Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Relocation reconnaissance

My recent trip to west Texas gave me the opportunity to explore the remnants of the original alignment for Kansas City, Mexico & Orient's rail line near Lake Nasworthy southwest of San Angelo. Constructed in 1911, the original line took a west-southwesterly course out of town, crossing the Middle Concho River and then following it west. The alignment survived the creation of Lake Nasworthy in 1930, but in the late 1950s, plans for a new reservoir to be located just above Nasworthy called for a significant line relocation.

Completed in 1962 under Santa Fe ownership, the relocated line diverged from the original alignment near MP 722 on the southwest side of San Angelo, skirted the north edge of the new Twin Buttes Reservoir, and re-joined the original alignment just east of Tankersley at MP 733. I had recently discovered that satellite photos on navigation sites such as Google Maps and Yahoo Maps clearly show large sections of the original alignment -- including the concrete supports of the bridge over the Middle Concho just below the Twin Buttes dam -- still visible. So I decided to spend a little time exploring to see what I could discover for myself from the ground.

The switch: The line relocation diverged from the original KCM&O alignment at this location near the intersection of Valley View Blvd. and Knickerbocker Rd. A short section of the original line was left in place as a spur track, which the railroad would sometimes use to store empty cars after they were unloaded at a nearby lumber yard.

The fill: two large sections of elevated track bed -- once connected by a wood trestle -- still remain on the north side of Lake Nasworthy, visible from Red Bluff Rd to the west, and from Gun Club Rd to the east, illustrated here. The Twin Buttes dam -- which necessitated the relocation of the rail line -- is visible in the distant background.

The dock: the land beyond this boat dock on Lake Nasworthy is part of the original KCM&O line southwest of San Angelo. Photographed June 23, 2008.

The trestle: Wooden bridge supports in Lake Nasworthy southwest of San Angelo.

Railroad bridge pilings are still in place among the weeds on the shore of Lake Nasworthy near San Angelo.

A gravel road occupies a short section of the railroad fill which extends out into Lake Nasworthy.

Over 40 years after the original right of way was abandoned, these concrete bridge supports stand tall in the Middle Concho River between Lake Nasworthy and Twin Buttes Reservoir.

Post Script: I called San Angelo "home" from 1979 to 1995 (and I still consider it my hometown even though I no longer have family there). But while living there, only on rare occasions did I go out of my way to explore the area's railroad relics from bygone eras. I was always more interested in spending time along active rail lines where I could see moving trains. It's too bad that I wasn't more interested in the historical side of things when I lived out there. But Fort Worth is just a few hours away, and I still have opportunites to get out there a couple times a year to explore the things I never saw before. There's a lot to see if you know where to look.

Speaking of relocation and realignment, the topics discussed above can be accurately viewed as no small metaphor for my own life at the present time. Some of you know what I'm talking about. Those who don't: stay tuned... you'll find out soon enough.


np: Flatt & Scruggs - "Til the end of the world rolls around"

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

West Texas trains and monikers

A few photos from the BNSF Lampasas Subdivision on June 23. This line sure has changed since those days in the late '80s when I used to drive up from San Angelo to spend the day at Coleman or Sweetwater. Back then, seeing an empty coal train or an orange locomotive for a merged BNSF Railway would have been inconceivable. Well, today's trains may look different but they still put on a good show...
Westbound double stacks approaching Coleman...

Coal empties at San Angelo Jct.

Coal empties at Coleman.

Freight car monikers, re-visited
It's a rare day along the tracks that I don't spend at least a few minutes examining the sides of rail cars looking for hand-drawn pictures, doodles, signatures, etc -- the modern-day freight car moniker. More discrete than the increasingly abundant plague of aerosol graffiti, the tradition of chalking sketches and scrawls on the sides of freight cars dates back through several generations of railroad workers and hoboes.
Constant exposure to the elements may cause them to fade, but if you look closely, you can still find them.
JM - Santa Fe, NM (dated 1982!)
Many are elaborately drawn, but I'm just as interested in the ones that consist of only a name or a rudimentary sketch -- those which by their very nature, lend themselves to rapid and widespread application. Seeing the same ones repeatedly in different locations -- whether in Texas or California or Montana -- is like seeing a familiar face in a crowd of strangers.

Here are a few that I've been noticing for years, along with a couple of newcomers to the scene.

Not Herby, but Poncho...

"Ewok" (I think it looks more like a Tuscan Raider)

No, it's completely baked...

One from south of the border

John Easley

np: They Might Be Giants - "I hope that I get old before I die"

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Friday, July 04, 2008

West Texas wheat rush

West Texas isn't the first place that comes to mind when most of us think of the late spring wheat harvest. The harvest, which typically begins around Memorial Day and runs through the month of June, is associated more with north Texas and southwestern Oklahoma. North Texans will know when it's gotten under way... just drive past the grain elevators in Saginaw (a suburb north of Fort Worth). Dozens of trucks, tires bulging under the weight of full loads of grain, are lined up day and night to discharge their cargo, and the railroad tracks adjacent to the elevators are crowded with covered hoppers awaiting loading. As soon as one train is assembled and departs for Mexico or the Gulf Coast, another takes its place.

The pace is a bit different in southern Oklahoma. While the Saginaw grain elevators (the largest in Texas, by the way) receive wheat from hundreds of miles away, even the tiniest lineside towns in Oklahoma seem to have their own elevators, which purchase grain grown within a much smaller local radius. Their loading tracks might hold 50 or 25 -- or even fewer -- cars, and the shortline railroads which serve them are often overwhelmed at trying to handle a larger volume of carload traffic in a single month than they see the entire rest of the year.

