Alpine, Texas in the late 1970s (and a bit beyond), Part II, Operations at the old “Stock Track”


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Country north of Alpine, Texas–©B. Smith photo

On the northern outskirts of Alpine today sits a lonesome, abandoned spur on the currently inactive Texas Pacifico mainline to Presidio.

(Note:  This is a continuation of the Alpine Series. Click here to see Part I and Part I (A).)


The old timers called it the “stock track” for presumably it was a livestock shipping point at one time.

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The ATSF “stock track” (that’s what the old ATSF hands called it, probably because cattle were once loaded here).  It’s across from the Alpine Airport which is out of the picture to the right.  That’s the Ft Davis Highway crossing the tracks in the photo.   The city of Alpine off to the left in the distance.–©B. Smith photo

It is a double ended siding that has hosted a number of industries over the years.  Most only lasted a brief while.  Over the years, it has briefly hosted a drilling mud operation, a bentonite shipper,  a scrap metal dealer and a humate shipper.  As far as B. Smith and I can tell, none of them generated much in the way of rail traffic.

Per B. Smith, “I believe the operation was originally set up to receive drilling mud.  At the time the facility in Alpine was built, eight different drilling mud operations had set up recently in Pecos along the Pecos Valley Southern (to the north).  The shipping of bentonite was the only operation to really use the railroad.  I don’t believe any drilling mud, and for sure no scrap metal, was ever shipped from this siding.

There was a company that wanted to ship humate (a mineral salt of humic acid formed from decomposed prehistoric plant and animal matter, used as a fertilizer), first to a small middle eastern oil country to be used by the leader of that country for some elaborate garden project, when that fell through then to the Philippines.  With all but one paper needing to be signed for the Philippine deal to go through, a change in government in the Philippines killed that deal, or so the owner of the humate operation claimed.”

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These Ferdinand Railroad covered hoppers were stored here a few weeks, not meant to be loaded.  The plant was not operating in this January 1982 photo.  At this stage it was set up to receive rail shipments.–©B. Smith photo

Smith also remembers a covered hopper or two when it hosted a bentonite shipping operation.

He also remembers a number of ATSF open top hoppers being spotted on the siding, but does not remember a regular flow of cars into and out of that track.  He remembers some form of the operation, or another company, kept trying into the 1990’s after the South Orient Railway took over from the ATSF.  As a South Orient crew member, his notes show spotting an empty or two, and later pulling them out as loads a few times in 1993/94 for a company called Border Mines.  On July 14, 1994 he pulled 10 loads out of the siding for Border Mines.  All loads went east to San Angelo, not to the Alpine interchange.

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Later the plant was taken over by a different operation and was set up for loading rail cars. This plant would occasionally load a few rail cars, probably bentonite, shown here in July of 1985. –©B. Smith photo

The bentonite mining operations in the Big Bend ship by rail when they get a large order, but mostly it is by truck.  Bentonite has been loaded into rail cars from time to time in Marathon, TX.  The Cowboy Mining Company south of Marathon currently ships 10 to 14 trucks a day.

This concludes the Alpine series.  Hope you found it as fascinating as I did.





Alpine, Texas in the late 1970s, Part I(A), a Traffic Profile of a Shipper


Big Bend Wool and Mohair, Alpine, TX, 2007–©C. Hunt photo

I introduced this series January 26 in Part I.  Here  are some observations by B. Smith of the line’s operations with a particular focus on one shipper.  I found this record very informative of traffic patterns from 1982-1990 in Alpine and other car traffic operations of the era.–C. Hunt

By B. Smith

Back in the days before digital cameras, when cameras shot film that had to be sent off to be developed, and it seemed expensive to take pictures, I carried a pocket notebook with me when I went off to Alpine, or Marfa, or Pecos, or wherever to record information I observed connected with railroads.  I was looking through them (there are more than one) this morning looking for information on the bentonite plant in Alpine. (This plant will be covered in part II).  I didn’t find much on the plant other than my photos, but I see I recorded a note when ever I saw a car spotted at Big Bend Wool and Mohair (BBW&M) in Alpine, Texas.


