P. McDonald, PhD
his network television show in the 1970s, Johnny Cash always had a
segment in which he sang railroad songs. He oft repeated, "I've got
a thing about trains." So does yours truly..
In my growing up time, trains were pervasive. The Santa Fe, Missouri
Pacific, Southern Pacific, and Kansas City Southern lines crisscrossed
gave residents the quintessential excuse for tardiness "I caught a
freight train." They really meant that a train had blocked a grade
crossing and they could not proceed to class, appointments, or jobs.
Wasn't always so. Railroading came to America in 1837, and by 1860
there were 30,000 miles of track here, but none in East Texas save
a few short lines that served Houston
The state had tried to encourage rail construction with a subsidy
of eight sections of land (5,120 acres) per mile of tract. The line
was supposed to sell the land to raise construction money, then profit
from freight and passenger users once the tract was in service.
Texas Reconstruction government switched to bonds and financial incentives,
but the "Redeemers" switched back to land in 1876, and more generously
better. Comes now Collis Huntington's Southern Pacific across southern
Texas, Jay Gould's Texas & Pacific through the north; and Paul Bremond's
Houston East & West Texas Railway through the heart of East Texas.
Bremond's line opened the giant timber industry because it provided
market access to the world. And his line actually founded many of
the communities between Houston and Shreveport, possibly most notably
Lufkin and the celebrated-in-song
"Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo & Blair."
It was not without cost. Homer ceased to be the seat of government
in Angelina County when the HE&WT bypassed it in favor of its own
town Lufkin. Missing
out on the mainline of the T&P, plus the loss of Cypress Bayou as
navigable access to the Red River, caused the demise of Jefferson
AND preserved it as a quaint and fun place to visit in our time.
Most communities had to pay for the privilege of rail access. They
did so with contributed rights-of-way, depots, round houses, and cash.
And they were rewarded. Passenger trains provided East Texans relatively
inexpensive and usually reliable transport to Houston, Dallas, or
Shreveport, and connections to anywhere. Freight trains hauled in
what East Texans needed and hauled out what they produced. Boarding
houses and hotels clustered around depots to serve the travelling
trade. Trains brought salesmen, and mail, and excitement to town.
Trains are still crucial for moving freight, despite competition from
trucks. Airplanes and cars move people. Some folks are fond of these.
Johnny Cash and I have a thing about trains.
Things Historical >
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical
Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and
author of more than 20 books on Texas.