Touring East Texas

By January 22, 2015February 1st, 2015Features

By Aaron Isaacs

I’d never been to east Texas, so the day before was spent briefly stopping at nine attractions that you probably never hear of.

 Wills Point Historical Society
Located 50 miles east of Dallas on the former Texas & Pacific main line, this brick depot still sits next to the track, although it’s fenced off and the platform is gone. It wasn’t open when I passed through. A caboose is displayed across the street.

Edgewood Heritage Park

The Edgewood History Park

The Edgewood History Park

This one wasn’t on my list. Edgewood is the next town east of Wills Point, and there was a sign pointing to the Edgewood Heritage Park so I followed the sign. It was an historic village that included the Cotton Belt wood depot from Murchison, TX, 30 miles to the south. On a short piece of track was the obligatory caboose, but also a Missouri Pacific 50-foot steel boxcar, a nice bonus.

Jefferson Railway and the Excelsior Inn
Jefferson, TX is where the Mopac from Texarkana crosses the Kansas City Southern’s Shreveport-Dallas line. It’s a picturesque tourist town with a well preserved downtown complete with brick streets. On the edge of downtown is the Excelsior House Hotel, dating from the 1850s and still very much in business. Across the street is, of all things, Jay Gould’s private car Atalanta (ACF 1888). Gould controlled the Mopac and died in 1892. Following his death, the car was used by his son, George Jay Gould, president of the T&P. It was brought to Texas from St. Louis and used as a family residence during the 1930s East Texas oil boom. Purchased in 1953 and still owned by the Jessie Allen Wise Garden Club, it was moved to this site in 1954. The car lacks trucks and sits on the ground, but it’s open daily for tours.

Jay Gould's private car in Jefferson, Texas.

Jay Gould’s private car in Jefferson, Texas.

A few blocks away is a real surprise, the Historic Jefferson Railway. The 3-foot gauge tourist railroad opened in 1982, using a Crown Metal 4-4-0, three open coaches and one closed coach from the defunct Six Guns Territory amusement park in Florida. The 4-4-0 just reentered service after receiving a new boiler and firebox. Backup power is a Plymouth gas loco. Passengers board at Jefferson’s original Louisiana & Arkansas depot. From there the train travels four miles through deep woods along the twisting Big Cypress Bayou. Annual ridership is about 20,000.

The railroad wasn’t a financial success until Don Rainey purchased it about 1992. He built the Diamond Don RV Park at the outer end of the line. His campers use the railroad to travel into town, and he puts on a series of special event trains throughout the year. The most creative is “The Naval Battle of Port Jefferson” which Don describes as “the reenactment of a Civil War battle that didn’t happen”. The highlight is the shelling of troops by a miniature replica of an ironclad gunboat that sails on the bayou.

Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, Jefferson also has a large model railroad display that is open to the public. The R. D. Moses Texas & Pacific Model Railroad is located in a replica depot museum behind the Jefferson Historical Museum.

 Texas & Pacific Railway Museum
This is a fine example of a high end depot museum. It still serves Amtrak, sees plenty of freight trains, houses a good railroad museum, and has a steam loco on display. The fleet of Mopac/T&P passenger trains did considerable sorting en route, first at Little Rock and then at Marshall, TX. This is where the trains from St. Louis and Memphis to Houston and San Antonio met the New Orleans-Dallas-El Paso trains and swapped through cars. The depot is located inside the wye where the still busy three lines continue to meet.

The substantial two-story depot, built in 1912, also housed the division offices and is still owned by MP successor Union Pacific. It was close to being demolished when UP filed for a demolition permit in 1988. The community intervened to prevent the loss. Eventually the depot was restored, the Amtrak station was reopened and the T&P Museum now occupies much of the building, all under lease from UP.

Parked out front is a UP caboose and a steam locomotive that at first seems to be mislabeled. T&P 2-8-2 #400 (Baldwin 1915) spent all but the end of its career with Burlington subsidiary Fort Worth & Denver. It’s clearly a CB&Q design. T&P bought it in 1958 to haul freights through the Red River floodwaters. Retired thereafter, it was placed in the park in Marshall.

Because accessing the depot requires crossing a main line track, access is via the original pedestrian subway, complete with embossed T&P logos in the step treads.