Big Bend Wool and Mohair, Alpine, TX, 2007–©C. Hunt photo


Big Bend Wool and Mohair, Alpine, TX, 2007–©C. Hunt photo

I didn’t start recording info until 1981.  It’s pretty sketchy at first but I guess as I realized things were changing on the rail scene I began recording more and more.  So here’s the BBW&M notes of the cars spotted there.  It’s not every car spotted, just cars spotted that I happened to see when I went to Alpine.  Seems like BBW&M was a pretty active user of inbound rail shipments.  It also appears the cars for BBW&M came off the ATSF.

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Big Bend Wool and Mohair with two cars spotted in August, 1977–©B. Smith photo

BBW&M Traffic and other Alpine tidbits 1982-1994

March 13, 1982 – ATSF 55309 50’ XM smooth side plug door, BLT 9-56, roller bearing trucks.  By March 23 this car had been moved by SP to Alpine interchange track.

March 23, 1982 – ATSF 55458 XMI smooth side plug door.

April 22, 1982 – Siding to Foxworth lumber yard had been removed.

July 20, 1982 – ATSF 55348 XMI smooth side, plug door, high brake wheel, friction bearing trucks, no shock control.

October 20, 1982 – ATSF smooth side plug door (did not record car number).

November 5, 1982 – ATSF 55386 XMI smooth side, plug door, high brake wheel, BLT 1/58, roller bearing trucks with two springs, no shock control, straight bottom side skirt.

December 21, 1982 – ATSF 55768 XF, outside braced plug door, no shock control.

Feb. 15, 1983 – ATSF 55047 smooth side plug door

Feb. 16, 1983 – Eastbound SP train stopped at Alpine interchange, took one ATSF box into town, pulled ATSF 55047 at BBW&M and set both cars out at interchange before proceeding east.

Nov. 11, 1983 – ATSF 55346.

Aug. 13, 1984 – ATSF 15504 XL smooth side sliding single door, shock control, black ends, high ladders on B end of car, two spring roller bearing trucks.

Dec. 17, 1984 – ATSF 51659 XM former Railbox.

April 10, 1985 – ATSF 55378 XMI smooth side plug door, 2 spring roller bearing trucks.

June 30, 1985 – SP 12970 ex Railbox still in Railbox colors blt by ACF and ATSF 152426 XF flat roof, outside braced, plug door, Super Shock Control, Blt by FMC 9-79.

March 15, 1986 – SP GP-30/GP9E took ATSF 55364 smooth side plug door, high brake wheel, friction trucks from interchange track and spotted at BBW&M.

July 24, 1987 – ATSF 51327 XM ex-Railbox now at Alpine interchange had been unloaded at BBW&M last week.

July 31, 1987 – Two switches on west end of short run-around track by Big Bend Wool have been removed, only east bound trains can set out/pick up BBW&M now.

August 26, 1987 – SP 9248, an SD tunnel motor, arrived at Alpine interchange track from the east.  Pulled three bulkhead flats and ATSF box from interchange track.  Returned running east, spotted ATSF box at BBW&M, departed Alpine for Sanderson with the three flats.  So SP was running a local out of Sanderson at this time to serve Marathon, Alpine, and maybe Marfa.

October 21, 1987 – ATSF boxcar spotted at BBW&M.

Sept. 1987 thru Jan. 1989 – covered hoppers being loaded at bentonite plant (Alpine) on ATSF.

March 16, 1988 – SP 6614, east bound freight, arrives at Alpine interchange track with 10 ballast, 4 box, 1 reefer, 3 covered hoppers.  Picks up SOU box car off interchange track and moves it to BBW&M before proceeding east out of Alpine.

March 14, 1989 – SOU 50’ box at BBW&M.

