Southern Pacific Railroad in San Antonio
and South Central Texas - Part 2

Perhaps one of the least recognized elements of the impact the rail roads had on the localities they served was just how much effort they put in, at their own expense, to developing business and agriculture. Many of the small towns we know today sprang up where early steam trains had to stop and draw water. Early steam engines were very, very thirsty and frequent stops were required. As these communities grew, obviously some more than others, they might acquire a depot and, hopefully, an agent. The railroad agent was far more than someone who sold tickets or who sorted out deliveries of goods to individual customers, although these duties contributed a great deal in and of themselves to the development of thriving communities. In the earliest days of railroads and the development of such towns, one could buy an entire house from the Sears and Roebuck catalog, and of course it would be shipped by train. Farming equipment, building materials, stoves, most everything the local stores offered for sale came in by rail. But the big income earner for the railroads was bulk freight, and it was the agent's job to develop as much business as he could.
1906 Sunset Route Timetable
1930 Southern Pacific passenger timetable
1933 Southern Pacific passenger timetable
Sunset Limited passenger equipment list from the 1955 timetable
1956 Employees Timetable
The first thing the railroads were very adept at was encouraging immigration into the relatively undeveloped areas it was trying to serve. Many of the people who came to Texas had either come from back east or from Europe and, even if they had farming backgrounds, they would find the hardships imposed by Texas, in terms of climate, soil and huge distances, to be challenging to say the least. English might not be their first language and literacy rates were low. The Texas & New Orleans Railroad company, like other parts of the S.P. system, created special demonstration trains to suit the areas they served. The agricultural demonstration trains were enormously popular, and effective. Different parts of Texas required different agricultural approaches, and the trains set out to give farmers the information they needed to prosper. Whole new ideas for appropriate crops were promulgated, for free. What we now refer to as the Valley, the Del Rio area, began to reap enormous benefits from the rich farmland there. One town might become known for strawberries, or watermelons, or even peanuts. Cotton, timber and, of course, livestock production grew exponentially throughout this time.
1916 map of the Southern Pacific in Texas.
1937 Southern Pacific system.
1956 of the San Antonio division.
The fully restored "C.P. Huntington", one of the S.P.'s first locomotives.
A steam engine passing Sunset Station in 1948. steam engine passing in 1948.
Of course there was method in the railroad's madness. All these crops needed transportation to the rapidly growing industrial cities. The more an area was developed, the more business there would be for the railroads to perform. In places like Converse, the depot and the railroads became the indispensable life line to the outside world. The first depot, which is now located at the museum which came from Converse, was built to accommodate migrant workers to perform the heavy work of harvesting as well as ship out the produce being harvested. The depot could also handle the loading and unloading of livestock. The agent was a German immigrant who would go on to learn English and Spanish and who was pivotal in the decision to locate several other businesses in the town, such as a large mill and a steel working operation. These businesses were given their own spur line, to accommodate the transportation of goods and materials into and out of the facilities.
Southern Pacific steam locomotive 794 was donated to San Antonio in 1957. It is now located outside the restored Sunset Station
"Old 794" and a first generation SP diesel electric in 1954
#794 with the museum's 1958 Imperial beside it. The engine was donated to the city in 1957 and sat for decades at Maverick Park,which is at Broadway and Jones.
Following the renovation of Sunset Station, #794 was moved to its current location. It also was also spruced up, as the locomotive had neglected during its final years at Maverick Park
A good agent on a good line in a good location meant good prospects for your town. Local government, even state government was in its infancy, and the railroads played a pivotal role in the development of Texas. With its reach and scope, having the Texas & New Orleans in your area was definitely a good thing. If you drive along the railroads in any small town, say Seguin, you will see any number of spur lines leading off from the main line, each one going to a specific company. Of course, today, many of those spurs are no longer connected, and, perhaps even sadder, just about all the old small town depots are long gone as well, but Texas which received railroading so much later than other parts of the country, became the powerhouse it now is in large part because of the railroads that served it.
1998 phone book cover
Modern snap of Sunset Station looking like an old postcard
The 794 was relocated from another location in San Antonio, where it was all but invisible except to vandals. It's exterior has been restored and it is being well looked after.
Southern Pacific steam locomotive 794 at Sunset Station, San Antonio
Another industry that was created almost single-handedly by the railroads was tourism. As well as encouraging immigration to Texas, the railroads set about encouraging people from all over the country to visit. (If some of them were so delighted that they decided to move here, why, then, so much the better.) Long before local governments developed plans and organizations to encourage tourism, the railroads were heavily involved in promoting San Antonio as a great place to spend your vacation. Local resorts grew up, such as Hot Wells Springs, which also became the headquarters of a booming movie industry. In fact the first ever Oscar winning movie, "Wings," about World War One air warfare, was shot in San Antonio.
