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Many Difficulties Were Met in Building Early Texas Railroad

Selections From The Splinters - Volume 7



One of Original Backers Gives History of Pioneer Work


An interesting account of the early history of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railway is contained in the current issue of the Southern Pacific Bulletin, edited in Houston by H. M. Mayo. Charles Babbidge, the author of the article is a resident of Montclair, N.J., and in his eighty-first year. Mr. Babbidge was treasurer and assistant secretary of the H.H.& S.A. from 1870 until the assumption of Harriman control in 1901.

Before Civil War.

The Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railway was originally called the Buffalo Bayou & Colorado R.R. Chartered to run from Harrisburg on Buffalo Bayou across the Brazos River to the Colorado River thence to Austin. It was built to Alleyton prior to the civil war I think.

A few years after the war the road was sold out under foreclosure of mortgage. A new company was formed under the name of B.B.B. & C. R.R. Nav. Co.

The H. & T. C. R.R. Co. having built its Hempstead branch to Austin, the extension of the line to that city was abandoned.

A new charter was obtained in December,1870, under the name of the G. H. & S. A. Ry. to build to San Antonio.

There were five persons in the new company holding interests as follows: T. W. Peirce, one-fourth; Oakes Ames, one-fourth; John Sledge, one-fourth; John Sealy, one-eighth; J. F. Barrett, one-eighth. Mr. Sledge very soon sold his interest to Mr. Peirce, the failure of Oliver Ames & Sons made it necessary for Mr. Peirce to buy the interest of Mr. Ames. Later on Mr. Sealy and Mr. Barrett sold out. Mr. Peirce thus becoming sole owner with the exception of a few shares issued for construction purposes which ownership he retained until he joined Mr. C. P. Huntington and Associates in control of the Southern Pacific Company.

First Officers.

The original officers of the G. H. & S. A. Ry. Co. were T. W. Peirce, president; F. T. LeEstrange, secretary and assistant treasurer; Charles Babbidge, treasurer and assistant secretary.

The general office of the company was at first in Galveston and afterwards in Harrisburg and later in Houston.

The executive office was in Boston where the annual and most of the directors meetings were held.

Mr. LeEstrange served only a short time, Mr. J. E. Fisher being elected in his place. Mr. Peirce remained as president until his death in October, 1885, being succeeded by Mr. Huntington who served until his death in August, 1900.

Mr. Babbidge served as treasurer and assistant secretary until sometime in the 90's when the Texas law required the treasurer to reside in that state, continuing, however, as assistant secretary until the company was turned over with other Southern Pacific property to Mr. Harriman in 1901. Among the other early officers of the G. H. & S. A. were Col. H. B. Andrews, as vice president; C. C. Gibbs, freight agent; T. W. Peirce, general passenger and ticket agent; James Converse, chief engineer; George B. Nichols, superintendent; D. T. Davis, master mechanic; later W. G. Van Vleck was general superintendent and I think general manager. The years 1868 to 1873 were called years of great railroad building in this country. Nearly 30,000 miles were constructed during this period. This excessive building brought on the panic of 1873.

Slow Progress.

The panic following the burning of Chicago in 1871 and the great fire in Boston in 1872 made the raising of money for railroads almost impossible for many years and foreclosures were common. It was during this period that the repairs to the old road and extension to San Antonio were undertaken.

Mr. Converse was put in charge of location and a Mr. Lawrence Kellett in charge of construction, the latter was shortly afterward unfortunately killed and Mr. Converse assumed his duties also.

Owning to the difficulty of raising money as referred to the progress was slow but steady. In order to hasten the work the county of Bexar voted an issue of $300,000 bonds to be given the company on the completion of the road to San Antonio within a certain time. The road was opened to San Antonio in February, 1877, just in time to secure this grant. After the line had been built to San Antonio a route to Fredericksburg was surveyed about seventy-five miles long. Mr. Peirce and Mr. Converse desired to build to that point, but the new interests which had then come into the company did not coincide and so it was not built.

