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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

The Texas State Railroad

by Archie P. McDonald, PhD
Archie McDonald, PhD
"Hear that lonesome whistle blow" is a line from a song that takes me back to the old steam locomotives that huffed along 10,000 miles of railroad track in Texas.

I remember hearing such whistles as a part of the daily routine of growing up in Beaumont, a city criss-crossed by the Santa Fe, Missouri Pacific, Kansas City Southern, and Southern Pacific lines. Our house was about two blocks from the SP line and four from the Santa Fe, so we were in a bracket for the racket. Modern diesel engines have a horn, but the sound is not as romantic and never as thrilling as the old steam engine whistle.

Where can you go to hear such whistles again -- or for the first time? Rusk and Palestine. And you can ride from one to the other, or back if you wish, aboard the Texas State Railroad. The Texas State is an excursion train now, but once it was a real working line.
Texas State Railroad locomotive refueling
Refueling the Texas State Railroad locomotive
TE Photo
Its first five miles of track was constructed in 1896 to connect Rusk with an iron foundry known as "Old Alcalde." In 1903 the line was extended to Maydelle to serve a foundry operated by the state prison system, then extended again to Palestine , where it connected with other lines, especially the Texas and New Orleans. Convict gandy dancers provided the labor for these extensions.

In 1921 the line was leased to the T&NO and remained in commercial operation until 1969, for the last seven years under lease to the Texas-Southeastern and Missouri Pacific.

In 1972 the Texas legislature assigned the property to Texas Parks & Wildlife, and in response to citizen requests, TP&WD agreed to redevelop the line as a steam-powered excursion railroad for tourism. The line opened in 1976.

The Texas State Railroad operates two trains simultaneously between Rusk and Palestine for 110 days annually during the tourism season. The trip covers thirty-miles with the trains passing at the Menshaw Siding, the site of a state sawmill, 1908-1912, and a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, 1933-1937. The route passes over twenty-four bridges, including an 1,100-foot span over the Neches River. A shop in Rusk contains old-time machinery for duplicating parts no longer available for purchase.

And the old trains have appeared in several television commercials and motion pictures, including a recent made-for-television movie on the Rough Riders.

You can still hear that lonesome whistle blow, at least on the Texas State Railroad.


All Things Historical June 10-17 , 2001
Published by permission.
(Archie P. McDonald is Director of the East Texas Historical Association and author or editor of over 20 books on Texas)
Related Topics: Texas Railroads
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