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The Late Train

A TRAIN that is late one hour in these modern days is considered quite hopeless. But Beaumont has the record of once having a train roll in two years, one month, twenty-seven days, five hours and fifteen minutes behind the time scheduled for its arrival.

In 1895 Colonel L. P. Featherstone built the Gulf and Interstate from Beaumont to Bolivar Point.

In 1900 the Galveston storm swept over that section, destroying the line from the vicinity of High Island to Bolivar point. The road was not rebuilt until some two years later, its reconstruction bringing about the most novel incident of railroading in the United States.

A passenger train was standing at Bolivar Point when the storm struck, the waves scattering the steel rails and ties as if they were so much chaff. The train with its locomotives and coaches remained intact, but were separated from the track that remained by several miles of debris. When the rails were again in place steam was gotten up and the train arrived in Beaumont two years, one month, twenty-seven days, five hours and fifteen minutes late.

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Southern Pacific Depot, Pearl and Crockett
(click here to see a larger image)

This road was later acquired by the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe, and is a part of that system today. Colonel Featherstone tried to have the road known as "The Lighthouse Route" but the public insisted on calling it the "Gee Ni" and the name stuck.

Without a single exception all of the great industrial and commercial assets of Beaumont have come by continual pounding, faith in the city and this section of the country and a tenacity on the part of the early builders which thrived on defeat. It took years for the giant pines to shoot skyward and add ring by ring to their trunks until they became saw logs. It took hundreds of tiny rivulets springing from the sand hills of east Texas to converge their combined strength and make the Neches river. The same has been true of all our man-made assets. It took years to correct a defect in nature and connect the waters of the Neches river with the gulf in such a manner that ships from the seven seas might tie up at Beaumont. It took years to develop the saw mill industry from sheds where shingles were made by hand to the modern band mills cutting up to 200,000 feet a day. It took years to get a hole down to the cap rock on Spindletop and unloosen the liquid gold that had been awaiting the needs of an advancing civilization.

The same is true of railroads entering Beaumont They bring with them a breath of the old south, for they passed through the war between the states, with disastrous results, lay dormant through the poverty-stricken years of reconstruction and succumbed again to the mighty waves of the Gulf of Mexico -- real industrial tragedies if tragedies may be made of steel.

From the best information obtainable, the first effort to build a railroad in Beaumont came from rich planters who would connect their plantations and forests with the open sea through the use of rails. Shallow draft boats from Sabine Pass skipped across Sabine Lake and up the Neches river to Nacogdoches county, but this did not give the planters some distance from the river, satisfactory service. The miles of marsh land between Beaumont and Sabine Pass without roads were also a factor in encouraging railroad building.

These planters conceived the idea of building a railway from Sabine Pass into Hardin county, no doubt dreaming of reaching some of the oldest settled sections of the state in the vicinity of Jasper, Burkville, San Augustine, Nacogdoches or Livingston. Whatever their ultimate object, the dream passed away with them.

There were many slave-owners in East Texas, and the negroes were pressed into service to build the road. The general nature of the ground was flat, and this made heavy cuts and dumps unnecessary. The road passed through what was then the west end of the city, and Railroad avenue took its name from the old dump thrown up by the slaves. It has been handed down by tradition that construction was held up for several days until the negroes could recover from the effect of a sudden change in diet. Wheat was not raised in south Texas, with the result that all bread, except on special occasions at the homes of the well-to-do planters, was made of corn meal. Getting to Beaumont, where freight was brought in by water from the north, they were given wheat bread to eat. Something bordering on an epidemic resulted, and no work was done until the slaves were again given their accustomed hoe cakes.

This railroad started in 1859 and was known as the Sabine and Eastern Texas railway company. Rails were laid from Hardin county as far south as where Port Arthur now stands, in the drive toward Sabine Pass. The terminus at Taylor's bayou was called Aurora. War clouds brought about by the servitude of the slaves like those building the railroad, put a stop to further construction. The planters and their sons able to bear arms started on their way to Chickamauga, Vicksburg, Bull Run, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. The steel rails were left to bleach in the sun, while their thoughts were turned to the outcome of the battle. With slaves gone, their plantations reduced to a wilderness of undergrowth, and no funds, the planters had to give up the task.

