For the Ferroequinologists
What? Did someone say trains? OK, if you insist. . . .
Houston & Texas Central locomotive W. R. Baker, c. 1868. The years immediately after the Civil War brought a surge in railroad construction across Texas, particularly in lines like the H&TC, fanning out from Houston. William Robinson Baker (1820-1890) held a variety of senior offices with the railroad between 1852 and 1877, and served as mayor of Houston from 1880 to 1886. Image from the Lawrence T. Jones III Texas Photographs Collection at Southern Methodist University.
Samuel Oliver Young’s True Stories of Old Houston and Houstonians (1913) includes a description of railroading in Texas during this period:
Before the close of the war all the railroads except the Houston and Texas Central and the Galveston, Houston and Henderson had gone out of commission and had ceased to run at all. In some way these two roads were kept in such condition that they could be used, but that was all. Using them was not a safe thing by any means. They crept along so slowly that while wrecks were so frequent as to attract no attention, it was a rare thing for any one to get killed or even hurt.
If full justice were done the name of Mr. [Paul] Bremond [1810-1885, president of the H&TC] would be perpetuated by the Houston and Texas Central road. It is true there is one of the principal towns on the line named after him. It is true he received loyal support and assistance from W. R. Baker, M. M. Rice, William Van Alstyne, William J. Hutchins, Cornelius Ennis and others, but theirs was money help and soon gave out. The real credit for building the road belongs to Paul Bremond, for he did what others could or would not do, pulled off his coat and went in the trenches and, figuratively, on the firing line of railroad construction in Texas.
I do not know what the reason for doing so was, but in those days the builders of locomotives always put immense smoke- stacks on them. The smokestacks were funnel-shape and several feet in circumference at the top. The locomotives burned wood and every few miles there were big stacks of cordwood piled alongside the track.
There was no such thing as spark-arresters and every time the fireman put fresh wood in the box the passengers got the full benefit of the sparks, cinders and smoke. It beat traveling by stage, however, and as the people knew nothing of oil- burners, spark-arresters and Pullman cars, everybody was content.
The old-time fireman earned every dollar that was coming to him, for he had to keep busy all the time. It was not child’s play to have to keep steam up with only wood for fuel. Then too, it took more steam to keep an engine going at that time, for the engineer was using his whistle 10 times as often as he uses it now.
There were no fences along the right of way and as there were thousands of cattle on the prairies and woods where the road ran, the track was generally filled with them every few miles. As soon as the trains would get out of the city limits, the whistle would begin tooting and this was kept up almost without cessation. Of course, a great many cattle were killed and this led to bitter warfare between the cattlemen and the railroads.
Wrecks and attempted wrecks were frequent, for there were not wanting men, who, to get revenge on the railroad company by destroying its property, were willing to run the risk of destroying the lives of innocent passengers. The first wreck of this kind that ever occurred in Texas, was on the Houston and Texas Central, near where the water tank is, about 12 miles from Houston. Some scoundrel drove spikes between the ends of the rails and wrecked the train. No one was killed, but Mr. Bremond, who was on the train, received quite serious injuries and was laid up for repairs for several days.
And while we’re at it, Bernard Kempinski at United States Military Railroads blog has a great photo of a more famous locomotive.