Southern Pacific train 99 moving through the Santa Susana Mountains
SP motor car 1027 in San Antonio, 1939
A 4-10-2, "Southern Pacific" locomotive

Southern Pacific steam power in all its glory
Southern Pacific 4458, a GS-4, on the Coastal Daylight run
The railroads were heavily involved in the war effort for both world wars. The government nationalized all railroads in 12/28/1917 in an attempt to bring some order to a heavily independent system but huge rail traffic jams persisted right through 1918. The railroads were not returned to private control until March of 1920. The roaring '20's of the 20th century saw a huge growth in the USA's economy, particularly California which was the heart of Southern Pacific operations. To emphasize these good times, the S.P. ran a special train consisting of twenty brand new Baldwin locomotives from Philadelphia to California and called it the "Prosperity Special." The population of California grew by about 65% during the decade and the S.P. grew right along with it. Not only did their total mileage in California and Oregon double during this time, the company diversified into Mexico. A 1,370 mile operation, the Southern Pacific de Mexico, opened in 1927, running all the way to Guadalajara. In addition, the company created a trucking subsidiary to utilize the bulk carrying capacity of trains and the flexibility of trucks to final destinations.
Maybe the most most famous S.P. locomotive of them all. #4449, built in 1941 by Lima, at Railfair '81
#4449 restored back to working condition in 1974 to power the "AMERICAN FREEDOM TRAIN." The locomotive had been on static display in Portland, Oregon.
The "C.P. HUNTINGTON" with an E.M.D. F-7 diesel

Old postcard view, 1910.
Southern Pacific Alco PAs and EMD F-7s in 1964.
The Great Depression had a huge negative impact on all railroads. Many went under or into receivership, but not the S.P. Profits fell from $48.4 million in 1929 to $29.8 million in 1930. In 1932, the worst year of the depression, the company posted its first ever loss, of $9.5 million. It would take until 1936 for the company to make a profit again. Tough choices and cutbacks were made during this time, but the company emerged leaner and stronger at the end of it. The "Cotton Belt" Line, officially known as the St. Louis Southwestern Railroad, was acquired in 1932, giving the company access to the Midwest from Houston. The Cotton Belt remained an independent element of the S.P. rail network, but the twelve other companies operating in Texas and Louisiana, including the venerable Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio, were consolidated into one system under the Texas & New Orleans Railroad name.
SP E-7s heading through the Sacramento Valley
Ess Pee Alco PA-1s in the high Sierras
S.P. built "Dome-Lounge car" moving through the Tehachapi Mountains
Alco PA-1s pulling the Sunset Limited through Lou si ana
By 1937, the country had largely recovered from the Great Depression. The Southern Pacific emerged as the nation's third largest industrial corporation, behind only A.T. & T. and the vast Pennsylvania Railroad. Passenger revenue reached an all time high of $24.5 million but it was only 12% of the company's total revenue. Freight haulage dominated the bottom line, but the company had diversified into many other areas. It's telecommunications section was already vast and still expanding, and it operated on the largest truck fleets in the nation. Add to this land management, shipping and a host of other activities and you get the picture of a massive, forward looking company.
Southern Pacific EMD F-7A, #356, at Scheville, CA
Southern Pacific Alco PAs near Martinez, California
Southern Pacific Fairbanks-Morse H-24, "Trainmaster," #4809, in Los Angeles
SP diesel electric in the Donner Pass Christmas card
One of the things that took no one by surprise was World War II. In 1940, the S.P. took part with the army in joint exercises involving 119 trains, in preparation for the coming hostilities. Lessons had been learned from the chaos of WW I, and there were now far larger yards and sidings to accommodate the military when the need arose. Within seven weeks of Pearl Harbor, the S.P. had run some 670 military trains. By war's end this would rise to 28,349. Stretching as it did, from Portland to New Orleans, no other railroad had more military installations and embarkation points. Military bases in San Antonio were able to grow because of the ability of the railroads to move men and equipment so efficiently. Lackland was transformed from a desert-like bombing training area to the one of the largest military training facilities in the nation. The population of the city grew enormously during the war. Working for the railroad could excuse you from being conscripted during WW II, so important was the role of transportation to the war effort.