Marshall was a big T&P shop town. None of the buildings survive, but displays inside the museum do a good job of telling the story.

Henderson Depot Museum
Although it’s called a depot museum, this is really an historic village of 12 collected buildings located on five acres away from the tracks. The site also houses the Rusk County History Museum and the Children’s Discovery Center. It started with the 1901 Mopac Henderson depot, a long rambling wood structure. The baggage room has been turned into a meeting facility, but the agent’s office is intact and appropriately furnished. A MP caboose is parked nearby.

Texas Forestry Museum, Lufkin, TX
The Lufkin area, which includes Diboll (see below) was logging country. Located a few miles apart are a pair of museums that have important rail history components, yet they are not what we would consider typical railroad museums. There were several logging railroads, three of which are still running, albeit shorter than they used to be. They are the Angelina & Neches River, Texas South-Eastern, and Moscow, Camden & San Augustine. The museum maintains an online database of 369 east Texas lumber railroads and tram lines, as well as 4665 east Texas sawmills. It also holds the papers of the Moscow, Camden and San Augustine Railroad and the Shreveport, Houston & Gulf Railroad (W.T. Carter lines) from
1899 to 1960, 80 linear feet in all.

W. T. Carter 2-6-0 #3 (Baldwin 1908) leads a short train consisting of a steam powered log loader from _____, a _____ flatcar and Angelina & Neches River wood caboose #__. They are parked next to the depot from Camden.

The History Center, Diboll, TX
This local history museum is housed in a beautiful modern building, funded by the T. L. L. Temple Foundation. The Temple family owned the Southern Pine Lumber Company and through it the Texas South-Eastern Railroad. In 1969 the company went public and has been through a series of ownership changes. One of the successors, Temple-Inland, donated much of the museum’s collection, including the following rolling stock in 2002.

On display outside is TS-E 4-6-0 #13 (Baldwin 1920). It was used regularly by TSE and Southern Pine Lumber Company (SPLCo) of Diboll as a mainline logging engine until replaced by TSE diesel #22 in 1956. It then served extra duty periodically until 1964, when it was retired.

Southern Pine Lumber Company (SPLCo) acquired its 40-foot log car from the Louisiana & Arkansas Railway late in the 1940s. It was last used at SPLCo’s creosoting plant in Diboll, where it carried poles, and at the Texas South-Eastern shops.

TS-E caboose #6 was built in 1948 by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway in their car shops as #2246. TSE acquired it in 1972 and last used it in revenue service early in the 1990s.

The museum has an impressive archive of railroad records and photos, including:

This collection consists of original negatives created by railroad photographer A. E. Brown depicting Southern Pine Lumber Company engines 13 and 20, as well as A Symphony in Steam 1959 audio recording of the Angelina and Neches River Railroad engine 110 operated by William “Mr. Jay” Morrison. Also included is a small amount of correspondence and copy prints of the negatives.

The Irv Engelbrecht Railroad Lease Papers consists of general lease agreements, standard industrial track agreements, standard industrial ground leases, transfer contracts, and related maps and correspondence. The leases are between the St. Louis Southwestern Railway, Texas and New Orleans Railroad, or the Houston, East and West Texas Railway and various Lufkin businesses for use of property along the right of way.

The Houston East and West Texas Railway Company Director’s Record, 1889-1891, contains 1 volume of minutes and associated information concerning the Houston East and West Texas Railway Company’s bankruptcy and the directors’ actions during that time.

The Houston, East & West Texas Railway Company was chartered on March 11, 1875, to build a narrow gauge railroad between Houston and Texarkana and to connect Houston with Corpus Christi and Laredo through Victoria and Goliad. At the state boundary the 191-mile HE&WT connected with the affiliated forty-mile Shreveport and Houston Railway Company, and the two railroads formed a through line between Houston and Shreveport, Louisiana. This collection consists of a single payroll volume documenting wages paid to railroad employees and attorneys of the Houston East & West Texas Railway and the Houston & Shreveport Railroad Company for January 1921.

