The Frisco engine at the Cleburne station.
On Saturday, June 2, 2001 I heard a sound that I had not heard in several years; that was
the whistle of a steam engine, the Frisco 1522. When I was young and we came to town
to visit my grandparents we could hear the whistles of the old steam engines as they
passed through town.
The railroads started replacing the old steam engines with diesel in the 1930’s and by
1950 there were very few steam engines still in regular service. My dad worked for the
railroad and I heard him comment several times when hearing one of the new diesel
engines blow its horn at a crossing that it sounded more like a truck air horn than a
The covered wagon may have opened the western United States to the early settlers but
the railroads brought commerce to the newly developing West. Before the opening of
the transcontinental railroad in 1869, most of the freight going to California went by ship
around the cape of Good Hope at the end of South America or was carried by wagon
across the Southwestern United States, both methods were slow and uncertain.
The railroad provided a fast and economical means of getting manufactured goods from
the eastern states to California and points in between; and a way to ship the produce and
fruit grown in California back east.
The railroads soon became the lifeline of the west. Towns that were lucky enough to
have a railroad come through became prosperous communities and the towns that were
passed by showed little or no growth, some becoming ghost towns.
In early day Texas, in order for the ranchers to get their cattle to market they drove their
cattle up the old Chisholm Trail which started in South Texas and went to Abilene,
Kansas. Sometimes several ranchers would combine their cattle into one large herd, each
ranchers cattle having his brand on them, so that they could share their ranch hands and
not have to hire extra drovers for the trip. With more help this also provided extra
protection from the indians.
As the railroads spread out more and more cattle were being shipped by rail. By the
1890’s Ft Worth was becoming a center for the cattle trade with a large stockyard and
railroad terminal and fewer and fewer cattle were being driven to Kansas.
Special cars with slatted sides were used to ship the cattle. I can remember seeing many
trains coming through town with loaded cattle cars. The last cattle cars I remember
seeing go through town was in the early 1950’s. With the development of the interstate
highway system and the larger diesel trucks, the truckers now haul the cattle to market.
Front view of engine.
With the western part of Johnson County being mostly ranch land and the old Chisholm
trail passing just west of town, Cleburne has had a long association with both the cattle
industry and railroads. I would like to see the Santa Fe No. 3417 Historical Foundation
get one of the old cattle cars for the museum. This would tie Cleburne to both the
ranching and railroad industry.
In the early days of the railroads most of the rail cars were made of wood over steel
framework. The railroads owned their own stands of timber and lumber mills to supply
crossties for building/repairing the tracks and lumber for repairing the railcars. A lot of
the repair work was done in the shops here in Cleburne.
As the old lumber was stripped from the cars it was stacked over at the side of the repair
yard. Any employee of the shop could purchase a “Wood Ticket” for $5.00 and was
entitled to haul one load of the old lumber out for his own use. This was not limited to
just a pick-up load. There were several people in town with large trucks that would haul
a load out for you. It usually cost more to have the wood hauled to your place than the
wood itself cost.
A person was allowed to pick out what lumber he wanted. Some of the different size
lumber you could get was 2X12’s, 2X6 tongue and groove, and 1X4 tongue and groove
among others. A lot of houses around Cleburne and Johnson County were built with this
railroad lumber before the railroad stopped selling the “Wood Tickets” to the employees.
Besides selling tickets for the lumber that was stripped from the railcars the railroad also
sold some complete railcars that they thought unrepairable or were replacing with newer
models. The farmers bought the old boxcars to use as barns which you can still see on
many farms in Johnson and surrounding counties.
During the 1920’s and ’30’s as the railroads modernized their passenger cars they sold
many of the old wooden passenger cars. Many people, especially during the depression
years, bought the old passenger cars to live in. Many of what are called ‘Shotgun
Houses’ are nothing more than old passenger railcars that have been remodeled and
turned into homes. A very reasonable housing choice. The railroad had more effect on
this area than just supplying jobs for local residents.
View of Cleburne Santa Fe Shops in the 1950's.
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