In 1881 the Kountze interests, who owned most of the land in the vicinity of Sabine Pass and many thousands of acres in East Texas, took the old rails to help build the Sabine and East Texas from Sabine Pass through Beaumont to Rockland. It was placed in operation in 1883. It was purchased in 1905 by the Southern Pacific and extended to Dallas, its present terminus. The tropical hurricane of 1885 sent the Gulf of Mexico inland to the vicinity of Taylor's bayou and when the waves had subsided it was found that the rails had been twisted as so many reeds and that section of the road had to be rebuilt.

About the same year the planters started their line, 1859, a right-of-way was secured through Beaumont by the Sabine and Galveston Bay railway and lumber company. In 1860 the name of this road was changed to the Texas and New Orleans. It was constructed from Sabine river to Houston. No bridge had been built across the Neches river, which made it necessary to transfer passengers, baggage and freight across the stream by ferry and load again on the other side. Like the Sabine and Eastern Texas, born in the same year, it succumbed to the ravages of war and felt the trampling feet of reconstruction. It was reorganized in 1874, rehabilitated, and became a part of the great Southern Pacific transcontinental system that now reaches from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It became a link in one of the great railroad systems of the New World.

In 1896 John Henry Kirby built the Gulf, Beaumont and Kansas City from Beaumont to Kirbyville in Jasper county for the purpose of furnishing an outlet for sawmills in that territory and it was extensively used until a few years ago to haul logs to the saw mills in Beaumont. In 1900 it was acquired by the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe. It was extended to Longview on the north with connections out of Silsbee to Somerville on the main line, and a branch from Kirbyville to De Ridder, Louisiana. It became a part of the great Santa Fe system, which blankets the west from a line drawn from Beaumont to Chicago west to the Pacific. Until it passed into the hands of the Santa Fe it was dubbed the "Kay See."

The next railroad to reach Beaumont was the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf, the realization of a dream of Arthur Stillwell to give to Kansas City an airline to the gulf. Tracks were laid from Beaumont to Port Arthur in 1896, trains from Kansas City coming from Lake Charles over the Southern Pacific. A line was later extended from Beaumont to connect with the main line at DeQuincey, La. This road resulted in the building of the city of Port Arthur, which was an unhabitated prairie at that time. It utilized Railroad avenue in passing through the city, the same dump that had been built by the planters with slave labor in 1859. After passing into the hands of receivers it was reorganized by John W. Gates and the name changed to Kansas City Southern. Under the old name it was dubbed "Pee Gee" but now is called "Kay See."

The sixth and last railroad to be built out of Beaumont was the Beaumont, Sour Lake and Western, which had R. C. Duff, now president of the Waco, Beaumont, Trinity and Sabine, as its president. This line was built in 1906 from Beaumont to Sour Lake, which had become a great oil-producing center. It later became a part of the Frisco system under B. F. Yoakum, and when that road went into the hands of receivers, it became a part of the Gulf Coast lines, extending from New Orleans to Brownsville.

In 1923 R. C. Duff purchased two orphan branches of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas between Beaumont and Waco, and is now building these lines to connect with Beaumont on the south and ultimately with Waco on the north.

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When R. C. Duff was 21
(click here for a larger image)

One of the interesting features about railroad building to Beaumont, is that with the single exception of the Kansas City Southern, all of the great railway systems now serving the city were started, so far as Beaumont was concerned, from short lines radiating from the city. The Southern Pacific was brought here as a result of the short line from the Sabine river to Houston, the Santa Fe came as a result of the short line built to Kirbyville by John Henry Kirby, and the Gulf and Interstate to Galveston by L. P. Featherstone. The Gulf Coast is the result of a line approximately 20 miles to Sour Lake.

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