Since about the age of 6, news director of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s National Public Radio, KUAR, had an unwavering affinity for the Rock Island railroad, one of Arkansas’ major railways for nearly 80 years.
Michael Hibblen, North Little Rock native, is scheduled to present the findings of his latest publication, “Rock Island Railroad in Arkansas,” at 4 p.m. at the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center for the 2017 Arkansas Literary Festival Saturday, April 29.
As a young boy, Hibblen would hear the sounds of trains racing down the railroad tracks outside of his school, but as time passed, the familiar sounds of steam blowing, horns blasting, and metal pumping slowly disappeared.
While visiting the railroad track after school, he noticed how grass was growing in between the tracks and the lack of maintenance.
Later, Hibblen decided to investigate why trains were no longer using the tracks.
He has learned that the Rock Island railroad began to struggle in the mid 1970s due to the decline of rail travel after World War II and an increase in trucks used to transport goods from state to state.
Although there were efforts to merge with other railroads, a judge eventually shut down Rock Island in 1980, causing nearly 700 Arkansans to lose their jobs.
As a high school research project, Hibblen decided to interview former employees of the local train station to hear their stories of working for the railroad and the impact its closure had on them.
Nearly 30 years later, Hibblen continues to spend much of his free time researching the Rock Island railroad and its impact on the state of Arkansas.
Due to his interest in the subject and the findings Hibblen produced, Arcadia Publishing asked him to produce a book on the railroad to include in the publisher’s “Images of Rail” series.
The book, “Rock Island Railroad in Arkansas,” was released Monday, April 3, and includes a collection of historic photos taken of the railroad, crew members, passengers, and trains around the state.
Copies of the publication will be available for purchase throughout the festival or can be purchased online.
The Arkansas Literary Festival is free and open to the public.