June 1989 – SP running local out of Alpine since March, Hot Wells to Sanderson.  150 cars per month out of Hot Wells (talc).  Also switch Dupont fluorspar in Marathon.

August 29, 1989 – BN box car at BBW&M.

August 15, 1990 – SP moved ATSF box from interchange to BBW&M.  ATSF box from Big Bend Wool back to interchange track for ATSF on August 22, 1990.

November 30, 1990 – SOU 50’ box at BBW&M.

Feb. 1992 – South Orient begins operations, I don’t remember any cars going to Big Bend Wool from South Orient.

May 1994 – Mainline switch for track to BBW&M has been removed.


Big Bend Wool and Mohair, Alpine, TX, 2007–©C. Hunt photo


Part II will cover the short-lived Alpine bentonite operations and a few other items.

Alpine, Texas in the late 1970s, Part I

The Trans-Pecos region of Texas just north of Big Bend National Park offered some great rail operations in the 1970s when the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe served the region. Scenic Alpine, TX where the SP and ATSF met was in particular an interesting locale.  B. Smith was there to record some great shots.
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©B. Smith photo

The SP (now UP and Amtrak) depot, seen here in June, 1976.  There’s a box car spotted down the track to the left at Big Bend Wool & Mohair.  It was a regular receiver of rail shipments in the 70’s and 80’s.

©B. Smith photo

Big Bend Wool and Mohair.
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©B. Smith photo

Short run-around track allowed cars to be spotted by train traveling either direction on main line.  For a brief period in the late 70’s short line box cars were spotted at white building on left to be loaded with lignite that was mined down south.  I don’t think many cars were loaded before operation ceased.  But I do remember six or seven box cars sitting here, 50 footers.  I was lucky a couple of times and saw this siding being switched by a main line freight.  There was another spur to the right of the depot that ran to Foxworth lumber yard that saw occasional rail shipments in the 70’s.
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©B. Smith photo

Big Bend Wool and Mohair with two cars spotted in August, 1977.  Spur track to lumber yard in foreground with switch to another spur that ran west (behind photographer) to a couple of warehouse-like buildings that had long ceased receiving rail shipments.  All these spur tracks have been removed in Alpine.
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©B. Smith photo

Spotted Big Bend Wool and Mohair, Alpine, TX, December, 1978.  Bringing in cattle feed supplement in bags.
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©B. Smith photo

The ATSF depot in Alpine (now Texas Pacifico).   ATSF had an agent here until about 1978! June 1976 photo.
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©B. Smith photo

Dumping ballast near the ATSF depot, July 1977.
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©B. Smith photo

Where the ATSF met the SP to get over Paisano Pass.  The interchange track is on the left between the ATSF track the photographer is standing on and the SP Sunset Route behind the box car.  July 1977 photo.
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©B. Smith photo

ATSF train with box cars going to Mexico.  August, 1977.
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©B. Smith photo

A caboose brings up the rear of the train.

©B. Smith photo

ATSF has trackage rights for almost 12 miles over the SP to Paisano Pass.
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©B. Smith photo

An SP freight approaches Alpine from Paisano Pass.  December 15, 1978.
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©B. Smith photo

Amtrak Train No. 1, the Sunset Limited west bound departs Alpine, December 15, 1978.
Part II, will focus on an obscure customer north of Alpine.

San Fernando Valley, the epilogue

By B. Smith (all photos by author)

It has occurred to me that I haven’t said anything about how SP operated the branch.  I wish now I had paid more attention to this aspect.

