would be hard to overstate the importance of railroads
in Texas during the last quarter of the 19th century and into
the early 20th century.
The locomotives that pulled long freight trains or swift (at least
for the time) passenger trains amounted to economic engines both
literally and figuratively. Not only did they haul goods and move
people, railroads fed local economies directly and indirectly. They
employed thousands of people in Texas and decisions on the location
of their tracks made towns or killed towns.
Consequently, almost anything involving the railroads or its workers
was of interest to the newspapers. Compared to other industries
today, railroads received near saturation coverage back then.
of many long and short lines serving Texas was the Trinity and
Brazos Valley Railway, better known in the early 1900s as
"The Boll Weevil." With headquarters in Houston,
it ran from Cleburne
Chartered in 1902, and later operated for years in receivership,
the line became part of the Burlington-Rock Island in 1930.
In 2015, the Freestone County Historical Museum went through back
issues of the Teague Chronicle and transcribed any article
dealing with the railroad or railroads in general. The effort filled
a 228-page publication, not counting an un-paginated index.
are a few news summaries:
Where was HR?
These enlightened days, corporate and governmental work place managers
deal with personnel issues by involving the folks from HR -- you
know, Human Resources.
But before the touchy-feely days of handling on-the-job issues with
team meetings, performance reviews, coaching and counseling, employees
occasionally worked out their issues without professional intervention,
except perhaps on the part of a law enforcement officer. That certainly
was the case when conductor Floyd Herring and brakeman Henry Owens
"became involved in a difficulty" as the southbound Trinity & Brazos
passenger train neared Iola.
Those five words are antiquated newspaper speak for "got into a
Most of the passengers did not become aware of the "difficulty"
until startled by a series of gunshots. One of the bullets whizzing
around the train caught Owens in the jaw.
"The men are said to have...fired simultaneously," the Chronicle
reported. "Herring was not injured, except that it is understood
he received a blow from Owens' fist."
Reading between the lines, it seems likely that Owens developed
a grievance over something Herring said and punched him in the face.
Not opting to turn the other cheek or write a memo for file, the
conductor pulled a pistol and began shooting at Owens. Also armed,
Owens opened up on the train boss.
The newspaper said that Owens left the train at Iola,
presumably for medical attention, but that the conductor stayed
with his train to Houston
and continued on the run back to Teague.
The outcome of the incident was not reported, but it is relatively
safe to assume the "difficulty" concluded Owens' employment with
the "Boll Weevil."
In the span of only a few months in 1911-1912, the "Boil Weevil"
lost 10 employees in four train accidents.
A freight train running near Normangee
struck a cow on the track and derailed, killing the engineer, fireman
and brakeman. A few days later the steam locomotive pulling a freight
train exploded, killing three crew members. Another boiler explosion
killed two more employees in a subsequent mishap. The following
year, yet another locomotive boiler exploded, killing the engineer.
That summer, a wreck near Galveston
killed another engineer.
In addition to the fatal derailments and boiler explosions, brakemen
frequently died or suffered injuries when thrown from trains or
being accidentally run over.
Back then, the only watchdogs over railroad safety were the unions.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
would not be created until 1970.
the Fake Name?
The July 5, 1911 issue of the Chronicle ran a headline saying that
brakeman J.H. Lee had been killed in an accident at one of the "Boll
"It appears that he was endeavoring to make what is known as a running
angle switch and in some way stumbled and fell, three loaded lumber
cars passing over his right leg, breaking in two places, also his
right arm," the newspaper said. "He was terribly mangled, and while
everything that could be done to relieve his suffering he died two
hours after the accident."
The newspaper said the bachelor brakeman "enjoyed a good name among
his co-laborers and the Valley road [the Trinity & Brazos' other
nickname] for which he had been working nearly a year." The 22-year-old
had come to East Texas
where he had worked for the Santa Fe Railroad. Up in the Panhandle,
the newspaper noted with no curiosity, he had been known as J.H.
Lee. His real name, the story continued, was J.H. Gillespie.
Why J.H. had found it expedient to use a different name was not
"Texas Tales" September
18 , 2017 column