|(This material originally
appeared in Texas Rails Online)
This was part of the Coleman Cutoff project to create a new main
line between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean by building
new track to connect existing Santa Fe trackage. Principal surveys
were conducted in 1906-1907 by F. M. Jones. Construction was begun
in 1909 under the corporate name Pecos and Northern Texas Railway.
The railhead from Plainview met the railhead from Coleman at Augustus.
The Santa Fe's Construction Department provided service on a small
scale until the Operating Department accepted the line on December
Until January 1, 1917, the Slaton-Sweetwater segment was operated
as part of the Plains Division of the Panhandle and Santa Fe Railway,
under control of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. After
1917 this became the Second District of the Slaton Division, P&SF.
The P&SF merged into the AT&SF in 1965. The Slaton Division
merged into the Plains Division on June 1, 1971, and this district
became the Fifth District.
The Plains Division was abolished and the Slaton-Sweetwater line
became the Slaton Subdivision of the New Mexico Division on May
15, 1988. Divisions were rearranged April 7, 1991, placing this
subdivision in the Central Region. The eastern limits were extended
October 25, 1992, to Tecific, the connection with the Union Pacific's
Baird Subdivision, which the Santa Fe had begun to use. Another
shuffling April 10, 1994, assigned the subdivision to the Pecos
Division. The South Texas Division became the local authority April
16, 1995. At that time, the Slaton Subdivision expanded westward
by annexing the Lubbock Subdivision (former Plains Division Fourth
District, former Slaton Division First District). So things remained
until the BNSF merger.
The principal topographic features of the line have been formed
by erosion. In ancient times a vast talus slope extended east from
the Rocky Mountains. Erosion has eaten away at it until the major
remnant is the cliff-bound plateau known as the Llano Estacado.
The Llano Estacado is several hundred miles across and covers a
huge area of West Texas. The Caprock Escarpment marks the eastern
edge of the elevated plain. East and south are badlands punctuated
by smaller plateaus remaining from the old talus slope.
The Fifth District begins at Slaton on the Llano Estacado near
Lubbock. The terrain here appears to be absolutely flat, but there
is a slight tilt. A few miles southeast, at Southland, the railroad
begins its descent of the Caprock. For five miles the track winds
through a series of deep cuts and high fills. From Buenos almost
to Post, the line runs alongside the bluffs. At Post the Caprock
is left behind, but the descent continues through a heavily eroded
landscape to the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River at Justiceburg.
The maximum grade is only 0.6%, but it is almost continuous for
thirty miles from Southland to Justiceburg.
After crossing two large deck plate girder bridges over the Brazos
and Sand Creek, the line begins a twelve mile climb towards a line
of bluffs that greatly resembles the Caprock. In fact, this is another
large fragment of the same ancient talus slope from which the Llano
Estacado was carved. This fragment is the divide between the Brazos
River drainage on the north and the Colorado River drainage on the
south. The divide consists of a chain of long, narrow plateaus extending
from Garza County into Taylor County.
The tracks cross out of Brazos drainage near Dermott, and descend
the gentle slopes of Colorado drainage to Snyder. Shortly, the rails
climb the divide again to the little town of Hermleigh. The divide
is several miles wide here and has the endless, pancake-flat look
of the Llano Estacado. At Pyron, the line crosses into Brazos drainage
again, descending several miles to District's end at Sweetwater.
(Sweetwater is very near the bluffs of the divide and the eroded
landscape made it impossible to run tracks through town. Instead,
the Santa Fe built its tracks and yard north of town and ran a spur
to the depot in town. The railroad passes through the divide at
The up and down nature of the District determined the location
of water stations between terminals. Pyron was at the top of a hill,
Snyder was at the bottom. Dermott, at the top of the next hill,
was also a coaling station in the very early days before oil became
the favored locomotive fuel. Justiceburg was one of the lowest spots
on the district. Halfway up the long Caprock grade was Dugger.
This is a single track main line with a maximum grade of 0.6%.
No official helper grades existed on this line, but occasionally
an extra engine would be sent to Post to help a westbound on the
Caprock. This was usually done for late-running passenger trains.
