Lake Life

     
   

Steam train keeps history alive
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

PALESTINEĖA little more than an hourís car ride from Cedar Creek Lake is a historic treasure and a worthwhile family outing.
Itís the Texas State Railroad, which runs from Palestine to Rusk and back again for a four-hour trip aboard one of the few authentic steam operated railroads in America.
The 50-mile round trip takes passengers through the piney woods of East Texas at a leisurely 25 mph pace in either air-conditioned comfort (call for reservations, 800-442-8951) or general seating in restored open passenger cars.
While rolling across 24 trestles over creek bottoms and road-crossings, one can readily imagine what transportation used to be like during the beginnings of industrialization and the expansion westward.
The rhythmic clatter, distinctive train whistle at every road crossing, and the gentle motion is a great change of pace from the frenetic tempo of modern living.
Open cars are a welcome change from air-conditioned rooms.
The journey back, after having enjoyed a leisurely picnic lunch and walk around a good-sized pond at the Rusk station, or a jaunt on the pond in a paddle boat, offers all the conditions for indulging in a nice summer nap.
This experience is made affordable for families with children and train enthusiasts with an adult ticket price of $17 and children under 12 riding free June through September.
Many families took advantage of the summertime rates, near the end of July.
The Texas State Railroad is a fully self-contained railroad system, with four steam engines, four antique diesel locomotives, and a complete steam engine restoration shop, while its track crew maintains 25.5 miles of track and 24 concrete trestles.
The longest trestle measures 1,042 feet and crosses the Neches River.
Passengers board the historic trains at either Rusk or Palestine.
Both ends of the line have turn-of-the-century style train stations with canteen, ticket office, gift shop and historic displays.
At Rusk, a 10-minute film explains just how steam engines work.
The trip takes 90 minutes to reach the opposite station.
The TSRR is one of the only steam railroads in the United States that runs two steam trains simultaneously.
The eastbound and westbound trains meet twice daily at the mid-point of the run.
This gives rail enthusiasts a rare chance to see two historic steam engines switch and pass, making it one of the nationís most interesting steam train operations.
Dating back to the late 1800s, the TSRR was built to service an industry operated by prisoners.
When the Texas Prison System opened the East Texas Penitentiary in Rusk, officials felt the areaís rich ore and immense stands of timber were the ideal raw materials to feed a foundry.
Converting the ore to cast iron made economic sense.
So, in 1884, a foundry was completed.
Officials soon realized transporting timber and iron ore by horse and wagon was impractical.
In 1896, construction began on five miles of track.
In 1906, five more miles were added.
By 1909, the track stretched all the way to the town of Palestine.
The TSRR interchanged with the Cotton Belt Railroad in Rusk and the International and Great Northern Railroad in Palestine.
Foundry operations at the prison, however, proved unable to compete with the burgeoning iron industry in Birmingham, Ala., and ceased production in 1913.
The TSRR continued to operate as a common carrier, providing both freight and passenger service, but consistently operated at a loss.
It closed in 1921. All rolling stock was sold, and the line was offered for lease.
Now once again, the line is threatened.
Due to budget cuts coming down from Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is planning on making the railroad a static exhibit in 2007.
No more train rides. A petition effort is on-going to save the train trips (texasstaterailroad.com).
Friends of the Texas State Railroad are working with officials in Palestine, Rusk and Jacksonville to find a manager/operator to take over operation Jan. 1, 2007, through an interlocal organization made of Cherokee and Anderson counties.
If successful, the operator may turn the future around with heavy marketing efforts in the Dallas area, raised ticket prices and many more railroading events.

 

 

 


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