Rusk's Railroad History
Other than the Texas State Railroad, two other railroads served Rusk. Neither exist today, although traces of their presence can still be found.
The first railroad to arrive eventually became part of the St. Louis Southwestern Railroad system (SSW), best known as the 'Cotton Belt' Railroad.
The second railroad was the Texas & New Orleans Railroad (T&NO) that was part of the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP). In time, both were owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad.
1. Service from the St. Louis Southwestern Railroad and its Precursors
The Texas State Railroad (TSR) was built to conveniently transport raw materials to the Rusk Penitentiary for those industries within its walls that were provided for inmates to usefully occupy their time. It was constructed at a time that c0incided with the building of a commercial railroad was planned to extend from Tyler to the Gulf of Mexico at Sabine Pass. Such a connection between the TSR and a commercial railroad would allow the products of the prison’s industry to be conveniently transported to a distant destination. Eventually, the TSR would connect at Rusk with two commercial railroads for about thirty years, but the first and most important connecting railroad is best known by its final identity of a branch of the St. Louis Southwestern Railroad (SSW), the “Cotton Belt Route”.
Prior to becoming part of the ‘Cotton Belt’, the connecting line underwent many changes of ownership that were seemingly typical of the era, but its foundation lay in an ill-fated local effort to ensure that Rusk was connected by rail to an established railroad.
1.2 Disappointment for Rusk
After the Civil War, only two railroads were operable in Texas, and both were in poor condition. It would take several years for the industry to gain momentum in investment and construction. Nevertheless, one railroad, the Houston & Great Northern (H&GN), was chartered in 1866 to construct a railroad from Houston north to the Red River and onward to the Canadian border. The president of the H&GN, Dr. C. G.Young, was a resident of Rusk. Naturally, it was anticipated that the railroad would pass through Rusk, and bring the benefits of this modern means of transportation to the area.
Construction of the railroad from Houston was delayed until 1871; by the end of that year New Waverly was reached, 55 miles from Houston.
In August 1870, the International Railroad Company acquired a charter to construct from the south bank of the Red River, a railroad that would extend to Laredo thenceforth to Mexico City via Austin. Construction began northwards from Hearne in December, 1870, and had laid 50 miles of track by December 1871.
As two burgeoning railroads developed northwards, Dr. Charles Young was killed in an accident in August, 1871.
In February 1872, the H&GN and the International Railroads began negotiations to merge. By the end of 1872, the H&GN had extended further by 56 miles to reach Crockett., and by January 1873, the International Railroad completed the line from Palestine to Longview.
Jacksonville (twelve miles north of Rusk) had secured service by the International Railroad in late October, 1972, although the town had to relocate itself two miles closer to do so.
In May 1873, the H&GN reached Palestine from Crockett (38 miles), thus completing the line from Palestine to Houston, a distance of 151 miles. The railroads merged to form the International - Great Northern Railroad (IGN) on September 30th 1873.
Rusk had been bypassed.
1.3 Rusk Transportation Company
Rusk’s residents reacted by initiating a special act of the Legislature of Texas to approve the incorporation of the Rusk Transportation Company on May 2, 1874. A narrow gauge tram road was to be constructed from the IGN railroad at Jacksonville to the town of Rusk. Almost one year later, the ‘Rusk Tramway’ was inaugurated on April 29th, 1875.
A steam locomotive weighing six tons had been purchased, and named “Cherokee”. Also acquired were three flat cars and a passenger coach named “Gov. Coke” after the current (15th) Governor of Texas (1874- 1875). In an attempt to economize, pine rails cut from trees of the local forest were used for the track instead of iron rails.
Operation of the tram road was fraught with difficulties. The rails warped, derailments were frequent. Freight was thrown from flat cars, and passengers were obliged to assist the crew with any re-railing. At best, the 15 mile journey from Jacksonville took two and a half hours. Despite the purchase of a second locomotive in 1878, the company could not raise capital to improve the line, and was sold at foreclosure to a local group for $90.50 on January 7th 1879.
Probably the only recognizable feature of the Rusk Tramway is a portion of the grade, a ridge that is visible from the roadside of FM 347. The viewpoint is identified by a Texas Historical Marker placed about 4.5 miles from Jacksonville.
1.4. Kansas and Gulf Short Line Railroad.
he Kansas and Gulf Short Line Railroad Company was chartered on February 18, 1880, to connect Tyler with Sabine Pass in Jefferson County. The first board included Richard B. Hubbard (16th Governor of Texas) and Major James P. Douglas, CSA, both of whom having been involved with the start-up of the Tyler Tap Railroad in 1871.
