65th Annual Texas Tour

by Barbara Baker, Bob Ross & Wayne Heikkila

Rusk Shop for the Texas State Railroad (by Bob Ross)

We had a very nice ride down country lanes and beautiful scenery.  Although we did not quite go be the directions in the tour book it was a very nice peaceful drive.  Once we arrived at the Rusk workshop for the Texas State Railroad it became a very interesting if hot tour.  The supervisor of the shop was unavailable due to our later arrival and US Government Inspectors, but one of the mechanics was available to run us through the yard explaining about what the Texas State Railroad (TSRR) was all about.  They are not owned by the state, but do receive some grants from the State.  They are owned and operated by The Western Group from Ogden, Utah that operates some other railways like: Verde Canyon Railroad, AZ; Clarkdale Arizona Central Railroad, AZ; Texas and Eastern Railroad, TX; Cimarron Valley Railroad, KS; Oregon Eastern Railroad, OR; Southwestern Railroad, Whitewater Division, Rincon, NM; Southwestern Railcar Services and The Western Railroad Builders, Ogden, UT.

There was ample parking for several of the cars that made the trip.

We saw a parked steam engine and tender awaiting maintenance.  All steam powered locomotives are classified by their wheels i.e. a 2-8-2 has one set of 2 small front wheels, 4 sets of large driving wheels, and then one set of small wheels at the rear under the engineer’s compartment.  This first engine was a 1917 Baldwin Locomotive Works #30 (2-8-2 Mikado Class Steam engine) that has an oil fired boiler.  This uses recycled oil and flammable fluids like brake fluid, transmission fluid etc to heat the boiler to make the steam that is piped to the pistons at the front of the engine that drive the drive rods that are attached to the drive wheels.

Next we were shown through the actual shop floor where the engines, tenders, and cars are serviced and rebuilt. This area was huge and had two separate rails where cars or engines could be brought in.  There was even an elevator type of floor lift for removing the trucks or wheel assemblies from a car or engine.  There was no overhead crane to lift very heavy parts as the floor pits are able to get to most moving parts under the cars and engines

They did have at the yard a steam crane that was capable of lifting an engine or car, however it had not been in service for several years due to needing parts no longer made.

We then toured their machine shop where they have to make parts from scratch at they can’t cannibalize from their existing stock in the yard or buy from other railroads in the country.  Their largest socket was for 1¾” bolt or nut and the largest wrench was 2¼” for that size bolt or nut.

Next we saw engine 28 another 1917 Baldwin Locomotive Works #28 (2-8-0 Consolidation Class, Steam engine) that was running while they were working on it.  Every so often it would build up too much steam and the engineer would vent steam out the sides to keep the excess pressure valve popping off and venting the steam straight up.

There was one car that was almost all made of wood.  Even the truck plate attaching the trucks to the body of the car was made of wood.  The trucks and the two major steel beams running the length of the car were about the only metal pieces other than nails and bolts holding the hardware to the wood.  It was thought that the car was from late 1890 to early 1910.

Friday’s Activities (by Barbara Baker)

The car judges were treated to a breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. They started their duties around 8 AM in the adjacent parking lot of the hotel. The ladies on tour gathered at the Fredonia’s Rusk room by 9 AM to prepare some cupcakes. The owner and a helper of the Blue Horse Bakery proceeded to teach us how to decorate cupcakes. Some of us did a so-so job, others were great. We decorated four cupcakes total; two for ourselves and the other two to be served after the meal that night. When we finished, we went to see the cars being judged. Beautiful cars! Judging lasted ‘til around 12 noon. At 12:50 PM, we lined up our cars & headed to Cushing to the Seventh Street restaurant. Starting off, it was like watching the Keystone Cops. Our leader, went off and left us after first red light. Everyone seemed to be doing their own route at this point and crisscrossing each other. Finally, we all got back to the correct route and after 23 miles, we arrived at our destination. We were served beef and chicken fajitas with a side salad, pico, salsa, sour cream, tortillas, pinto beans and jalapeños with a banana pudding for dessert. After leaving, we were to travel to Millard's Crossing, a charming, reconstructed historic village situated on the north side of Nacogdoches, Texas.  This remarkable museum complex is named for the railroad track that once crossed through the Millard family property and now borders the north side of the village. Some of us made the stop at the village while others missed the turn. But since it was getting late and hot, some decided I’m going on to the hotel to cool down and rest.

For our evening meal and entertainment we were to wear out school colors. From the hotel, we walked to the Tobacco Warehouse; there was a band playing 50s and 60s music. The Tobacco Warehouse is a two-story brick warehouse; our meal was waiting for us on the second floor. Our meal consisted of pot roast, honey chipotle grilled chicken, veggie medley, roasted new potatoes, rolls and tea. Some of the group were able to enjoy this meal, but last two tables weren’t able because they ran out of food. Our host, Nichole, made up for this by letting those two tables go first during the Saturday night banquet. After the meal, or lack there of, we walked back to the hotel to rest up for Saturday; an all day train ride!

Texas State Railroad Tour (by Wayne Heikkila)

Adriana and I showed up for the Texas Tour on Friday afternoon after spending a few days in Houston. We enjoyed dinner and the company of the others at the Tobacco Warehouse just before we settled in for the night. The tour for Saturday started at 7:30 AM to get to Palestine by 9:30 PM, about 68 mile trip.  We got out to our 1990 Chevrolet pickup at about 7:15 and the cars were already lining up to leave. On the way, one of the members in a 1960 Thunderbird had a flat tire and was on the side of the road. Several people had already stopped and were in the process of changing the tire when we drove by. It was nice to see so many had stopped to help. The drive and the scenery to Palestine were very pleasant. The train was scheduled to leave at 10:00 on its 4 hour tour. But, due to the large number of people that morning, we got a late start. We entered our coach and sat with Joe and Lizette Peters. The trip started with a champagne toast just before the train left the depot. Then, snacks of fruit and cream cheese rolls were served. After the train hostess took care of the passenger’s needs, she was then free to spend time giving us some history on the railroad. The train was started in 1881 with prison labor to haul raw materials to the iron smelter at the Rusk Penitentiary. The 25 mile track that goes over 24 bridges was completed in 1909 and ceased regulator service in 1921. The railroad was transferred to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1972. The hostess would cover a little more history on the towns along the way with other items as we pasted them. Like the park where the town holds the hay riders in the fall along with other activates. We were enjoying visiting with Joe and Lizette as we covered the 25 mile trip to the Rusk Depot. We reached Rusk around noon for lunch. The menu was ether Ham, Turkey, or Pulled Pork sandwiches with Cheetos or chips on the side and a drink. The Rusk depot had a park with a picnic area and playground so people could visit while having lunch. At a little after 1:00 PM the train headed out for the 2 hour trip back to Palestine. After the train was on its way, Adriana and I walked around on the train. The train still has the original kitchen coach. Inside was a very cool old wood stove for cooking. That stove took up a large portion of the coach along with a work area and a sink and fridge. It was after 3:00 PM when the train got back to the Palestine Depot. Our next stop was going to be Braly’s hardware store of unique items. Although, arrangements had been made for the store to stay open till 4:00 for us, it closed at its scheduled hours, 3:00 pm.  We drove back to the hotel for the banquet later that night. The tour was very good and we enjoyed ourselves. If you have a chance to ride the Texas State Railroad you should do so. It was quite the adventure.