Del Rio, Uvalde, Crystal City and Carrizo Springs

            amtrakCircumstances, I am happy to say, are obliging me to enlarge my somewhat parochial transportation history research endeavors.  Until recently, the furthest I had researched in depth along the old Southern Pacific railroad heading west was Uvalde.  I have taken AMTRAK as far as Alpine before and made a couple of trips to Del Rio when I worked for the Union Pacific, but such visits did not involve peeling beneath the surface in any appreciable way.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Recently I became involved in an upcoming PBS documentary on the perhaps unlikely subject of the resurgence of olive cultivation in the old ‚Äúwinter garden‚ÄĚ areas between Carrizo Springs and Del Rio.¬† The story is, however, ripe with fascinating perspectives, including the ‚Äúeat locally produced food‚ÄĚ movement, and the original need for a means to¬†transport the crops being grown in the area, which is where I come in, as the only person around who has spent time researching the history of railroads in the area, which has resulted in voluminous amounts of information on the Texas Transportation Museum web site and two locally published books.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Over the last five years I have made numerous trips to Uvalde which has, over the past 127 years had the services of no less than four different railroads ‚Äď the Southern Pacific, the Crystal City & Uvalde which was renamed the San Antonio, Uvalde & Gulf, the Asphalt Belt and the Uvalde & Northern..¬† Each time I visit the town I¬†learn something new.¬† When I was there on Friday, the day after the trip by train to Del Rio, I found out exactly how the old SAU&G connected with the SP mainline, plus the exact location of both the SP and SAU&G depots.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† My delight in being invited to be an on camera participant in the documentary should have motivated me to at least try to find out about the railroad in Del Rio as well.¬† You might be able to understand my discomfort when I could not say for sure exactly when the current masonry depot,¬† now with¬†a well made, compatible,¬†bus station attached to it, was built.¬† I certainly knew it was not the original structure, which would have been of wooden construction.¬† I was in good company.¬† Representatives of the Del Rio city council, who supplied a bus for our group of eighteen to visit a local olive orchard and grape vinyard, did not know either.¬† A PBS executive from KLRU in Austin used her iphone to look it up on the web, only to find an absurd site that said not only was the depot the original structure, it was also built in 1876, seven years before the first train arrived.¬† A city transportation employee, who used to come down to the depot as a girl, and who was able to tell me about the original interior layout of the depot, was able to find a couple of old pictures.¬† One showed the original depot and the other showed the current structure when it just been completed.¬† Using the automobiles as a reference, it would appear to have been built in the mid to late 1920s, which is about the same time the entire downtown area was rebuilt, replacing frontier structures with pleasant looking ‚Äúmodern‚ÄĚ buildings, to reflect the city‚Äôs growing wealth and importance.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Not wanting to make the same mistake when I go with the film crew to Crystal City, Carrizo Springs and Asherton, I decided to visit these places the following day.¬† Accompanied by my good friend and avid railroad enthusiast, Fred Bock, the trip was¬†most successful.¬† Having spent some time in Uvalde itself, we headed south on Highway 83.¬† Regrettably there did not seem to be anywhere worth stopping to seek information in La Pryor, the first community created by the Crystal City & Uvalde in 1909, but, contrary to the ‚Äúwarnings‚ÄĚ given to me in Uvalde, Crystal City was another story.¬† Following a pleasant tour of the city, where the railroad once ran bold as brass right¬†down the main street, we went to the city library, followed by the immediately adjacent town hall and county court house.¬† Every community, I have found, has a keeper of the flame, an individual noted for his or her knowledge of local history.¬† On this occasion, on a late Friday afternoon, the owner of an abstract company was unavailable.¬† His mother had passed on an unparallelled collection of early local photographs.¬† Many are on his office walls and even more are on the walls of the local bank.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† By the time we arrived in Carrizo Springs it was raining cats and dogs.¬† It was also after 5:00 PM and the library was closed.¬† Nonetheless, we were able to get the measure of the place for a future visit.¬† In my experience you hardly ever get much on a first visit, but you do get to sow seeds that usually bear handsome fruit on subsequent trips.¬† The rain let up while we took a break and a snack in the local Dairy Queen, but the sky looked so ominous we decided to forgo a visit to Asherton and, instead, follow the route of the ‚ÄúSausage,‚ÄĚ the nickname given to the SAU&G, eastward towards Pleasanton.¬† Because the tracks from the main Missouri Pacific line that still run alongside IH 35 were only pulled up in the 1990s, their evidence is still fairly obvious.¬† The same cannot be said for some of the communities that sprouted briefly along the line.¬† Some, like Los Angles, were nothing but a motley collection of dilapidated houses and farm buildings.¬† Others, such as Hindes, were reduced to a mere sign post.¬† On the other side of the freeway, towards Charlotte and Pleasanton, finding even a trace of the tracks is all but impossible.¬† They were removed in the early 1950s, some sixty years ago.¬† Railroads in general are very benign to the environment and the impact of the right of way is easily erased from the landscape.

            I now feel as though I am in better shape to speak knowledgably about this line.  However, several more expeditions to the area, including one to follow the line of the Asherton & Gulf, which connected with the MOPAC mainline a little further south.  I’m keen to see not only Asherton but Caterina, which was developed by Charles Taft, the brother of then President William Taft.  The local hotel which I believe still exists, supposedly has oversize baths to accommodate the chief executive and, later, Supreme Court judge’s well known girth.

            While a lot of filming for the documentary, which will also include a lot of music, some of it played on instruments originally owned by the Richardson family and kept at their grand mansion in Asherton, has been completed, there is still a good amount still to be done.  Some will occur at the Texas Transportation Museum, where a recreation of thousands of people arriving by train during the heyday of land sales will be filmed in late August.  These land rushes were, in fact, one of the last and largest population migrations in US history, attracting would be farmers from all over America and even Europe to sub-divided ranches.  A group of 160 Mennonites came from Ohio in 1910, to settle in a community called Beachy.  Located near Brundage, itself now not much more than an empty crossroads, the land where the community, which was abndoned in 1914, once stood is now part of an oil field.  It is hard to even begin to put yourselves in their shoes, when both the artesian wells and then the rain dried up and their high hopes turned to dust.

            But hope springs eternal and the humble olive, originally cultivated a hundred years ago, is making a major comeback, bringing with it the possibility of a resurgence of sustainable cash crops that are climate and soil appropriate.  It may just turn out that Asher Richardson and other developers, such as Charles Simmons, who built the Artesian Belt RR which put Poteet, Jourdanton and Christine on the map, were just a century ahead of their time.


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