The Tyler Tap Railroad had been constructed to ensure that Tyler was served by a railroad when it became clear that Tyler would not be served by the main line of either the Texas & Pacific Railroad (TP) or the IGN. (Just prior to the merger to form the IGN in 1873, the H&GN had built a branch line from Troup (IGN) through Tyler to Mineola (TP). Apparently, this was not sufficient to satisfy the desires of Tyler as an expanding center of agriculture and trade.) The Tyler Tap established its own connection with the TP at Big Sandy in 1877, but the railroad soon experienced financial difficulties.
Douglas reacted by interesting financiers based in St. Louis who saw the benefits of extending the Tyler Tap to Texarkana and shipping Texas cotton to St. Louis, giving birth to the system's familiar name, the Cotton Belt Route. The Tyler Tap was then reorganized as the Texas and St. Louis Railroad in 1879. Early in 1880, Douglas resigned his position as president of the Texas and St. Louis Railway to focus on the needs of the Kansas and Gulf Short Line Railroad (K&GSL), and ensure that Tyler was served by yet another railroad, this time from the south.
The Tyler Tap, (and its successor the Texas & St. Louis Railroad), and the K&GSL were all narrow gauge (3ft.) railroads. The advantages of using a reduced width of the track includes lower construction costs than those for standard gauge (4ft. 8½”) track, and the ability to use tighter curves that are often needed to negotiate hilly country. The disadvantages arise when connections are made to the more popular standard gauge track. Costs escalate because of the need to transfer freight from cars of one gauge to cars of another gauge, instead of simply transferring cars from one railroad to another by a connecting track.
On January 22, 1881, the property and franchises of the Rusk Transportation Company with its seventeen mile line between Rusk and Jacksonville, were acquired by the K&GSL for $1000. (Remarkably, in 1875, the Rusk Transportation Company had amended its charter to permit its conversion from a tram road to a railroad with the right to build from Tyler to Sabine Pass.) Surprisingly, rather than begin at Tyler, construction began immediately from Jacksonville towards Rusk, probably prompted by the eventual needs of the Rusk Penitentiary that was under construction.
Parts of the Rusk Tramway were used in the construction of the K&GSL. From Dialville to Rusk, the K&GSL’s right of way followed an ancient Indian trail (the Saline Road) that connected Indian villages near Nacogdoches to the Neches Saline, a very early source of salt. North of Dialville, the railroad diverged away from the Saline Road, whose path is largely followed by FM 347.
A significant portion of the K&GSL was constructed using convict labor. At that time, convicts were often used on railroad construction and farms, so long as they were within 20 miles of their prison. Sometime in 1881, the K&GSL received a locomotive, and twenty four freight cars at Jacksonville. The construction rate was boosted by their arrival and the line from Rusk to Tyler was completed on December 12, 1882. One year later, the K&GSL had reached a township (Homer) that was about five miles south of Alto, sixty one miles from Tyler. Lufkin was eventually reached on July 1, 1885, a length of ninety miles, connecting Tyler with another narrow gauge railroad, the Houston East & West Texas Railroad which provided a connection to Houston from 1883. Shreveport could be accessed in 1886.
As surveyed, the track would not run close to the site of the Penitentiary, and the K&GSL had to be persuaded to alter its path to approach the Texas State Penitentiary more closely. Having agreed to pass within 1½ miles of the prison, the railroad then refused to construct a branch line to the prison. The Penitentiary was forced to construct its own section of railroad, and to justify the cost of construction as a necessary improvement to the prison. Convicts laid a track that was 1.3 miles long to connect the prison to the Rusk depot of the K&GSL in late 1882. The branch was the foundation of the Texas State Railroad, and the first and only railroad to have been owned by the State of Texas. In due course, the prison acquired its own locomotive and rolling stock. The Rusk Penitentiary was opened for convicts in January, 1883.
The first locomotive acquired by the K&GSL in 1880 was a 4-4-0 constructed by W. H. Bailey and Company of Connellsville, Pennsylvania, weighing twelve tons and costing $5,200, secondhand. Later, a second locomotive was acquired, a 2-6-0 from Thomas Paul & Sons Iron Works, of Frostburg, MD.
1.5 St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railway
The K&GSL line from Tyler to Lufkin proved to be profitable in 1886. On the other hand, the Texas & St. Louis Railway Company in Texas (which had expanded the Tyler Tap to serve Gatesville to the west, and Texarkana in the east) had fallen into financial difficulties. Under foreclosure, the Texas & St. Louis Railway in Texas was sold and acquired by the St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railway Company in Texas, which had been chartered on January 29, 1886 for that purpose.
The new company owned 305 miles of narrow gauge track from Texarkana to Gatesville on May 1, 1886. By January 12, 1887, all track had been converted to standard gauge.
On April 29th, 1887, the new company acquired the Kansas and Gulf Short Line Railroad Company, still a narrow gauge line between Tyler and Lufkin, yet continued to be operated independently.
