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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

A RAILROAD CENTENNIAL

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

This summer, one of Texas' most successful shortline railroads celebrates a centennial in the pineywoods around Lufkin. Before the turn of the century in 1900, Joseph H. Kurth, Sr., S.W. Henderson, Sr., and brothers Eli and Sam Wiener, the principal owners of Angelina County Lumber Company of Keltys, began to see the need for a more efficient method to move logs from the woods of East Texas into their mill. Charles L. Kelty and James A. Ewing, who owned the sawmill before selling it to Kurth in 1888, had previously utilized a crude log tram consisting in part of four-by-four wooden rails over which a few log cars were pulled by oxen and mule teams and later by a small shay or "dinky" steam engine.

For the most part, oxen pulling eight-wheel wagons were used to transport logs from the woods to the wooden-tracked tram sites. This worked fine as long as timber stands were accessible within a few miles from the sawmill or the tram roads. Commonly called trams or tramways, these temporary railroads provided the earliest attempts at year-round production of lumber, creating significant changes in the social structure and culture of East Texas.

Before 1900, the Kurth, Henderson and Wiener families saw the value of a shortline railroad capable of moving more than just logs. Communities were emerging from the forests east of Lufkin and Keltys, necessitating passenger services and freight deliveries, and the families had watched with interest as other East Texas lumber companies entered the shortline railroad business.

On August 6, 1900, in a meeting at the Angelina County Lumber Company offices in Keltys, Kurth, Henderson, and Eli Wiener called a meeting of their family members and business associates, "for the purpose of building, maintaining and operating a railroad to be known as the Angelina and Neches River Railroad, to be built from Keltys, Angelina County, Texas, to Manton, Angelina County, Texas, about twelve miles in an easterly direction from Keltys."

The first ten miles of track and two wood-burning, narrow-gauge steam locomotives, known as No. 1 and No. 2, were jointly operated by Angelina County Lumber Company and the railroad through a lease arrangement.

Locomotive No. 1 was a shay engine with a 26-inch driving wheel diameter built in 1887 by the Lima locomotive company. Locomotive No. 2 had a 2-6-0 wheel arrangement with a 40-inch driving wheel and was built by the Grant locomotive company, but its completion date is unknown. In 1911,the A&NR completed a line from Nacalina, at the Angelina River, to Chireno in Nacogdoches County, a distance of 10.74 miles, after the citizens of Chireno agreed to pay $10,200 to the company when the tracks were completed to the community.

However, with the construction of Sam Rayburn Reservoir in the 1960s, the railroad found it impractical to build an elevated line over the lake, and was forced to abandon its line from Ewing to Chireno. The last train rolled into Chireno in 1963.

In 100 years, the A&NR's shortline service helped shape the success of a number of large corporations in Lufkin, including Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company, which made the oil field's first balance-type pumping unit; Angelina Plywood Company, which made some of the first southern pine plywood in the nation; Texas Foundries, Inc., the first malleable iron foundry to be located south of St. Louis; and Southland Paper Mills, Inc., which made the South's first southern pine newsprint.

Since 1900, only nine individuals have served as president of the A&NR. They are Joseph H. Kurth, Sr., 1900-1930; Eli Wiener, 1930-1951; E.L. Kurth, Sr., 1951-1960; E.L. Kurth, Jr., 1961-1968; Ottis E. Lock, 1968-1974; Melvin E. Kurth, Jr., 1974-1980; Jack O. McMullen, Sr., 1980-1983; Jack O. McMullen, Jr., 1984-1990; David Perkins, 1991-present.

All Things Historical
August 6, 2000 Column
Published by permission.
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(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.)

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