Uvalde and the Railroads

Thanks to the El Progresso Public Library in Uvalde
for providing information and several images

Large map showing Uvalde's railroads

Early image of the Uvalde & Northern.
Uvalde has a rich history with the railroads. It has been served by no less than three different companies, with a fourth nearby. It also briefly had a streetcar service as well. The city of 15,000 is located halfway between San Antonio and Del Rio. Uvalde was founded in 1856 to be the county seat of newly formed Uvalde County. The first railroad to arrive in town was the Galveston Harrisburg and San Antonio in 1881. The GH & SA, soon to be fully owned by the Southern Pacific, was building west from San Antonio. It met up with eastward building crews from the S.P's base in California at the Pecos River, 227 miles east of San Antonio..
Ceremonial completion of the Sunset route. The car on the left is reputedly C.P. Huntington's.
 
Early image of Uvalde's Southern Pacific depot. Note banner saying Sansom City
 
Uvalde's Southern Pacific railroad depot
Uniquely among towns in south Texas, the residents of Uvalde required the railroad NOT to build through the center of town, as was the case up and down the rest of the GH & SA. Unlike so many towns which were created by the railroad, Uvalde was well established and had been laid out in a very attractive manner and local residents did not want this to be disturbed. In this they managed to avoid the less pleasant aspects of railroading and preserved the integrity of their city for the future. From a 21st century perspective, the decision seems very prescient. Following the demise of passenger service and even most local freight haulage by train, the city is hardly disturbed as enormous modern freight trains thunder past a long way from the still handsome city center.
Uvalde Street Railway Co.
 
Car load of honey on the Uvalde streetcar tracks. Note same small engine as previous image
A small community grew up around the Uvalde depot with several hotels and other businesses related to the railroads. It has been known alternately as Samson, Uvalde Junction and North Uvalde. It eventually simply became a part of Uvalde as a whole. At one point, no less than three lines radiated from the junction. In 1909, to accommodate the approximately two mile distance to the city center from the railroad depot, a streetcar service was established. Originally simply named "The Uvalde Streetcar Railway, it changed ownership in 1911. Now called the Leona Valley Interurban, a second line was added at this time. After passenger service terminated the second line was kept open providing freight services to the asphalt pits nearby.