On May 13, 1889, both the St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railway Company in Texas and the ex - K&GSL entered receivership, and operated in this manner until June 1, 1891. On that day, both companies became new companies owned by the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company; the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company of Texas (standard gauge) and the Tyler Southeastern Railway Company (narrow gauge), respectively.
1.6. Tyler Southeastern Railway Company
The Tyler Southeastern Railway Company (TSE) was chartered on January 12, 1891 for the purposes of acquiring and operating the K&GSL Railroad Company. The K&GSL, which had foreclosed in May 1889, was sold on January 9th to the purchasing agent of the organizing committee of the St. Louis Southwestern railroad, and conveyed to the Tyler Southeastern Railway Company on January 13. 1891.
On September 1, 1895, the TSE was converted to standard gauge. Presumably all of its rolling stock (eight locomotives and 198 cars) had to be converted, sold or scrapped. The Texas State Railroad (TSR) was forced to follow suit; and the decision was also made to extend its track for about five miles to the southwest from the prison to tap into new sources of timber for its internal industries. This required the construction of a diamond crossing for the TSR over the TSE at a point about two miles west of the TSE's depot in Rusk, which is still visible today.
On May 10, 1899, the Legislature of Texas passed a special law authorizing the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company of Texas, successor to St. Louis, Arkansas and Texas Railway Company in Texas, to purchase, own and operate the railroad property and franchises of the Tyler Southeastern Railway Company. On July 1, 1899, operations of the Tyler Southeastern were assumed by the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company of Texas. At a meeting of the stockholders and directors held on October 6, 1899, the merger was completed.
1.7. St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company of Texas (Southwestern of Texas)
As required by Texas law, the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company of Texas (SSW) operated that part of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway system which was located in Texas. Also required by Texas law, the Texas Company operated from a Texas-based office, which was located in Tyler, TX.
As a system, the mail line of the Cotton Belt Route ran in a roughly NE to SW direction from St. Louis and Memphis via Texarkana to Gatesville and the Dallas/Fort Worth area. In 1915, the Cotton Belt system owned 1,542 miles of main track and branch lines, with trackage rights for a further 230 miles. Within Texas, the SSW operated 803 miles. The Southwestern of Texas owned its locomotives and cars jointly with the SSW, and owned a 40 percent interest in the equipment. In 1928, this included 250 locomotives, 9,642 freight and company service cars, and 172 passenger cars.
During this period, the timber resources for the prison were depleted, and by 1903, the decision was made to tap forest to the west of Rusk, which would lead to the extension of the TSR into Palestine, reached in 1909. Meanwhile, the Texas and New Orleans Railroad had been encouraged to construct a branch line from Gallatin to the proximity of the Rusk Penitentiary. The SSW now had competition f0r traffic on the TSR.
1.8. Southern Pacific Railroad Company
The Southern Pacific Company gained control of the St. Louis Southwestern system on April 14, 1932, but the Cotton Belt continued to be operated separately. Nevertheless, there was little or no justification for the presence of the Gallatin branch of the Texas and New Orleans Railroad (TNO), since it had lost its status in providing an alternative railroad service for Rusk. (The TNO had been leasing the TSR since 1921.) The change in ownership reduced Gallatin to being a mere duplication of Jacksonville.
Obtaining trackage rights for the TNO over the Cotton Belt's route from Jacksonville to Rusk must have been a formality in 1932. The Gallatin branch was abandoned in 1934.
The TNO continued to lease the Texas State Railroad until 1962. The Texas South-eastern Railroad leased the TSR from 1962 until 1969 hauling pulpwood, for example, using the Cotton Belt connection at Rusk to return to its base at Diboll, via Lufkin. That may have been the last industrial activity of the TSR that utilized Rusk.
2. Service from the Texas and New Orleans Railroad
(work in progress)
In October 1976, the Southern Pacific company filed for the abandonment of the TNO line from Bonita Junction (outskirts of Nacogdoches) to Seagoville, which served Jacksonville and Gallatin. The track was eventually lifted in 1982.
In 1987, the SSW line from Lufkin to Tyler was lifted, isolating the TSR at its eastern extremity. For the Southern Pacific, this was the last of a series of abandonments and sales that reduced its presence in Texas from 3966 to 2484 miles, a reduction of 37% over almost 60 years. Changes in the US economy, particularly the trucking industry during the 1970s, and other mergers in the railroad industry precipitated an attempt by the Southern Pacific to merge with another famous railroad, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company. This move was denied by the ICC in July, 1986. Instead, the Southern Pacific Transportation Company was sold to the Rio Grande Industries, owners of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad Company in October, 1988, then taken over by the Union Pacific Railroad nearly eight years later.