MORRISON, JAY, EAST TEXAS RAILROAD PHOTOGRAPHS, 1914-2003. (approx. 736 photographs, also 14 artifacts)
William Jackson Morrison was an engineer for the Moscow, Camden and San Augustine Railroad and the Angelina and Neches River Railroad, and was a lifelong railroad enthusiast. This collection of photographs depicts several East Texas railroads associated with the lumber industry, most notably the Moscow, Camden and San Augustine Railroad, the Angelina and Neches River Railroad, the Texas South-Eastern Railroad, and the Texas State Railroad among others.

Russell Tedder, the first full time general manager of the Sabine River and Northern Railroad from 1969-1976, collected various records of southern short-line railroads for personal research and interest. The Nacogdoches and Southeastern Railroad Company was chartered in 1905 to serve logging operations of the Hayward Lumber Company, and later the Frost-Johnson Lumber Company after 1910. This collection consists of reports and correspondence encompassing a brief and incomplete snapshot of the company’s dealings with the Interstate Commerce Commission, and the volume of forest products shipped along its rails in its cars during these years. Several photocopied secondary sources are also included.

Fred M. Springer was an engineer for Mobil Pipe Line Company and a lifelong railroad and photography enthusiast. This collection consists of 53 8×10 black and white prints created from Springer’s original negatives, showing steam locomotives, diesel locomotives, and freight cars of the Southern Pine Lumber Company and Texas South-Eastern Railroad Company, as well as railroad stations in Diboll, Burke, and Palestine.

Temple Lumber Company of Pineland, Texas, organized by Thomas L. L. Temple in 1910, was the sister sawmill operation to Temple’s Southern Pine Lumber Company in Diboll. It produced hardwood and pine lumber, hardwood flooring, toilet seats, chopping blocks, studs, plywood, and particle board. This collection documents company land transactions, lumber production, employees, railroad rights of way and tram road construction, financial activities, taxation, company stores and inventory, and other businesses in early Pineland.

The Texas South-Eastern Railroad Company was founded by T. L. L. Temple in 1900 in Diboll, Texas to serve Temple’s East Texas lumber operations. From 1900-1996, it was primarily used to transport forest products to and from the Diboll mill, connecting to the mainline St. Louis & Southwestern Railway in Lufkin. This collection consists of photographs depicting TSE’s locomotives, freight cars, employees, constructing track of the Lufkin Z&OO zoo railroad, and transporting Engine 22 to the Texas State Railroad, as well as business papers providing histories of TSE’s locomotives, the Pineywoods Special, and records from the company’s last year hauling freight from Diboll to Lufkin.

This collection contains legal documents, contracts, financial records, timebooks, minutes, printed material, freight correspondence, profile maps, retirement plans, and annual reports filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission, State Tax Board, and Railroad Commission of Texas. It also contains similar records of the Lufkin, Hemphill & Gulf Railway Company and Southern Pine Lumber Company due to their relationships with the TSE.

This small collection of papers was assembled early in 1952 when Southern Pine Lumber Company considered purchasing the Texas State Railroad, which was then leased by the Texas & New Orleans Railroad Company (T&NO). At the heart of the collection is a twenty-nine page audit report for the years 1943-1950. The report begins by reviewing an earlier audit of the years 1921 to 1943 and provides a three page narrative history of the railroad’s construction and operation to 1950. Interestingly, the audit questions T&NO’s reported operational losses during the lease years. Also included in the papers is an itemized list of additions and retirements to track facilities made by T&NO between 1921 and 1951.

100 35mm color slides depicting the railroad operating in 1961. Most of the images depict engines 14, 2, 5, 6, and 201, conductor Carl Vinson, engineer Earl Amerine, and trains of Southern Pacific freight cars.

Cotton Belt Depot Museum, Tyler, TX
Tyler has its own depot museum, which was open for conference attendees. The 1905 brick, tile roofed depot sits at the junction of the former Cotton Belt Corsicana Sub main line and a former Mopac branch line, now both UP. Half of the building serves as the local transit center. The museum occupies the other half, which is staffed by volunteers of the Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society, Tyler tap Chapter. Inside are O, HO and N scale model railroads and Bragg Collection of 1800 tinplate and model trains and the eclectic McDaniel collection of rail artifacts.

The museum is trying to acquire former Cotton Belt heavyweight business car Dixie. It was built by Pullman in 1910 as a Pennsylvania Railroad parlor car, sold to the Cotton Belt in 1940 and rebuilt as a business car in 1953. It’s currently stored in San Antonio.

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