By 1890, Uvalde had a population of around 2,000. By 1914 this had doubled to 4000. The land in this area is very productive and led to a vibrant economy. The value of the agricultural produce and ranches of Uvalde and its neighboring areas led to it becoming a major shipping point for all kinds of crops and cattle. Peaches, pears, pecans, plums, onions, tomatoes, pumpkins, melons, potatoes, cabbage and beans all did well here. Winter crops were particularly successful. Sheep and goats did well, producing both meat and wool products. Over time, different breeds of cattle have been introduced with great success. Uvalde became known as the honey capital of the world and still produces a great deal of this deliciously sweet and natural product.
Uvalde's Missouri Pacific railroad depot, located at 444 W. Main. Service ended in 1966. Building demolished in 1971
Land colonizers created what was supposed to have been a short line to connect Uvalde with Crystal City, 40 miles to the south. It was named, logically enough, the Crystal City & Uvalde Railroad. The success of this line in increasing the value of property and creating opportunities led almost immediately to an extension to Carrizo Springs. Pretty soon the county seat of Zavala county was moved to Crystal City from Batesville as the latter did not have a rail connection. More colonizers, who would buy large ranches, sub-divide them, and attempt to create viable towns and farms, approached the CC & U and provided cash for the railroad to build eastward from Crystal City. In 1912, after the new line reached Fowlerton around , on the other side of the main Missouri Pacific line between San Antonio and Laredo, the railroad was approached by city leaders from both San Antonio and Corpus Christi with an offer to extend the line to both cities. This was agreed to and the line was renamed "The San Antonio, Uvalde & Gulf." The headquarters and shops of the railroad were soon relocated to Pleasanton.
Tracks of the Asphalt Belt RR. This small line never carried passengers
Asphalt Belt loading facility. This small line never carried passengers
1955 Missouri Pacific freight timetable for the old Asphalt Belt line
The SAU&G was purchased by the Missouri Pacific in 1925. MOPAC also purchased the "Asphalt Belt," a short line built in 1923 to serve the limestone asphalt pits a few miles south of Uvalde. The line connected with the SAU&G at a junction between Pulliam and La Pryor. For many years, the Asphalt Belt was the main source of revenue for the Missouri Pacific from this area as devastating droughts and alkaline water supplies led to the demise of many planned communities along the routes. Also, competition between the Missouri Pacific and the Southern Pacific was fierce, with virtually no cooperation, which is why both railroads were obliged to maintain separate depots. The S.P. line was in a better position to haul goods quickly to San Antonio, and had the exclusive on moving anything westward but it was actually MOPAC that delivered most of Uvalde's oil and other petroleum products, and this continued up to the end of its service to the city in 1966.
First train to run on the Uvalde & Northern, 3/19/1921
Uvalde and Northern locomotive
The economic potential of the woodlands to the north of Uvalde led to the construction of a logging line named the Uvalde & Northern. Service on this line, first proposed in 1914, did not begin until 1921. It stretched some 37 miles from Uvalde Junction to a small community laid out by the railroad, called Camp Wood. The main product of the line was cedar posts, then in high demand for building foundations across south Texas. Building codes changed in the 1940s at around the time the logging companies had exhausted most of the trees near the railroad so service was halted and the line pulled up.
Uvalde railroad depot in 1973. Closed to the public and used as staff and maintenance supply building.
Uvalde railroad depot in 1985. Closed to the public and used as staff and maintenance supply building.
As time wore on, improvements in the area's road system and the growth of strong competition from the trucking industry led to a decline in both passenger and local freight rail service. Bus service of a kind, to Crystal City, using a crudely converted truck, began as early as 1910. The first bus service to and from San Antonio, run by Painter Bus Lines, began in 1924. All rail passenger service in Uvalde had ended by 1958. As the railroads began to focus on long distance haulage of massive amounts of single commodities, local freight service also declined. The Missouri Pacific ended any trains into Uvalde in 1966. Its depot was removed in 1971. Service to the asphalt pits continued until 1987 when a flood took out much of the old line. A new link to the pits from the Southern Pacific main line was created at this time west of Uvalde, (see map at top of page) and the entire MOPAC line east of Gardendale on the main line to Laredo was removed. There was enough freight service to make keeping open their old depot viable for the Southern Pacific for almost another two decades. It also served as an office for local maintenance crews. However it was not enough and it, too, was finally torn down in the late 1980s.
UP 844 in Uvalde, May 12, 2006
 
UP 844 in Uvalde, May 12, 2006
In 1996 the Southern Pacific "merged" with the Union Pacific which had merged with the Missouri Pacific fourteen years earlier, in 1982. The tracks through this area are actually hauling more freight than ever but they have essentially become irrelevant to the communities they run through making the foresight of the original Uvalde decision to get the railroad to avoid the city center seem even smarter than it was in 1881. One can be certain that many communities along the old Galveston Harrisburg & San Antonio wish their city leadership had had such good judgment way back then.
Old depot slab near the rails in Uvalde
 
Union Pacific freight train passing through Uvalde, 2010

 

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Uvalde Railroad Timeline
1881
The Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio, already part of the Southern Pacific, builds through Uvalde on its way west
1909
Streetcar service from the SP depot to downtown is created
The Crystal City & Uvalde RR is formed
1912
The CC&U becomes the San Antonio, Uvalde & Gulf
1921
The Uvalde & Northern running 37 miles north to Camp Wood is built
1923
The Asphalt Belt railway to serve a nearby asphalt mine is created
1925
The SAU&G and the Asphalt Belt are purchased by the Missouri Pacific
1941
The Uvalde & Northern is abandoned
1948
Harry Truman makes a campaign stop in Uvalde during his presidential campaign by rail, visiting with Jack Garner at his Uvalde home
1966
The Missouri Pacific abandons rail service to Uvalde. New tracks to connect the asphalt mine with SP tracks are built
1966
The Union Pacific buys the Southern Pacific