Texas State Railroad
AUSTIN -- In February, 1972, with the collective stroke of a pen the Parks and Wildlife Commission accepted the Texas State Railroad from its board of managers, and, suddenly, the Parks and Wildlife Department found itself in the railroad business.
The last commercial run on the state railroad was made in December, 1969, by the Texas, South-Eastern Railroad.
With that, 75 years of railroading on the line came to an end and the East Texas countryside started to cover tracks with grass and brambles.
Already over-used ties and rails further disintegrated and the line's 28 bridges became impassable.
What was the state park system to do with 26 miles of rusting railroad, with no engine or cars and no one who knew anything about railroads?
The Parks and Wildlife Commission in its July 1972 meeting pumped the first life back into the line with an initial budget of $86,129.
A renovation budget of $1.7 million was approved for the next fiscal year and the first construction started in October, 1972, at Maydelle, Cherokee County.
Under an agreement with the Department of Corrections, support facilities were constructed for the first phase of renovation. Fencing, buildings, utilities and storage facilities were built by inmates from the Texas prison system.
In November, 1972, the inmate labor force started clearing the four years of accumulated brush and debris from the right-of-way.
The next month, fencing along the right-of-way was started to secure the line and keep wandering livestock off the rails when the train went into operation.
Meanwhile, parks planners started looking for steam engines and old cars.
With help from Governor Briscoe, the department negotiated with the U.S. Department of Defense to receive eight railroad cars from the U.S. Army.
Classified as surplus by the army, the eight cars include a caboose, baggage car, two passenger cars and four tank cars.
Four old steam engines were acquired and overhauling began.
David Wallace, San Antonio engineer, sold the department a caboose, a combination baggage car and coach and two commuter coaches. The flat cars were purchased from the St. Louis and Southwestern Railroad.
Four tank cars from the Army will be used as part of fire-fighting equipment on the line.
Renovation of the tracks and bridges got underway between Rusk and Maydelle.
Since experienced railroad men are scarce in the ranks of Parks and Wildlife Department employees, the department called three railroading veterans from retirement: Jim Culpepper, Delbert Murray and Jess Denman.
Culpepper has built railroads all over the world and was charged with overall coordination of work on the line.
Murray, a veteran of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, was in charge of all new construction and Denman handles bridge renovation.
Working their way west from Rusk, inmate crews from Ellis and Eastham Prison Farms spend four 10-hour days a week replacing ties, adding new ballast to raise the crown and creating a hiking trail on all 26 miles of line.
Bridges were restored to serviceable condition along the way. Ties, caps, sills, stringers and pilings are renovated.
Texas State Railroad - Map between Stations
Palestine, TX - Texas State Railroad
A map of the Texas State Railroad depicts the train's route
between the Palestine station and the Rusk station
A workman erases the vestiges of time from a vintage steam locomotive, preparing it for a new coat of paint and eventual service on the Texas State Railroad. The new state railroad park was opened June 25 and could start regular passenger runs later this year.
TEXAS STATE RAILROAD
In the late 1800s the Texas prison system built a short rail line from the state penitentiary facility in north Rusk, southwestward to hardwood timber stands, where charcoal was made for use in firing the prison's iron ore smelting furnaces. The line served as the foundation of the Texas State Railroad, which was organized in 1894 in an effort to make the prison more self-sufficient by providing new markets for prison products. Two Texas governors, James Stephen Hogg and Thomas M. Campbell, both natives of Cherokee county, were instrumental in the railroad's development.
Built by prisoners and supervised by the state prison system, the line was competed in 1909 to Palestine (30 Mi. W), where it connected with existing routes. Setbacks, including the closing of the furnaces and the prison unit, limited the railroad's success; however, under a board of managers appointed by the legislature, the line was later leased to the Texas & New Orleans Railroad and the Texas & Southeastern Railroad, in 1972 control was transferred to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission for development as a state park. It now symbolizes the significant role the railroad industry played in Texas history.