Traffic on The South Orient


Train meet at Baldridge, east of Ft Stockton. The two crews will swap trains, the San Angelo crew returning east to San Angelo, the Alpine crew going west back to Alpine. Pictured above is the west bound train out of San Angelo that will go on to Alpine. The track inspector’s hi-rail truck will precede the east bound train back to San Angelo.Train meet at Baldridge, east of Ft Stockton.  The two crews will swap trains, the San Angelo crew returning east to San Angelo, the Alpine crew going west back to Alpine.  Pictured above is the west bound train out of San Angelo that will go on to Alpine.  The track inspector’s hi-rail truck will precede the east bound train back to San Angelo. — ©B. Smith photo

By B. Smith

 I kept a sort of journal back in the old days.  These were Nat’l Geographic calendars with a page for each week.  When I started working for the railroad I noted what trains I worked and a bit about how many loads and empties were handled.  I went back through today and re-read them for 1993/94.  A real trip down memory lane.  What really amazed me was how much interchange we did in Alpine with the SP.  Almost every trip to Presidio we had to set out and often picked up at the transfer track, and coming back from Presidio set out and picked up.  We had cars off the SP not only going to San Angelo but  loads to Presidio as well.  And when those cars came back from Mexico, or San Angelo empty we had to set them back to the SP.
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At Alpine Junction, October 1, 1994 — ©B. Smith photo

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South bound train along Antonito Cr. in Big Bend Ranch State Park. — ©B. Smith photo

Off the SP we would get:

Loads of oats and rice for Presidio in covered hoppers
Loads of steel for Hirschfeld  in San Angelo
Empty tanks going to Texas Tank in San Angelo for repair
Empty 60 ft box cars for loading with scrap cardboard in San Angelo by Butt’s recycling
Loads of newsprint for San Angelo Standard Times began in April 1994
A load of lumber for San Angelo on Feb 14, 1994

Some examples–

August 5, 1993, we delivered 24 empty LPG tank cars to Alpine.

August 11, 1993, the train from San Angelo had 22 cars, one for Rankin, and 2 loads and 17 empties for Alpine.

August 28, 1993, we pulled 8 cars from the Alpine interchange track and spotted 16 there.

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South bound to Presidio just before Plata, March 3, 1993. — ©B. Smith photo

Loads going to Presidio:
Wood chips, summer 1992 until October, 1992, in 60 ft box cars.  Contract said 600 cars total but cars stopped coming after about 200 car loads.
Oats in covered hoppers
Fertilizer in covered hoppers and tank cars
Veneer in 60 ft box cars
Rail from Canada in gons
Feed in box cars
Rice in covered hoppers
Peanut hulls in?
Beans in box cars
Hydrogen peroxide in tank cars
Auto parts in a container on flat car
Calcium phosphate in covered hoppers
Seed in box cars
Poles on flat cars
2 loads of machinery on flat cars
Cotton seed meal in covered hoppers
Milo in covered hoppers
Soybeans in covered hoppers
Wheat in covered hoppers
It looks like a lot but we would have quite a few loads of oats for awhile and then they would stop coming.  We had 30 car trains of soybeans for a month, then they would stop.
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South bound on the SP at Paisano siding just before leaving SP tracks at Paisano Junction.  Probably loads of untreated railroad ties to be unloaded at Presidio. — ©B. Smith photo

Coming out of Mexico:
Fertilizer in tank cars
A few cars of concrete ties
Scrap metal bales in gons
Zinc ore
Refrigerator cars of peppers beginning in 1994
A load of wool
Particle board in box cars
Logs for Prineville, Oregon on bulkhead flats, at least eight cars ( City of Prineville Railroad!)
Tomato paste in box cars
By the end of 1993 I had made 75 trips to Presidio.  A little over a trip a week.
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Northbound. — ©B. Smith photo

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East bound between Alpine and Ft Stockton. The two box cars were picked up off the Alpine Junction transfer track and will be loaded in San Angelo with baled cardboard and then interchanged back to the SP in Alpine. The covered hoppers are empties coming back from Mexico and were interchanged back to the SO in Presidio. — ©B. Smith photo

The South Orient hauled quite a number of loads of aluminum ingots to Mexico.  This continued until 1998, starting in February, 1995.  The ingots were in 50 ft hi-cube box cars, mostly BN.