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SP’s Burbank station on the Coast Route.-–©photo B. Smith

Growing up in Van Nuys I’d hear the train as it passed the Sepulveda Dam Recreational Area (then the Sepulveda Flood Control Area) as we lived two blocks north of where I took the photo of the track by the old barn.  For many years corn was grown in the Flood Control Area.  But by the time I’d get on my bike and get to where I could see the tracks the train was well out of view.  For a time in high school  where we waited for the school bus to take us home after school (My family now lived up in the hills over looking the Valley) was across the street from the Encino team track and if the local was running later than normal I would catch it there.  The baseball fields where I played little league were located on the old RKO Ranch movie lot denoted on the Encino map and I’d see the train there, although baseball games were on evenings or weekends and the train rarely ran then.  One Saturday though the train did come and two girls had walked out on the long bridge spanning the Los Angeles River.  Our field was the closest to the bridge.  Someone shouted here comes a train and the game stopped as parents rushed to the bridge to warn the girls who just made it off the bridge in time.  I don’t remember the train sounding its horn or slowing down.  And yes, I too was guilty of walking across that bridge a time or two.


Tail track of the Chatsworth wye, with spur to the only ready-mix concrete plant along the San Fernando Valley Branch still getting rail shipments.-–©photo B. Smith

The trains I saw were almost always running east to west, from North Hollywood to Canoga Park.  From the maps (see post of December 13, 2015) you can see the majority of the switches would be trailing point with this direction of operation.  Cars going to the few facing point switches would be dropped into the spur using the flying switch technique.

Site of SP’s Chatsworth station in May,1972.  The two story station had stood by the tracks on the far side of the three palm trees.  Nearby is where the San Fernando Valley Branch rejoined the Coast Route. It was from this location on September 12, 2008, that a Metrolink commuter train departed, ran a red signal, and collided with a UP freight.  View is looking north toward the Santa Susana Mts.-–©photo B. Smith

The San Fernando Valley has an Anheuser-Busch Brewery and had, until 1992, a General Motor’s Assembly plant just north of the Van Nuys airport on the SP (now UP) Coast Route.  I believe the local for the branch began there where it gathered the cars for the day’s run, ran east on the Coast Line to Burbank where it then entered the wye for the track to North Hollywood.  After working its way through Van Nuys, Encino, Reseda/Tarzana, and Canoga Park, it would rejoin the Coast Route in Chatsworth and run east back to the yard by the assembly plant and call it a day.

SP beet train about to enter the first tunnel through the Santa Susana Mts. as it leaves the San Fernando Valley on the Coast Route.  May, 1972.-–©photo B. Smith


It was around this curve where the Metrolink/UP freight collided in 2008.-–©photo B. Smith

There was one time a derailment on the Coast Route at the north end of Van Nuys airport that closed the line for a day or two and all SP freights had to divert through the San Fernando Valley Branch.  It must of created some backed up auto traffic in the valley as these long trains, and there were quite a number in those days, made their way along the line at maybe 20 mph, not sure what the track speed was, but it wasn’t fast.
This concludes this series on San Fernando.  We hope it triggers pleasant memories for some of you and great modelling references for others.  Thanks to B. Smith for sharing his great research, personal recollections and awesome photos!
Click on the below links for the previous posts in this series–

My favorite (“go to”) hobby shops

I have a lot favorite dealers.  I give one or two of them more business than the others for whatever reason, but all the ones below have always given me outstanding service and I can attest they are friendly, well-informed and will often go the extra mile to get you what you need.

Here they are in no particular order–


Overland Hobbies – Brian is awesome.  He really works hard to make sure you get what you need.  Great selection, particularly of more recent releases.
c/o Overland Models, Inc.
4319 West Clara Lane, PMB 290
Muncie, IN 47304-5470 USA

telephone: 765.289.4257   fax: 765.289.6013     email:


Hiawatha Hobbies –Glen and Irv (owner) are great guys.  I usually work with Glen and he always gives me really good service.  They too really go the extra mile for you.  Great selection of Athearn in general and often have hard-to-find items.
Hiawatha Hobbies
2026 Silvernail Road
Pewaukee, WI 53072
telephone: 262-544-4131    email:
Spring Creek Model Trains — David and Debby run a great hobby shop.    I usually work with Sharon, and she is really very helpful.  She always makes that extra effort to give great service.  Mary Ann is very helpful too.  Great selection of Athearn, Intermountain and Tangent.
Spring Creek Model Trains
304 East Bryson Ave
Deshler, NE 68340
telephone: 402-365-7628    email:
Model Train Stuff — Is a great larger shop.  Though it is big, the guys who work there really know their trains and are very helpful.  Their prices are excellent.  Their website is among the best in the business
MB Klein, Inc.
243-A Cockeysville Rd.
Cockeysville, MD 21030 USAtelephone: 1-888-872-4675 or  1-410-229-9995   email:

There are many others.  I have been very satisfied with my dealings with Toy Train Heaven, High Country Hobbies and The Yankee Dabbler (Great source for Kadee items!) and Bob The Train Guy.  No complaints on those as well.
I am sure there are many others that I just don’t know about.
I just wanted to share the above shops just in case any readers were looking for additional sources of model railroad supplies.
Love to hear about  your favorite shops!  Please comment.
By spreading the word, we help keep these guys in business!


The new layout (Part VI) – Track plan and map

IMG_1991The Rails West layout is a proto-free lance layout.  It is free lanced in that it is not based on a particular location rather it is based on a place in my imagination in a generic western setting.  I particularly love  the Burlington Northern, Southern Pacific, Santa Fe, Rio Grande, Frisco and Western Pacific.  Within my layout size, I can’t model them all though and even come close to the “proto” part of the description.

So for now, I have bent reality a little and created a fictitious branch jointly owned by the SP and BN with connections to the parent roads as well as others depending on the scenario I have in mind.  You might think of my layout as a stage that hosts “plays” or better put “operating scenarios” across the American West.   The scenarios can be in Texas, Colorado, California or other locations only limited by my western, arid scenery (to come) and my imagination.

Carrizo Springs Branch (circa, early 1980s)

Map of Asherton Branch Line (joint SP-CB&Q line, now SP-BN) May 1982

The Carrizo Springs Branch (often referred to  as the Asherton branch because it used to venture across a small valley and over to a famous college town) services many shippers mainly clustered around two towns along the line, Mineral Wells and Carrizo Springs.  Big shippers include a mine at the end of the line in Carrizo Springs, Western Minerals, the State University located at the end of the Asherton Branch, and Rocky Mountain Feeds, a beer distributor and a bakery in Mineral Wells.

Occasional traffic sources include team tracks in both towns, an aggregate dealer in Mineral Wells and a piggyback ramp in Carrizo Springs.  The team track action will feature much variety in part inspired and informed by B. Smith’s recent excellent post on the San Fernando Valley Branch. He shared detailed data on team track traffic in along the branch.  The diversity was impressive.

Below is the current track plan.

Track Plan Jan 9 16Being the early 1980s, it permits some nice operations that would not be realistic in the years to come, such as the closing days of a piggyback ramp in Carrizo Springs, first generation diesels, a wide variety of team track traffic and cabooses.  All the great railroads we lost in the 1980s and 90s are on full display, including lots of BN predecessor rolling stock.


Note SL-SF, NP and CB&Q rolling stock

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Lone piggyback flat in the consist of the local.


Piggyback ramp in Carrizo Springs.

Since the BN-Frisco merger has recently been concluded, Frisco rolling stock will often appear and even SLSF locomotives may appear from time to time.


Delivering coal to the State college at the end of the Asherton branch.  Note the Exactrail hoppers.  This is a stunning product.

Proto freelance is probably not for everyone, but it works well for me since I have too many favorite railroads.  I love the flexibility it gives me, but not so much flexibility that the layout doesn’t ring true in the larger sense.

More to come…



The new layout (Part V), an “enhanced” operation session after lunch.

The food was amazing as usual, but we all ate too much.  Not sure why I loaded up on chips…

Let’s get this run done.


Here the local is venturing to the end of the BN line to Western Minerals.  They have four empties to spot.   Paul, the loading manager is still at lunch, so the crew just takes a guess at the best spot.


