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?
And you can ride from one to the other, or back if you wish, aboard
State Railroad. The Texas State is an excursion train now, but
once it was a real working line.
the Texas State Railroad locomotive
|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.
State Railroad operates two trains simultaneously between Rusk
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
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
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)
Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing
Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history
and vintage/historic photos, please contact