 I’ve been trying to remember what was shipped to Mexico in those BN RBL box cars.  I remember helping open the doors on the empty cars for US Customs at the Presidio depot when they came back empty to us.  The SO put quite a number of those BN cars into Mexico.  Looking a bit further in my journal I see box cars of corn starch starting in July, 1995 going to Mexico and I think that is what was in these cars.  I don’t think it was so much climate control as these cars were clean, had good sealing doors, were available, and BN didn’t mind seeing them go to Mexico.  These cars had been built in 1967 and were near the end of their lifespan.
North bound train has just crossed the big bridge overe Antonito Cr.

North bound train has just crossed the big bridge over Antonito Creek. — ©B. Smith photo

I see we also started getting cardboard stock in box cars and tallow oil in tank cars out of Mexico in 1995.

In April or May of 1993 I took eleven BN refrigerator cars to Presidio because South Orient management thought they would be loaded with onions being harvested along the river.  In fact, there was an onion packing warehouse near the Presidio depot and next to a track that was working full time washing, sorting, and bagging onions.  I spotted one refer next to the warehouse where I thought it might be loaded, right where a large stack of bagged onions was located.  My engineer said the rail cars would not be loaded, the owner of the warehouse was fed up with rail service (ATSF) and would never ship by rail again.  He was right.  I was asked to move the car away from the warehouse as it was blocking airflow to the bags of onions.  All onions bagged in Presidio during the SO years were shipped out on trucks, cattle trucks.
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Untreated railroad ties we hauled to Presidio. — ©B. Smith photo

I forgot to mention the many box cars of untreated railroad ties we hauled to Presidio.  For reasons unknown to me, these cars were unloaded in Presidio, as seen here by the old water tank and depot, and the ties loaded on trucks to continue into Mexico.  Why they didn’t cross into Mexico in rail cars is a mystery.  All the other rail cars we took to Presidio went into Mexico, this was the only unloading of rail cars done in Presidio.  And the ties were pine wood, not the hardiest of woods.
Editor’s note: I really like the detail B. Smith offers here.  It gives us a feel from the types of commodities being shipped in the 1990s and overall traffic patterns.  I am grateful he kept such great notes from this very special era in railroading.  The late 1970s to mid-1990s remains my favorite period for many reasons.  Modern railroading is still great, but the prevalence of small shippers and single or small lots of cars from that era is particularly attractive to me.–C. Hunt


4 thoughts on “Traffic on The South Orient

  1. Hi, my name is Richard Miller and Went to work for the Santa Fe on a bridge gang in 1971. I worked the old Orient line first in Barnhart, TX then south hitting most of the small towns along the way all the way to Presidio, TX. Reading the post here brings back many fond memories, I had just gotten out of the Army and started my long career with the railroad. I ended up working the old Orient from Presidio up into Oklahoma all the way to Cherokee, OK. 1 correction to B. Smiths posts, the creek you’re referring to is the Alomita Creek not Antonita creek, I think you might be confusing it with Antonita CO, one of the terminal for the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad in Chama NM.
    Thanks for the memories
    P.S. I ended up working this line again in 1980 as a newly promoted locomotive engineer out of Slaton TX. This was during the Russian grain embargo and many shippers were getting around the embargo by shipping thru Mexico. I don’t know how much was shipped this direction but it sure put a strain on this small line. I retired from BNSF in 2012 with 41 yrs total service.


    • Thanks for the great comment and sharing your history on the line. It is Alamito Creek and B. Smith has shared with me there was a lot a grain traffic during the embargo. This was mentioned in some earlier posts. There is more to come on the South Orient. Stay tuned.


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