SP locomotives in Floresville, Texas
SP locomotives at San Antonio round house
SP locomotive assisting an AMTRAK train
Long line of freshly painted SP locomotives entering Kirby yard
SP locomotive in "merged" SP / SF colors at Kirby yard
Santa Fe locomotive in "merged" SP / SF colors
Distressed former SP locomotive now in UP hands
SP railroad police caboose at Kirby yard
Some other historical changes were brought about or hastened during the war. The first diesels, yard switchers, a 1944 example of which we have at the museum, were introduced in 1939. The rickety looking bridge across the Pecos river, near which the S.P. had completed its own transcontinental line, was replaced and the line strengthened and given a straighter route. Even the famous Promontory Point tracks in Utah, where the original transcontinental line, built jointly by the S.P. and the Central Pacific, had met were ripped up and its steel rail donated to the war effort, when it was made surplus to requirements by a more direct line. It was not a time for sentimentality. In 1944, the company took delivery of its last ever new steam locomotive. Things would never be the same again.
Very few S. P. locomotives still have their S.P. paint and number. This was one was spotted on the south side of San Antonio in 2002
Very few S. P. locomotives still have their S.P. paint and number. This was one was spotted on the south side of San Antonio in 2002
Very few S. P. locomotives still have their S.P. paint and number. This was one was spotted on the south side of San Antonio in 2002.
Post war developments came thick and fast. Most noticeably, massive diesel electrics rendered steam power redundant. The S.P. introduced main line diesels in 1947. The Sunset Limited service began using diesel power in 1950. The S.P. ran its last scheduled steam train in 1957. It was hoped the new light weight streamliners would help to stem the flow of passengers away from the railroads but depots across the land became emptier while airports and freeways mushroomed across the country. S.P. passenger services began to make a loss as early as 1953. However, on the freight side, the S.P. introduced innovation after innovation. In 1953, "Piggy Back" freight service, where truck trailers were placed on flat cars, was inaugurated. "Hydra-cushion" suspension, developed by the S.P. and the Stanford Research Institute, was developed, giving superior protection to fragile cargo. Multi-level automobile hauling freight cars were introduced in 1960. Container service began in 1962, and is a major advance in freight handling. The S.P. was an industry leader in not only these developments but also in centralized traffic control, which was introduced in World War Two. By 1968, with the introduction of computers, the system became known as 'TOPS' or Total Operations Processing System, which allowed every car, locomotive, crew, load, yard and industry spot to be monitored in real time. The system, created by the S.P., became the industry standard not only in the USA but Canada and the U.K. as well.
An S.P. freight car in 2002
An S.P. freight car in 2002
An S.P. freight car in 2002
The monopoly the railroads enjoyed in providing the bulk of inland transportation eroded rapidly in the 20th century. What is true is that railroads have always had one unfair disadvantage imposed upon them. Whereas roads are funded by taxation and air transportation is heavily subsidized, the railroads have been left to fend for themselves in this unfair environment. As far back as 1930, during the height of the Great Depression, when railroads were under severe strain to stay afloat, it was noted by many railroad managers that the playing field was tilted in favor of the competition. Following WW II, during which time the railroads were the life blood of the "Arsenal Of Democracy," competition from air carriers and road haulage continued to intensify. One by one, railroads got out of the passenger business, except in commuter areas. Southern Pacific stayed in the passenger business right up to when AMTRAK was formed by the federal government in 1970 to take over long distance rail travel. The surviving railroads became exclusively freight carriers.
S.P. phone booth on the line between Victoria and San Antonio. Now located at the Texas Transportation Museum in San Antonio
TTM acquired this railroad phone booth courtesy of former SP track supervisor, Pat Budd
Headline picture from the San Antonio News, 10/2/1970, regarding the last "Sunset Limited" train run by Southern Pacific. The train would continue under AMTRAK. The engineer was Clifford R. Reed, of San Antonio, a 29 year veteran of the S.P.'s daily passenger run from Del Rio. The S.P. was now out of the passenger business altogether..
A picture from a 1964 San Antonio Light article detailing the investments, innovations and improvements being made by Southern Pacific.
Consolidation became the order of the day and once proudly independent companies merged into huge conglomerates. The Union Pacific absorbed the Missouri Pacific in December of 1982 and then the Missouri Kansas Texas railroad in 1988. The S.P., despite its success was under pressure from all sides now. Competition from road haulage continued to intensify, and the new mega railroads systems had further decreased the companies competitive edge. In 1983, the S.P. merged with the A.T.S.F. - the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe - but the merger was ruled illegal by the Interstate Commerce Commission and the union had to be dissolved. The S.P., including the Cotton Belt was then sold to Rio Grande Industries, parent company of the Denver & Rio Grand Western Railroad in 1988. By 1992, the whole system was renamed as Southern Pacific Lines.
