Sour Town

Page 5 of 7

Bledsoe, owner of four buildings and 10 lots, is what passes for a real estate mogul in Ladonia. He's trying to rebuild some city pride along with the railroad station. He wants the rebuilt station to be a sort of community center and attraction on the bike trail that replaced the railroad. The station is just one of Bledsoe's many civic-minded projects that he hopes will catapult Ladonia out of the doldrums and restore jobs, commerce, dignity, and residents.

Yet Bledsoe says his efforts to help the city have been rebuffed repeatedly over the last 15 years, and he believes he has become the most hated man in Ladonia because he is the only one trying to accomplish anything.

Bledsoe won a state grant for $10,000 that will be used to rebuild the shell of the depot. He's using old photographs and other information he's scraped up as a guide. The original building was moved off the lot and destroyed a couple of years ago, not long after the trains stopped running. The railroad tracks and ties were pulled out, leaving the concrete pad. Around the pad, his building materials (some of which have been stolen, he huffs) are stacked.

"This is the original foundation, built in 1910, again, no help. Nobody wants to help you do a fucking thing around here...I put bleach and acid. I came down here and scrubbed this back. The whole thing looked just like that," he says, pointing toward a weathered portion of the slab.

Then, pointing toward different parts of the concrete foundation, he says, "This will be the library. This will be the snack and vending window...and we'll have the rest area over there."

Bledsoe has a right to be a bit peeved at his fellow residents, he says. At his own expense, he is working tirelessly on several fronts. For instance, in the face of fierce opposition from property owners who were hoping to secure old railroad easements, Bledsoe says, he learned how to use a road grader and personally groomed about 11 miles of the bike trail on the old rail route through Fannin County. His effort was part of the "rails to trails" project that aimed to produce 56 miles of trail from Farmersville in Collin County to near Paris. At first, the project had $1.8 million in federal funds, but that money was pulled when property disputes and questions about local costs arose. Nevertheless, on the Ladonia segment, Bledsoe helped raise money and then put in bridges and chains and markers to keep cars out, he says. He was thanked by having his life threatened.

Robert Crozier, a Ladonia-area resident who admits he told Bledsoe he would shoot him if he came onto his land, says it's not that he opposes Bledsoe's every move, it's just that the whole rails to trails project is a "bad apple" that amounts to a fraud. About a mile of the trail runs through Crozier's property. He says he's got the original agreement with the railroad to prove that the land belongs to him and that the government is not entitled to the land now that the railroad is gone.

Crozier says that he made money by developing houses on a ranch in California and that he served on a school board in a district near Los Angeles. He is familiar with business and the political processes of a small town and its people, which include the Bledsoe types. He calls Bledsoe a "promoter."

"He's a promoter and really gets nowhere in his promotions. I've come across a lot of promoters in my time," he says. "I don't like the guy. I'm not saying he's totally wrong, but what he's pushing is the trail, and it's a total flop."

Besides attempting to establish the trail through Fannin County, Bledsoe is trying to get a grant to pave two miles in front of the old train station and maybe use leftover grant money to finish the inside of the station once the shell is erected. He wants to put old-fashioned lights and benches on the trail for the old and young to enjoy, he says.

"We need to have a place where our children can Rollerblade and ride their bicycles and enjoy small-town America," he says.

And, after the blacktop is in, Ladonia can promote its town and attract Dallas dollars, Bledsoe says.

"If I can bring a guy who rides a bicycle with his little skinny-looking clothes and his plastic helmet, and I can get him to come to Ladonia to ride, he spends $9.75 a day. If I can get a thousand of them to come to Ladonia, I can change things."

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Charles Siderius
Contact: Charles Siderius