JP Recalls Early Days Of Railroad
ATHENS -- Engraved on a large wooden device on the wall of a basement office in the Henderson County Courthouse is a motto, "Justice With Mercy."
It is the slogan of William Cuthbert Richards, 80, justice of the peace for the last six years.
Prior to 1972, Richards served on the board of managers of the Texas State Railroad 22 years and as chairman of the board the last 10 of those years.
"I'm still vitally interested in the Texas State Railroad," the tall, militarily erect JP says.
Richards lives with his wife, Mary LaRue Richards, in a 100-year-old mansion at 807 East Tyler in Athens. They've lived there 32 years. The fine old house has 14 rooms, four baths and three fireplaces. The couple lives there alone. Their children and grandchildren are "all grown up and gone," he says.
When the old Palestine depot of the State Railroad had to be abandoned, the board chairman searched through an accumulation of dusty and musty records going back through the lifetime of the railroad and tried to salvage what he could.
Weathered old bound volumes, some with bindings gnawed by rats, have since been kept by Justice Richards in a storage building behind his home.
Their records date hack to 1909 and range from freight abstract books, listing all freight shipments, to daily expense and claims paid out for damaged shipments, maintenance of equipment, and such nostalgia as payments made on claims for cattle and a hog killed by trains on the railroad.
A visit to the air-conditioned office which Richard shares with a Department of Public Safety officer and two secretaries proved that he practices his "Justice With Mercy" slogan.
A parade of young drivers whose licenses were at the mercy of the spry old JP came before him between 10 and 11:30 a.m. that day.
"I want to help you keep your license," he'd say to each. He gave each a fatherly lecture and a stern warning that they would have to avoid being brought before him again, then probated suspension of their driving rights.
Richards was born on a farm in the Cryer Creek community near Blooming Grove, west of Corsicana, April 6, 1896. At age 8 he moved to Blooming Grove.
He became a traveling salesman for the American Tobacco Company out of Nacogdoches; his assignment included Palestine and other area cities and towns.
In 1934, he got into the road-building business; his first job was in southern Anderson County and north of Grapeland.
On Oct. 25, 1921, he was married to Mary LaRue of Athens, and for the last 50 years they have lived in Athens.
Richards was appointed to the Texas State Railroad board of managers in 1948 by Gov. Allan Shivers, whom he supported for office throughout the governor's tenure, and was successively reappointed on the board.
While on the State Railroad board, Mr. Richards delved into the history of the railroad and compiled a two-page summary, copies of which he keeps in his Courthouse office.
Convicts who helped build the track from North Rusk to Palestine, Richards says, were paid 50 cents a day.
The town of Maydelle was named for Gov. Tom Campbell's daughter, Maydelle, the former state appointee says.
Justice Richards says he personally succeeded in successful negotiation of an arrangement involving continued freight service between Palestine and the Vernon Calhoun Packing Company complex.
"The Missouri Pacific Railroad had given up on that," he says.
The ICC in Washington had ruled that the State Parks and Wildlife Department, which took over the State Railroad from Rusk to a point where the Palestine Railroad Park now is located, would not be allowed to haul commercial freight on the then proposed tourism line.
"Palestine people naturally wanted the tourist trains to come on into Palestine, but if they did that, the packing plant would be deprived of rail connections," Richards explains.
"We worked out an arrangement whereby the line from Palestine to the packing plant remains separate from the Parks and Wildlife project. The Missouri Pacific continues to serve the packing plant on that portion of the old track.
"The State is paid $2.50 for each carload shipment from the packing plant."
Richards says his part in making that arrangement met with disfavor of some Palestine people, but he acted in the interest of the State and to preserve the service to the packing plant in the only way it could be done.