomato farmers recalls that during the peak of the season he used to put $20,000 a week into the bank. Now, even the bank is closed.

Going Nowhere. The towns most vulnerable to devastating declines are those that, like Niland, depend upon a single basic source of income. The classic case is the mining community whose veins of ore play out. Although Arizona is booming, and the population of Phoenix has quadrupled during the past ten years, at the edge of the once bustling Arizona copper town of Jerome* stands a sign proclaiming it a ghost town (see cut).

For many a little town across the U.S., the basic economic resource was the railroad. Competition from trucks has made short-haul, small-load freight uneconomic for railroads, and many small-town stops have been abandoned. The Central of Georgia used to stop at Coffee Springs, Ala., and the town made a living by ginning and shipping cotton. But the railroad ripped out the tracks that ran through Coffee Springs, and today weeds grow in what used to be busy streets. "We're going nowhere," says a longtime Coffee Springs resident. "There's nowhere we want to go." Similarly, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad drastically curtailed service to New Ulm, Texas. The town, which once had 800 residents, now has only 350. Says George Miete, owner of a butcher shop: "Doctor died in 1950, haven't been able to get a replacement. Barber died three years ago. Can't get a new one to come in."

Still Breathing. Hard hit, too, are towns that depended on farming for their livelihood—selling goods to farmers and handling farm products on their way to urban markets. The emergence of large-scale, highly mechanized farming has decreased the number of farmers. And the ever expanding network of highways has made it possible for farm goods in trucks and farmers in automobiles to bypass formerly flourishing small towns.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2