Not commonly thought of as a wheat-growing region, west Texas has a busy grain harvest of its own, essentially a west Texas equivalent of the annual wheat rush in Oklahoma. Wheat produced in the Concho Valley near San Angelo is shipped from elevators located in Ballinger, Rowena, and Miles. Texas Pacifico, operator of the former South Orient rail line which serves these towns, has recently seen some increases in its non-seasonal traffic, and has been having a hell of a time trying to handle the extra traffic brought on by this year's bountiful harvest. During my recent trip to San Angelo, I noted that the elevator tracks in each town were jammed with grain hoppers. The siding at Talpa was full of outbound tonnage, which TXPF had been unable to deliver to San Angelo Jct (the BNSF interchange near Coleman) due to heavy inbound volume.

As I drove east from San Angelo on the morning of June 23, I caught up to an eastbound train (see photos above and below) heading toward Miles to work the elevator. In addition to this train, the Texas Pacifico had two other jobs working that same day: a westbound from San Angelo Jct. to San Angelo, and a different westbound running from San Angelo to Rankin and Fort Stockton.

A train of empty grain hoppers approaches the town of Miles. The crew will pull 14 loads from the elevator to take back to San Angelo, and will then spot their empties.

Spotting cars at the elevator in Miles.

A crew member connects the air hoses...

It looked like the elevator manager's whole family was on hand to help. Those kids actually rode the top of that car as it rolled down the track to couple into the other cars! BNSF jumbo hoppers seem "out of place" on my hometown railroad, which Santa Fe sold off to the South Orient in 1992...

That afternoon, I caught a different Texas Pacifico train heading west on the same line. Four locomotives powered 36 cars of mixed freight from San Angelo Jct (BNSF interchange near Coleman) toward San Angelo. The train consisted mostly of pipe loads destined to Fort Stockton, frac sand for Rankin, and sheet steel destined to Hirschfeld Steel in San Angelo.

westbound near the San Angelo Feed Yard west of Miles.

When the crew ran out of time to work, they tied their train down at MP 59, about 11 miles short of San Angelo. They'd come back the next morning to complete the trip.
Coming next: action on the Lampasas Sub.

np: Waylon Jennings - "Are you ready for the country"

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

West Texas ghost signs - 2

Ghost signs / fading ads from San Angelo and vicinity...
Roosevelt Hotel - San Angelo, TX
West Texas Bearing - San Angelo, TX
Tire ad partially covered with cinder blocks - San Angelo, TX

Household Furniture - San Angelo, TX
From the country of 1100 Springs... The rear, insulated portion of an old beer delivery truck now serves as a storage shed in someone's yard. Rowena, TX.
Do Drop Inn - Ballinger, TX. I would have stopped, but it said "No vacancy"...

It's not a ghost sign, but I've always considered the Texas Grill signs to be an appropriately iconic representation of the town of Ballinger.

Coming next: the west Texas wheat rush on the Texas Pacifico.
np: Mr. T Experience - "New Girlfriend"

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West Texas ghost signs - 1

A selection of ghost signs and fading ads seen during my recent trip to San Angelo...

Sinclair gas station - Talpa, TX

City Hall - Talpa, TX

Coca-Cola ad - Coleman, TX
Santa Fe storage boxcar - Coleman, TX. I remember seeing a fair number of these cars rolling along the former Orient line near our neighborhood in San Angelo in the early 1980s. I remember the "Ship and Travel" slogan.

Coleman Wool & Mohair Co. - Coleman, TX

Coleman Furniture Co. - Coleman, TX

Automotive & Electric - Coleman, TX

Jesse Penney Jewelry - Coleman, TX

Coming next: more ghost signs and fading ads from Ballinger, Rowena, and San Angelo.
np: Eleven Hundred Springs - "Northside Blues"

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Road trippin' to 'Angelo

My friend Bill from college was in San Angelo during most of the month of June. (Note to those trying to locate him, don't waste your time -- he's no longer there.) On the Sunday before last, I decided to take a short road trip down there so we could hang out, catch a Colts game, and hit the bars.
Cue up "Born to Be Wild" -- I'm on the road to San Angelo...
At the Colts game. The San Angelo Colts are part of the six-team United League Baseball, an independent minor league which includes teams from Edinburg, Harlingen (both in the Rio Grande valley), Laredo, Amarillo, and Alexandria, La.

The standings board. Only 3 games out of first!
There were high fives and handshakes all around after the Colts unleashed a 12-1 ass-whupping on the Rio Grande (Harlingen) White Wings...

After the game, we went to the Zenter's Daughter Steak House (a San Angelo favorite) for steaks and then headed on out to the bars.
I'd been looking forward to visiting Blaine's ever since country music legend Johnny Bush immortalized the bar in his song by the same name on his "Devil's Disciple" cd. "I'm sitting in a joint called 'Blaines', downtown San Angelo..." The song ends with Johnny pleading to Willie Nelson to please sing "Whiskey River" (which Bush wrote) one more time, "'Cause I need those checks I get from BMI." Great stuff! I even talked the bartender into playing it while we were there, before they closed -- at midnight -- due to lack of attendance. Oh well, it was a Sunday, and it was San Angelo...
Ready for Blaine's Pub - San Angelo

Closing time at Blaine's: we didn't have to go home, but we couldn't stay there...

I stopped by there again the next morning to take a few photos in daylight...

Blaine's Pub - San Angelo, TX

Neon guitar sign above Blaine's entrance

Another of the bars we hit that night. This one is located in Southwest Plaza where the old "Maximus" used to be. It seemed to be the most popular spot in town that night. I'm not sure about that name, though...
Stay tuned for more... I'll have several more posts from the San Angelo trip, including ghost signs and trains.
np: Flatt & Scruggs - "California Up Tight Band"

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