The original rail was used #75. New #90 was laid in 1922 and #115
in 1956. Welded #136 came in 1979 and 1981. Side tracks have been
extended over the years, notably in 1942. Most sidings are roughly
a mile long. The sidings at Gannon and at Southland were extended
to about two miles in length, apparently when welded rail was laid
through here. Rail at these two sidings is welded #136. The rail
in most other sidings is #90.
Automatic block signals were installed between Southland and Justiceburg
and between Pyron and Sweetwater in 1931. These two segments were
on curving, climbing track. The entire district received centralized
traffic control in 1950. The CTC system was revamped during the
Originally, mileage was measured from Galveston and timetable
direction was "west" from Sweetwater to Slaton. However, in 1926
a huge amount of oil traffic began moving through here from Borger.
The railroad appears to have found some advantage in reversing timetable
direction and made Slaton-Sweetwater "west." At the same time mile
posts were rearranged to show mileage from Kansas City, coming down
through Amarillo and Lubbock to Orient Junction at Sweetwater. In
1953, timetable direction was reversed again, although the mile
posts remained the same.
Oil development began between Post and Snyder in the late 1940s.
Extra trackage and oil loading racks were installed at Brand and
Fullerville and an eleven-mile spur was constructed from Brand into
southwestern Scurry County. For a decade a traveling switcher, usually
a GP7, operated out of Snyder to service these facilities. Local
trains later answered the need. The Santa Fe Pipeline Company constructed
the Chaparral Pipeline between Houston and Snyder (actually Brand,
tapping into an existing network of collecting lines) during the
early 1970s. This reduced oil shipping by rail. In the 1990s many
of the old oil facilities including the long spur have been removed.
The Santa Fe connected with the Roscoe, Snyder and Pacific Railway
at Snyder, but between Hermleigh and Brand the railroads were often
a few feet apart. The RS&P had already been in place between
Roscoe and Fluvanna when the Santa Fe was constructed. It has often
been claimed that the Abilene businessmen behind the RS&P used
the small company in an attempt to force the Santa Fe to build through
Abilene instead of Sweetwater. The RS&P abandoned its line north
of Snyder in 1942.
The RS&P survived on salesmanship. The company's large force
of traffic men were spread through the major cities of the East
and West. They routed a large amount of traffic (20,000 cars in
1967) over the company, which also was routed over the Santa Fe
and the Texas & Pacific. The little company was one of the earliest
short lines to own a large fleet of colorfully-painted cars for
per diem purposes. The RS&P also entered the car repair business
and at one time designed and built cars to meet shippers' needs.
Deregulation resulted in the abandonment of most of the RS&P
in 1984. A couple of miles remain at Roscoe to serve the car shops
being operated under the name National Rail Car.
Since the south part of this District was constructed by Gulf,
Colorado & Santa Fe Railway forces, the depots at Hermleigh,
Dermott, and Justiceburg were built to GC&SF standard plans.
The depot at Pyron, built six years later, was built to AT&SF
plans. All four structures were retired just before World War Two.
Depots of an unusual design were constructed at Lubbock, Post,
Snyder, and Sweetwater. Only the ones at Post and Snyder still stand
and the one at Snyder is closest to the original appearance. These
passenger stations were constructed of concrete and covered with
elaborate tile work (terra cotta). The tiles were an esthetic mottled
creme color that looks white in photographs. The tiles have been
painted over in recent years.
These terra cotta depots were used in conjunction with large frame
freight houses. When the freight house at Post was retired during
World War Two, the passenger station was heavily rebuilt as a combination
depot. Two decades later, when the freight warehouse at Snyder was
retired, railroading had changed and smaller facilities would serve,
so the depot received only interior changes. During its last years,
Snyder's freight house had mostly handled shipments via Santa Fe
East of Orient Junction at Sweetwater the Plains Division operated
into the terminal over the Northern Division of the Gulf Lines.
This was one of the last haunts of Santa Fe steam locomotives
in regular main line service. Twenty years later EMD F units ran
their final days here as well.