Had it been the San Antonio & Aransas Pass would never have been built to Kerrville and afterward extended east from San Antonio in competition with the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio. This error in judgment cost the Southern Pacific Company the very large amount of money required to purchase the San Antonio & Aransas Pass.

Eagle Pass Extension

After Mr. Peirce became associated with Mr. Huntington it was determined to extend the line to El Paso with a branch to Eagle Pass. Owing to greater facilities for raising money this extension of 640 miles was completed early in 1883, making a through line from New Orleans to San Francisco.

There were many interesting things connected with those olden days.

One of the first things done in rehabilitating the old line east of Columbus was the building of a new iron bridge across the Brazos River. During its construction a low water bridge of piling was built. The trains would run down one bank and up the other.

After the completion of the new bridge, at a cost of many thousands of dollars, Superintendent Nichols planned an excursion to Columbus. All went well on the outward trip, but when the party reached the bridge on its return that afternoon the water had risen forty feet and covered it. It was supposed the bridge was lost and telegram to that effect was sent the Boston office, causing much gloom which, however, was removed by a later dispatch that the bridge was safe. Mr. Nichols had in the meantime secured a cable, fastened one end around the false work and the other to his locomotive and tore away the false work, releasing the water and saving the bridge.

I have referred to the death of Mr. Kellett, which was not only very unfortunate but very singular. In the performance of his duties he was riding in the caboose of a freight train and for some reason started to go forward. At the same time a Negro brakeman also desired to go forward, but seeing Mr. Kellett, he stepped aside to allow Mr. Kellett to go first.

Mr. Kellett reached for the ladder on the end of the freight car, but just at that moment the train broke apart at that point and he fell between the cars.

At the close of the Civil War there were I think but four railroads in Texas and only one extending to a border. The Galveston, Houston & Henderson Railroad ran from Galveston to Houston, the Houston & Texas Central Railroad from Houston some miles north, the Texas & New Orleans Railroad from Houston a few miles east and the B. B. B. & C. Railroad from Harrisburg eighty miles west. Thus no entrance to Texas by rail was possible and it was not until well into the seventies that the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad entered Texas and connected with the Houston & Texas Central, which by that time had reached Denison.

Up to that time the only way to enter was either by steamer from the sea or by rail to New Orleans and thence to Brasher (now Morgan City) and Morgan steamer from there to Galveston. Under these conditions it was difficult to secure rolling stock. In order to do so it was necessary to charter a schooner with what was called a free deck. The trucks would be removed from engine tenders and cars and stowed below deck and the rest placed on the sides of the vessel between the masts and rails. The cost of thus loading an engine would be about $600.

These engines were small, weighing about 16 tons with cylinders about 12-16. The passenger cars were short and low studded, seating abut fifty people. It was quite a problem what sort of covering to put on the cushions of the car seats as the cowboys had a habit of putting their feet on them without first removing spurs. Cane seats were cooler, but would not last. Plush would last only until the cowboys cut them.

It is perhaps not known by many of the people of these times that there was as late as the early 70's no standard gauge for railroads, or at least it was not observed. In the North most of the roads were 4 feet 8-1/2 inches, although the Erie and its connection were six feet. In the Southern and some Western states the gauges were five feet and upward. This prevented much interchange of freight cars and as late as 1883 passenger cars bound South on the Southern Railway had to have their trucks changed at Danville.

Following the example of other roads the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio adopted "Sunset Route" for a slogan as starting at Houston the trains went west toward the setting sun.

The public used to say the reason for the name was that while the trains started in the morning the sun had set before they reached San Antonio.

The T. & N. O. and L. W. adopted "Star and Crescent" for their slogan, but on completion of the through line that was dropped and the name Sunset applied to all.

From Galveston News
Sunday December 16, 1928.


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