Reflections on the South Orient, Part I

By B. Smith

Starting in 1992, the South Orient Railroad was the southern portion of the old Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient Railroad.  It had been Arthur Stilwell’s attempt to link the center of the United States to the closest Pacific port, Topolobampo in Mexico.  The KCM&O only got as far as Alpine, Texas in the early 1900’s.  The Santa Fe acquired the line in 1928 and extended it from Alpine, Texas to Presidio, Texas where it met the Mexican railroad on a bridge over the Rio Grande.  Beginning in late 1992 I was the conductor for the South Orient in Alpine.  My engineer and I handled the South Orient trains from Alpine to Presidio, and from Alpine east to various meeting points with the South Orient train coming west out of San Angelo, Texas.

South Orient #204 at the depot in Alpine, TX. --©photo B. Smith

The South Orient depot in Alpine, Texas, my home terminal.. –©photo B. Smith

Almost immediately out of Alpine heading to Presidio the South Orient had 11.9 miles of trackage rights over the Southern Pacific (now UP) to get to Paisano pass, highest point on the Sunset Route between Los Angeles and New Orleans.  Here we are approaching the east switch at Paisano siding.  The signal is actually a flashing red, proceed at restricted speed, as the junction where the South Orient tracks leave the SP is just around the curve.

--©photo B. Smith

Approaching siding. –©photo B. Smith

Looking back after our train has left SP rails, a SP freight passes Paisano Jct heading east.

--©photo B. Smith

Meeting an SP freight. –©photo B. Smith

It is about 60 miles to Presidio from Paisano Jct. though West Texas scenery.

--©photo B. Smith

Heading towards Presidio, Texas. –©photo B. Smith

South of Casa Piedra (To see a recent post on Casa Piedra, click here.), the track runs though part of Big Bend Ranch State Park along Antonito Creek.  I saw a number of mountain lions in this part  of the run over the years.  (Editor’s note–At 311,000 acres, Big Bend Ranch State Park is Texas’ largest and certainly one of the most beautiful and remote state parks in the state system.  It is very close to Big Bend National Park.

--©photo B. Smith

Running through Big Bend Ranch State Park. –©photo B. Smith

In Part II, we will see a lot of South Orient rail action including seeing traffic across the international bridge at Presidio.

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