With Western Minerals serviced, there only remains the team track to spot. Thank goodness nothing for the piggyback ramp today.


The crew retrieves the team track loads that were parked on the branch to the college…


Then time to clear the team track to make way for the inbounds.


Now time to spot the team track loads.


With the loads for the local Western Auto and feed dealer spotted, probably the CB&Q hi-cube is a load of appliances, it is time to clear out of Carrizo Springs.

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OK, the crew better remember to pull the ICG covered hoppers on the way out of Mineral Wells.


They remembered.  The conductor is getting ready to hop off the waycar to pull the pin on the couplers between the waycar and the ICG flat and set the turnout.


Jack pulled the pin and secured the brakes on the waycar.  He then walks up to throw the turnout.


The engineer eased down the line, Jack connected the hoses and opened the angle cock.  The engineer then eases up the line far enough the clear the turnout and ease back down to retrieve the caboose.

Hoses connected, angle cocks opened and brake wheel released on the waycar.  After a short air test…


It is time to head home.

The crew of the Carrizo Springs turn has done their work for the day.

The new layout (Part V), an “enhanced” operation session with some details…

In my last post, I shared the first ever real operating session of the Rails West layout. There were a few inquiries requesting a more detailed description of the session to share what exactly is going on with more narrative on the industries, etc..  Be careful what you ask for, but here goes…(Maybe be more detail than some like.)

This iteration of the layout is still completely a work in progress, but I will share my current thinking (which could WILL evolve substantially).  Even the names of the town could change.

I hear a diesel horn in the distance.  Here we go…


Here comes the local.  The ICG covered hoppers have now been unloaded by the dairy operation and are empties.


Looks like a bit longer train today.  I think I see a shiny, new flour car behind the locomotive.


Yes it is.  That means the local will be working in Mineral Wells at little bit today before venturing to the end of the line in Carrizo Springs.


The first order of the day in Mineral Wells is to spot the new loads of corn for the dairy operation–couple of loads off the UP it looks alike today, probably coming out of Nebraska.


No need to haul the empties to Carrizo Springs, so the local spots the ICG cut so it will be easy to pick up on the way out of town.  With the Nebraska inbound loads spotted, it is time to spot the flour car at the Rainbo bakery in town.


Now the local will venture down the west spur past Jimenez Beer Distributor down to the bakery.  The smell of bread baking fills the air.

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With the flour spotted, it is time to get out of town and head to Carrizo Springs.  The local has a lot of work there.


Time to get in the car and beat the train into Carrizo Springs.  It’s only a short drive.  No worries.


Pretty good train into Carrizo Springs even if we don’t have any coal for the college.  There is a small college in Asherton that interchanges with the railroad in Carrizo Springs.  The railroad withdrew service to Asherton a few years back, so the college decided to lease the track for $1 a year.  The college gets in coal, beef in refrigerator cars and occasional feed or fertilizer.  About once a week, the local will have 3 to 4 cars of coal for the college.  It is an interesting operation.


The local pulls into Carrizo Springs.  The conductor and engineer need to map out a switching strategy.  The busy team track plus the need to pull the empty piggyback flat is creating some wrinkles.


First things first.  Let’s neat up the team track and piggyback ramp.


The GP-20 will ease in to join the team traffic with the piggyback flat.


The lumber dealer did a good job unloading the flat.  It is clean.  Just a little further down the track…


Good, now they have the spur there neated up.


Then he pulls the loads from Western Minerals and spots them behind the neated up consist on the spur.  Then he does a run around to get on the other side of the caboose.



You can see now that he put all the outbounds together.  Now he just has to spot the inbounds.  He starts by putting the two boxcars for the team track temporarily on the branch to Asherton (interchange with the college).  The interchange was empty today.

It is around noon.  The conductor and engineer are next to Garcia’s Mexican restaurant and no streets are blocked.  It is a great time to break for …


Maybe even one of these…hmmm…


Well finish this run in the next post, I’m hungry and will have to join them!