Missiles in Avondale – Southern Pacific Railroad #TrainThursday

Missiles in Avondale – Southern Pacific Railroad #TrainThursday

Missiles traveling through Avondale


Southern Pacific Alco RS units passing through Avondale, LA, 1960. (Franck-Bertacci Studios photo courtesy THNOC)

Missiles in Avondale

a Southern Pacific Railroad train pulls missile parts through the railroad’s yard in Avondale, Louisiana, 7-Sep-1960. Several Alco road switcher engines pull flatcars containing the parts.

Avondale Shipyards


Google Earth view of the Avondale shipyard and rail yard facilities.

In 1938, Avondale Marine Ways opened on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish. By 1941, the barge repair facility expanded, building ships for the war. So, the company survived the transition to peacetime, landing contracts to build vessels for the offshore energy industry. The owners sold the company to the Ogden Corporation in 1951. Ogden renamed the facility, Avondale Shipyards. The shipyard landed a number of Navy contracts throughout the Cold War. Therefore, the shipyard became a big part of the metro New Orleans economy in the 1950s/1960s.

Southern Pacific at Avondale


Containers carrying missile parts on “piggyback” flatcars. (Franck-Bertacci photo courtesy THNOC)

The railroad was an important part of the shipyard complex. So, Southern Pacific delivered raw materials to the riverfront construction facilities. The rail yard didn’t exist solely because of the shipyard, though. The Texas and New Orleans Railroad  was a SP subsidiary. So, they initially operated a large yard in Algiers. After the Huey P. Long Bridge opened in 1931, the railroad moved upriver. Trains heading west through New Orleans crossed the Huey. Then they continued over T&NO tracks. This included the SP “name trains” such as the Sunset Limited.

SP inaugurated “piggyback” service in 1953. This cargo starts on truck trailers which were then loaded onto flatcars.

Southern Pacific fully absorbed T&NO in 1961.


SP “Piggyback” flatcars. (Frank-Bertacci Studios photo via THNOC)

It’s hard to discern the full story of these missile parts from the photos alone. Avondale Shipyards built a number of destroyers and destroyer escorts for the Navy. These ships suited the facility. Like many shipyards along the Mississippi River, this facility built ships in the river. They launched the completed ships sideways. The ships then steamed off, to the shipyard’s finishing docks, or to other locations.

Rocket and missile technology developed rapidly, post-WWII. The Space Race leveraged military missile technoloy. NASA’s first manned space program, Mercury is an example. They started with the Army’s Redstone missile.

So, it’s possible that this train delivered missile parts to the shipyard. Destroyers carry missiles. It’s also possible that these parts originated at, say the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. The trains heading west certainly crossed the river via the Huey, heading to Texas and points west.

Huey P. Long Bridge HAER survey – Library of Congress

Huey P. Long Bridge HAER survey – Library of Congress

Huey P. Long Bridge HAER survey documents the old bridge.

Huey P. Long Bridge HAER survey

Huey P. Long Bridge, 1968 (Library of Congress)

Huey P. Long Bridge HAER survey

The first bridge to cross the Mississippi River in Louisiana, the Huey P. Long Bridge links the east and west banks of Jefferson Parish. The bridge opened in December, 1935. US Senator (and former Governor) Huey Pierce Long died on September 8, 1935. Therefore, the state named the bridge after him. So, the railroads switched from ferrying trains across the river to taking the bridge.


The National Park Service completed a HAER (Historic American Engineering Record) survey of the bridge in 1968. The Library of Congress houses HAER surveys.

There are 213 photos of the bridge in the HAER collection. The Huey P. Long Bridge HAER survey is HAER LA-17. Here are the notes attached to the link:

– Significance: The Huey P. Long Bridge, the first bridge to cross the Mississippi River in Louisiana, was named for governor during whose administration it was built. is still considered a major engineering accomplishment and was recognized as the world’s longest steel trestle railroad bridge at 22,996′ (4.36 miles of structure) in length. It has two railroad tracks between two trusses and two, two-lane highways bracketed to the outside. It was built during the depression of the 1930s at a cost of $12.8 million. The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
– Unprocessed Field note material exists for this structure: N1071
– Survey number: HAER LA-17
– Building/structure dates: 1935 Initial Construction

LOC archives a number of surveys for Louisiana locations. The government also does Historic American Building Surveys (HABS). Many exist for New Orleans buildings, like the old Canal Station streetcar barn.

The Old Huey

HABS/HAER documentation is valuable. Researchers step back in time. In the case of the Huey, the bridge underwent a major expansion. The state started that expansion in 2008. They completed the work in 2012.

The expansion removed the narrow auto lanes. So, no more tales of trying to pass an 18-wheeler as they head across the river! The HAER survey preserves the old bridge and the memories.