David Fant was the man who told Richard Forrest about the property that was for sale at Toccoa Falls. He was a conductor for Southern Railway’s Southern Crescent Limited line. When the Forrests moved to Atlanta, Georgia, from Florida, they lived with David Fant and his family in a little house on Luckie Street.
In this photograph, a group of people from Toccoa, Georgia, met Southern Railwayâ€™s train 38 one day in the late 1920â€™s to hear a 10-minute sermon by the railwayâ€™s famed engineer-evangelist, David J. Fant (fifth from the left). In a article printed in an early issue of TIES (The news magazine of Southern Railway) called â€œWork and Worshipâ€ readers learned of the Charlotte division engineer who preached at revival campaigns throughout the country. Rev. and Mrs. Richard Forrest are the second couple from the right. (Taken from the TIES Magazine)
Colorful Engineer Fant, 94, Wins Toccoa Falls Degree
By Celestine Sibley (From a 1964 edition of The Atlanta Constitution)
They gave David J. (Daddy) Fant an honorary degree at Toccoa Falls Bible Institute the other day and when they put the cowl signifying wisdom and learning over his head I am told the old preacher muttered quite audibly, â€œWorldly trappings!â€ But he was pleased. I know he was pleased because I called him up and asked him. â€œIt was an honor and I appreciate it,â€ the 94-year-old retired railroad engineer-evangelist said, â€œBut Iâ€™ve been a plain working man all my life and I donâ€™t take to show much.â€
â€œDaddyâ€ Fant may have been a working man all his life but he was far from a plain one. He was one of the most colorful railroad engineers in this railroad center of the southeast â€” a high-balling, hymn-singing fellow who knelt and prayed before every run and sent the Southern Railwayâ€™s crack engines, 37 and 38, hurtling through the mountains of north Alabama at such speeds citizens who lived along the way made up songs about him.
For three or four years â€œDaddyâ€ Fant was the engineer on the crack New York-to-New Orleans mail train, 97 â€” the one the maudlin old song, â€œWreck of the old 97,â€ is about. Old 97, if you remember, was wrecked near Danville, Va., but later restored to service.
â€œThat was years ago when the railroads were building and railroads were in fashion,â€ Mr. Fant said the other day.
Mr. Fant got out before the glamorous era of railroading was entirely past. He was forced to retire at the age of 71 back in 1939.
â€œI could have put in ten more useful years,â€ he now says.
But then, of course, even in retirement heâ€™s putting in useful years. Heâ€™s been very active in the work of Toccoa Falls College, which is sponsored by the Christian Missionary Alliance. He devotedly attends his wife, the former Lillie Rainey, who is now 92 years old (Sheâ€™s an old woman like Iâ€™m an old man, except that sheâ€™s practically an invalid.â€ He takes a short train trip to Toccoa or over in South Carolina to visit his grandson who is a doctor, when he can. (Iâ€™d still rather ride a train than to eat my dinner.â€) And the rest of the time, as he himself tells it, â€œI distribute tracts, go to church, and visit the sick.â€
There is one memento of his railroading days that Daddy Fant has before him daily at his home on Beecher Street. It is the brass plate shaped like an open Bible bearing the legend, â€œThy Word Is Truth.â€ Made in the railroad shop, for years it ornamented the front of every engine he drove.
Today it occupies a place of honor by the porch light at his front door.
David and Lillie Fant