Along the Texas State Railroad Route
There is never enough time with family, friends or coworkers when you’re off the clock. That’s why we put you in a vintage time capsule to make time stand still. Plan to leave your mobile and gaming devices behind. Sit next to someone you love and someone who loves you. Enjoy the comradery, the friendship, the closeness that can only happen on a train … and encounter a little time travel along the way.
One can’t ride the rails of Texas State Railroad without becoming immersed in the romance of train travel and the significant historic accomplishments along the route. And, the environs through which this iron road passes is every bit as intriguing. No wonder it’s called the Official State Railroad of Texas.
Narration throughout the trip gives passengers a glimpse into the history, legend and lore associated with this scenic railroad that has seen two hundred years pass by since its inception. Vintage and current railroad tunes, coupled with favorite melodies about Texas, mixes well with fun-filled facts.
In 1881, inmates, incarcerated at the newly-opened East Texas Penitentiary north of Rusk, began laying the original narrow-gauge rails to transport hardwoods and charcoal used as fuel for the prison-operated smelter. The furnace supplied iron products that were shipped throughout the region, including columns and dome structuring for the capitol building in Austin. In 1909, thanks to a Rusk native, Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell, prison crews completed the railroad to Palestine and commerce in the Piney Woods region flourished. The rural rails of the route between Rusk and Palestine were forged.
Little did the men laboring to construct the railroad through the temperate woodland known as State Forest #3 know that one day the line would run through Texas’ first and largest state forest. Transferred from the Texas State Prison System in 1925, the I.D. Fairchild State Forest, named for Senator I.D. Fairchild, would become renowned for its stunning seasonal changes, unusual railroad achievements and impressive wildlife and bird watching, all visible from a well-appointed railcar.
The Piney Woods is home to over 100 species of birds that nest in the catalpa and sycamores or the many species of hardwoods and evergreens, including the fast-growing loblolly pine, which can rise to over 100 feet tall.
The woodlands along the route also are a sanctuary to the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, one of eight species of woodpeckers that inhabits East Texas, and the bald eagle, our nation’s proud and stately symbol. It is not uncommon to see squirrels, rabbits, deer and other forest creatures scurrying through the brush as the train passes. Seeing domestic animals is commonplace as the train traverses ranchland.
The train passes a vintage turntable which is still operable at Maydelle. Built in the late 1890s in Paris, Texas, this rare example of railroad technology was used to turn engines around in a six-stall roundhouse owned by the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad. In 1981 it was installed on the Texas State Railroad route. Several trains each year take passengers to view the actual turning of a locomotive on the turntable.
As the train moves through the undulating country of the Piney Woods it crosses over 24 bridges that span the creeks flowing through the forestland. At one point, it passes close to where the Ben Cannon Ferry crossed the Neches River from 1848 to 1851 and where a toll bridge operated from 1854 to 1924. Prior to crossing on the ferry, Native Americans and early Anglo settlers forded the river at this same site called Duty Crossing, named for early settler Richard Duty. Today, the train crosses the river on the largest bridge on the route which is 1,042 feet long and 35 feet high.
The Texas State Railroad has always been a prime setting for movie making and passengers might recognize scenery, buildings or railcars that were showcased in over 30 films, television productions or documentaries shot on location during the last 40 years, including NBC’s Revolution. Anecdotes shared by onboard car attendants about the making of these productions are just as fun as watching the movies.