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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Cannonball's Tales"

THE CONROE, BYSPOT, AND NORTHERN: A TRAM RAILROAD THAT TIME FORGOT

By W. T. Block
Throughout the region generally referred to as The Big Thicket, there remain traces of rotted crossties and rights-of-way, that were once the logging railroads, over which the various sawmills received their raw materials. One of the trams near Peach Creek and northward into San Jacinto County was known variously as the "Bennette tram" or "Tom-Lee tram," before the 35-mile railroad became the Conroe, Byspot and Northern. By 1918, J. O. H. Bennette had been a pioneer Conroe sawmiller and businessman for decades, and it came as no surprise that he executed a contract with Sante Fe Railroad and Kirby Lumber Corporation as follows:

"Locally, the (log) tram is known as the 'Conroe, Byspot and Northern,' ... 12 miles in length and running from Butlersburg..., has been purchased by Kirby Lumber Company on account of Sante Fe Tie and Lumber Preserving Company...Mr. Bennette to build an extension to the tram 25 miles into timber already purchased. This tram owned and operated by Mr. Bennette is not incorporated and is not being operated now as a tram road....."

J. O. H. Bennette first built a log railroad in 1898 from his sawmill at old Security, some five miles across Peach Creek to his "log front" at Teddy or Byspot in southwest San Jacinto County. At first, the log front was named Teddy for the new hero of San Juan Hill (Theodore Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War), but Bennette soon changed the name to Byspot, which was the first 6 letters of his wife's name (Topsy Bennette), spelled backwards. Strangely, the writer only found references to the C. B. N. railroad in the archives of San Jacinto County.

In 1904, Bennette's Old Security sawmill cut 35,000 feet daily, but in 1907, he bought another sawmill from John G. McGregor of McGregor's Switch, 3 miles north of Conroe. About 1910, Bennette founded a sawmilling partnership at Butlersburg, named the Bennette-Davison Lumber Company, and he extended his old tram road from Security to Butlersburg. Gradually, Bennette extended the Conroe, Byspot and Northern rails northward until they reached the outskirts of Coldspring.

About 1920, Bennette sold out his Butlersburg sawmill to Tom-Lee Lumber Company. During those years, the railroad was often referred to in the San Jacinto County archives as "the Bennette tram" or the "Tom-Lee tram." About 1925, Tom-Lee Lumber went into bankruptcy, and most of its assets were acquired at a sheriff's auction by Delta Land and Timber Company of Conroe.

Having just cut out of logs on its 90,000 acre tract northwest of Conroe in the Lake Conroe area, Delta Land quickly turned to the Conroe, Byspot, and Northern for relief since large tracts of pines still stood in central San Jacinto County around Coldspring. In 1926, the Delta loggers were cutting timber within a mile of the outskirts of Coldspring, and loggers resided in that city rather than at the log front. According to Ruth Hansbro's thesis, "History of San Jacinto County," Delta Land also built a commissary at Coldspring in 1926 for the loggers' convenience. And for five years, Delta Land's commissary and logging continued unabated until financial distress in 1931 forced that firm to suspend all sawmill activities. About 1935, the old Delta plant was sold to Conroe Lumber Company, owned by the Kurth families of Lufkin, and by then all Delta timber in San Jacinto County had been cut out.

The Conroe, Byspot and Northern was never a chartered short-line railroad, but it nevertheless carried on many of the activities typical of a chartered railroad. It hauled supplies to the Delta land commissary at Coldspring. Delta also hauled supplies and box cars of lumber for at last four sawmills it did not own, one 12 miles east of Conroe in Montgomery County, and three, including the Tom Hill Hardwood Company at Coldspring, and the Fred Jeans and H. S. Lilley crosstie sawmills between Coldspring and Byspot.

The only thing the writer lacks is proof that the C. B. N. Railroad pulled a passenger car that carried both mail and passengers to Coldspring as well, but that may happen some day as well. The 40-mile tram road was abandoned in 1931, and apparently, its rails and crossties were soon removed.
W. T. Block, Jr.
"Cannonball's Tales" >
November 1, 2006 column

Reprinted from the Beaumont Enterpirse, Saturday December 5, 1998.

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