A sign directing military personnel lies abandoned as the depot is vacated by the S.P. in anticipation of AMTRAK
Another picture from a 1971 Express News article on the fate of the depot as the S.P. leaves the building
Not a peak moment for the depot Under AMTRAK, the depot was allowed to deteriorate
Note the new Alamodome in the background
Sunset Station in the snow in the 1980s
In September of 1996, the unthinkable happened. Despite it size and its attempts to create economies of scale, Southern Pacific Lines was merged with the Union Pacific. It has not proven to be a marriage of equals and the once proud name of Southern Pacific has all but disappeared. In a move many would have thought unthinkable only a few years before, Union Pacific now owns all the tracks in and around San Antonio and most of south Texas. The once colorful landscape of competing regional carriers is now a part of history that we will never see again. National carriers with intercontinental reach have emerged to carry on the nation's railroading business. Enormous amounts of goods and materials are carried by these super-systems every day, in modern bulk container trains pulled by engines of enormous size and power. It is hard to imagine that much further rationalization is possible, but who knows what the next few years will bring?
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Southern Pacific in San Antonio Timeline
1850
The Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado is chartered. The BBB&C is the 1st railroad in Texas
1865
The Southern Pacific is formed in San Francisco, California
1870
Thomas Pierce, a trader in Texas products from Boston, takes over the bankrupt BBB&C
1873
Following the offer of a $500,000 bonus from the city of San Antonio, the BBB&C is renamed Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio. Construction of a bridge over the Colorado river at Columbus begins.
1877
1st ever railroad train arrives in San Antonio. The GH&SA RR tracks stop at Hays Street
1881
Under Southern Pacific (SP) control, the GH &SA begins building towards the west
1883
GH&SA tracks meet SP tracks built from California 225 miles west of Texas near the Pecos river creating the nation's 2nd transcontinental service, the only one totally under the control of one company
1890
Somewhat in contravention of state law, the SP gains effective control of the bankrupt San Antonio & Aransas Pass RR
1891
Traveling from New Orleans to California by rail, Benjamin Harrison is the first sitting US President to visit San Antonio. This visit is the catalyst for the annual "Battle of Flowers.
1893
The SP begins operating the coast to coast Sunset Limited train. It later evolved into a 1st class only train. Still going today under AMRAK, it is the oldest continuously operated train in the USA
1897
The SP acquires the bankrupt San Antonio & Gulf Shore, renames is the San Antonio & Gulf
1901
The MK&T builds its own tracks into San Antonio, shares SP depot
1903
Sunset Station is opened
1907
Head House at Sunset Station suffers damage from an electrical fire
1909
Wells Fargo opens a building at the rear of Sunset Station for its freight business
1912
The worst locomotive boiler explosion in US history happens during at the San Antonio SP round house
1917
The MK&T opens its own railroad station but maintains close ties with the SP
1925
The San Antonio & Aransas Pass is fully merged into the GH&SA division and is downgraded to 2nd class status
1926
The SP inaugurates its second, slower, less expensive, transcontinental train, the Argonaut
1927
The GH&SA division is merged into the statewide Texas & New Orleans division of the SP
1931
Wells Fargo freight building is expanded
1932
The SP reports its first annual loss but survives the Great Depression without declaring bankruptcy, one of the few major lines to do so
1940
In anticipation of WW2, the SP begins working with the military to avoid the issues that caused gridlock during WW1. These efforts allowed the system to run well throughout the war.
1942
Segregated rest rooms for colored people are enlarged
1944
The SP acquires its last steam locomotive
1947
Diesel-electrics are introduced for main line service
1948
Harry Truman presidential campaign makes stops in Uvalde and San Antonio
1953
Piggy back service, a forerunner to modern containers, begins
1957
SP steam locomotive 794 is donated to the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. A sister locomotive is given away in Austin.
1958
All local passenger service from San Antonio is abandoned
The former San Antonio & Gulf Shore Line bet wen San Antonio and Cuero is abandoned
1971
AMTRAK takes over Sunset Station, adds A/C, destroys large SP "Sunset" logo at front of the building in the process
The old SA&AP line to Kerville north of Camp Stanley is abandoned
1996
The Southern Pacific is acquired by the Union Pacific
AMTRAK is asked to leave Sunset Station. Following a painstaking restoration, the complex of building opens as an entertainment venue
1998
The former SA& AP line from San Antonio through Floresville is abandoned
The former SA& AP line between A quarry at Loop 1604 and Camp Stanley is abandoned