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A path of steel and wood peeks through the weedy overgrowth near the Port Royal Seafood company. There, in 1871, a passenger train first eased its way up and down 4 miles of tracks between Beaufort and Port Royal. '
Beaufort County natives know the steam-powered train as the "Black and Dusty" because of its appearance. By 1873, it rolled between Port Royal and Augusta daily, transporting seafood and produce, people visiting family and friends, and young men headed for training on Parris Island.'
Beaufort native Gary Fordham, 59, had a childhood fascination with the train.'
"I remember when I was a little boy, I used to like going down to Hermitage Road and watch the choo-choo go by," he said.'
The only time Fordham rode the train was when his mother let him ride to Yemassee and back, just for the experience, he said.'
The trip from the railway's first wooden depot in Port Royal to the brick depot at the end of Depot Road in Beaufort took 30 minutes. It cost $1.50 for first-class passengers and 75 cents for second-class, according to a July 2004 article in South Carolina Historical Magazine.'
The Port Royal Railroad, also known as the "Magnolia Route," was extended to Augusta in 1873. It had eight stops in towns and communities in Beaufort County, including Yemassee, Sheldon and Seabrook, and other towns, including Hampton, Allendale and Robbins, according to the 2004 article.'
The railway eventually had connecting lines to Anderson, Greenville and Spartanburg.'
Brantley Harvey, 75, rode the Black and Dusty with his mother from Beaufort to Hampton to visit his grandmother. Like many people, his mother didn't have a car.'
In the 1940s, few taxis existed in Beaufort, and wartime fuel rationing resulted in limited use of personal automobiles.'
The train carried more than just passengers. Many people put small packages of produce and other goods for delivery to other parts of the Lowcountry. Harvey's grandmother raised chickens in Crocketville near Hampton and sent crates of eggs to Beaufort via the train.'
When World War II ended, the economy improved and more people could afford cars. Harvey said the need for the Augusta to Port Royal passenger train was rare, as people traveled by automobile.'
Seabrook native Claude McLeod, 65, remembers when the Black and Dusty took a lot of people into town and delivered mail and Marines. New recruits headed for Parris Island were rounded up in Yemassee, where the Port Royal to Augusta line connected with lines from Savannah and Charleston.'
"The Marines were pretty much on every train," he said.'
As a child, McLeod and his friends spent many summer days hopping the train from Seabrook to Port Royal and back. Everybody knew the conductor, who was a friend to the children.'
"He wouldn't charge us anything," McLeod said. "So we'd go along just for the ride."'
Gary Fordham said that even as an adult, he loved the sound of the whistle blowing in the night as the train headed back north. The whistle became silent about 20 years ago when the train stopped running its regular schedule.'
No one knows when the Black and Dusty made its last trip, but remaining service on the 132-year-old railroad came to an end on Nov. 26, 2003.