HISTORY OF JOHNNY RAY
Editor: As you ride the 62 or 100 mile route today you will be circumnavigating the old Johnny Ray line which ran between Opelika and LaFayette. You will cross where the tracks once were as you enter LaFayette (just before the county jail) and again on Cusetta Road just before you turn left onto highway 431. Here’s a remembrance of this celebrated rail line from long time Opelika resident and owner of Smith T hardware, Mr. Winston Smith T:
Some 75 years or so ago there was a passenger train that ran twice a day from Opelika to Lafayette and on to Roanoke and back. This train ran on a line that 'spurred' off the main track to West Point and Atlanta. This was back in the days when people- if they wanted to travel any distance at all- went by rail.
The engineer on this particular train was named Johnny Ray. He has been described as a real 'Chesterfield' of a fellow, which, I take to mean, that he was neatly dressed, dapper and carried himself with a certain air of aplomb. He became something of a local celebrity.
Once he was staying at the old Royal Hotel here in Opelika when it burned and he had to jump out the window to save his life. He broke his leg and it never healed properly and he walked with a limp the rest of his life.
Eventually the train itself came to be called the JOHNNY RAY. Finally passenger service was discontinued between Opelika and LaFayette, but I remember old timers still referring to the little 'pulp wood' train that came down to Opelika every morning as 'Johnny Ray.'
His son was just about as famous as he was. His name was C.H. Ray and he acquired the nickname of 'Peanut Ray' because he was a super salesman for the Tom's Toasted Peanut Company our of Columbus. For years he distributed sample packages of Tom's peanuts throughout this area- especially to the school children.
I have been told that he was, as a young man, pitcher for the Roanoke baseball team and that he had a 'wicked' curve ball.
Winston Smith T