Rabbit Railroad, which opened the pineywoods to lumber shipments
in the 1880s, made history again last month.
Corporation of Omaha, Nebraska, which purchased the Rabbit line
from Southern Pacific in 1997, ran a special heritage-class passenger
train from Chicago to Houston and, in the process, rolled down the
East Texas line from Shreveport to Houston.
Not since the
1950s has the line seen such a collection of vintage cars. The UP
special included three engines, four sleeper cars, a dining car,
a lounge car, a business car, and other units -- 12 in all. Railroad
buffs showed up track-side by the hundreds just to see the train
The train carried
a group of national newspaper and magazine writers and other guests
to familiarize them with UP's transportation and technology innovations.
On the Rabbit's
rails, the passengers learned how Paul Bremond, a Houston entrepreneur,
and his fellow investors chartered the Houston, East and West Texas
Railroad in 1885 and completed the line to Shreveport in 1886.
The HE&WT got
its nickname for its hopping, rabbit-like disposition. It was also
called the "Hell Either Way Taken."
died in 1885 before his railroad was finished, was a professed spiritualist
who claimed the line's inspiration came from a visit by the spirit
of Moseley Baker, a soldier who fought in Battle of San Jacinto
in 1836. Just how Moseley got the idea for a railroad is a little
During its construction, the HE&WT helped found dozens of towns
between Houston and Shreveport, many of whom were named for railroad
officials or friends. The new towns included Lufkin,
Cleveland, Shepherd, Corrigan,
Burke, Appleby, Garrison, Timpson,
(See East Texas
stops in Shelby County were immportalized by cowboy singer Tex Ritter
in his song, "Tenaha,
Timpson, Bobo and Blair."
is a fitting owner for East Texas' best known railroad. The Omaha-based
company helped build the first transcontinental railroad in the
days following the Civil War and has a deep sense of its corporate
Just as the
Rabbit pioneered long-range railroading in East Texas, the transcontinental
line went where nobody had gone before, linking America's east and
west coasts and leading to the growth of the west.
Ambrose, who chronicled the transcontinental line in his best-seller,
"Nothing Like it in the World, "autographed copies of the book for
Union Pacific's guests on the Chicago-to-Houston trip.
Chairman Dick Davidson, a 44-year railroader who began his career
as a brakeman, describes the transcontinental route as an early-day
internet because of its ability to link Americans together as a
special" exposed the national business media to East Texas' scenery
and heritage, as well as the enormous improvements being made by
Union Pacific on the old Rabbit line, including a tracking system
manned by former air controllers to keep up with the movement of
UP trains on tens of thousands miles of tracks in the U.S.
and Moseley Baker, would have been proud to see what their railroad
All Things Historical
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
Published by permission.
(Bob Bowman, a former president of the East Texas Historical Association,
is the author of 24 books on East Texas history and folklore. He
lives in Lufkin.)