Inspiration for a Limpia Canyon Northern Customer

By B. Smith

In 1976, the ATSF still had a full-time agent at their depot in Alpine, Texas.  He claimed the boxcar sitting outside the depot one visit (June, 1976) was for the Safeway in town.

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Alpine, TX ATSF station, June 1976–©photo by B. Smith

I did not see the car being unloaded and do not know how Safeway transported what was in the boxcar to their store.  They must have had a large truck is my guess.  I took a picture of the car by the depot.  I’ve often wondered what was in the car, I can’t imagine one food item going to the store in Alpine.  It must have been many different food items that were loaded into the car at a large Safeway distribution center. And it’s an SP boxcar. Did SP bring it to Alpine and interchange it to the ATSF?  So many questions now I wish I had found answers to.

My beautiful picture

SP box at Alpine, TX ATSF station, June 1976–©photo by B. Smith

I never saw another boxcar here after this one, so this may have been the last railcar shipment to Safeway in Alpine.  The agent job was eliminated in 1978 and the agent transferred to San Angelo.
Interesting that it’s a double door boxcar, one you would expect lumber in, but in 1976, the Foxworth-Galbraith Lumber in Alpine had its own spur off the SP by the SP depot.
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Note: It’s great to have a story like this behind the elements of your layout.  It makes modeling and operations so much more meaningful.
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Evolution on the rails, it’s often faster than we realize…

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2008 operations at Badger Mining in Rankin, TX–©photo by C.E. Hunt

I recently wrote on how quickly Fort Stockton, Texas has changed. (See post.)  Today’s post focuses on how quickly Rankin, Texas operations have changed since 2008.

In 2008, Rankin was the home of Badger Mining.

Badger

Badger supplied frac sand to the oil field before the boom took off.  It was a medium-sized facility that had a LOT of character.  The manager always wanted to talk high school football.

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2008 operations at Badger Mining in Rankin, TX–©photo by C.E. Hunt

It was served by the Texas Pacifico.  Below are a few photos I took in 2008.  It was an impressive medium-sized operation.

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2008 operations at Badger Mining in Rankin, TX–©photo by C.E. Hunt

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BNSF 407057 at Badger Mining in Rankin, TX, July 14, 2008–©photo by C.E. Hunt

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Lot’s of ATSF (BNSF) action operations at Badger Mining in Rankin, TX July 14, 2008–©photo by C.E. Hunt

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Private cars at Badger Mining in Rankin, TX, July 14, 2008–©photo by C.E. Hunt

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Texas’ Big Sky Country, Badger Mining in Rankin, TX–©photo by C.E. Hunt

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I prefer the ATSF cars! Badger Mining in Rankin, TX, July 14, 2008–©photo by C.E. Hunt

The rolling stock was normally BNSF (or predecessor) or private road.

 

There was an interesting cable operation to shuttle the cars.

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Today the operation is gone.  Across the tracks sits a chemical company that receives drilling fluids by rail.

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July 2016 scene at the site of former Badger Mining in Rankin, TX–©photo by B. Smith

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July 2016 scene at the site of former Badger Mining in Rankin, TX. Note newer chemical company across the tracks. –©photo by B. Smith

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Chemical dealer in Rankin, TX–©photo by B. Smith

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Close-up of chemical dealer in Rankin, TX, July 2016–©photo by B. Smith

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Today, if you see a rail scene you like, capture it!  It can look a lot different the next time you are through there!

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2008 scene at the site of former Badger Mining in Rankin, TX–©photo by B. Smith

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2016 scene at the site of former Badger Mining in Rankin, TX–©photo by B. Smith

 

 

 

 

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.
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©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.
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©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.

Remembering Belding — Old School Railroading in the 1990s

A friend of mine, shared this story from the old South Orient Railroad.  I love it because it harkens back to old school railroading that is very appealing to me–less unit trains, cabooses, 40-foot boxcars, no graffiti and railroads actually advertised on their rolling stock.  I thought you might like it too.  It came up as we discussed today’s rail operations on the South Orient’s successor, the Texas Pacifico.

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June 5, 2015 on the Texas Pacifico, Belding, TX. –©photo by B. Smith

Pipe train on main just west of west Belding switch.  Belding is first siding 10 miles west of Ft Stockton.  In the 90’s, the South Orient Railroad used to spot one or two cars of fertilizer per year for the pecan orchard there.   (Pipe is for a controversial 42″ natural gas pipeline to run from near Coyanosa through Alpine to Presidio, to connect with a Mexican pipeline.)

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Above, the siding is where the word Belding is located.  The track runs parallel to the Old Alpine Hwy in far West Texas. The rectangular green areas are pecan groves.

Remnants of Belding siding June 5, 2012.

Remnants of Belding siding June 2012. Pecan groves across the highway.

Above, Belding siding (to the left) in June 2012.  The unloading lane to the siding track is still visible just this side of the mile post marker.

Here is my friend’s re-collections back when the siding was active–

I had just started out as a conductor and I remember the siding being over-grown with weeds, not all cleared off next to the tracks like now.  There was just one lane to the track from the road where the pecan orchard vehicle could get up to the car.  Not sure how the car was unloaded, never saw an auger. It was always in the spring when the cars were spotted and the dried weeds from winter balled up under the car as we shoved it to a spot.  

I set out there another time in the wee hours of the night.  No lights around to help me through the weeds.  ATSF had placed a couple of 40 ft refrigerator cars off the siding track here, for storage I guess.  I always meant to get a photo.  Never did before one trip they were gone.  Not sure who took them away.
In later years the weeds would get so bad on the siding track we couldn’t get the engine by itself through the siding.  The wheels would spin from the crushed weeds on the track acting like grease and the weeds being six to eight feet tall was just too much for the old GP -7 to plow through, even after a number of running starts.
Unfortunately, my friend never got a picture of the siding in operation, but he recalls cars similar to this one being there there in the early 1990s.  ATSF 212426 Montpelier ID July 24 2005

Unfortunately, my friend never got a picture of the siding in operation, but he recalls cars similar to this one being there there in the early 1990s.  The country around Belding, TX looks somewhat like this photo.  ATSF 212426 Montpelier ID July 24 2005.  Photo courtesy RJ Sorenson and Railroad Picture Archives.

Railroading in West Texas has it challenges.  The region has very dark skies and its share of rattlesnakes. When I asked him if that concerned him, he said, “Railroad lantern for light.  One hopes the snakes are scared off, not just awakened.”

Last service to Belding my friend recalls is four loads of fertilizer being spotted there in the spring of 1998.

By the way, this corner of Texas is very isolated and the night skies are among the darkest in the nation.

Old school railroading!  (Some modern railroaders would be quick to add, only the lantern has changed.)

Today

The South Orient is a very different railroad now.  The Texas Pacifico is a very busy railroad that hauls a great deal of traffic to support oil and gas operations in the region.  Rather than a lone GP-7, see below what they run today.

Texas Pacifico locomotives at Fort Stockton, TX June 5 2015.  --©photo by B.Smith

Texas Pacifico locomotives at Fort Stockton, TX June 5 2015. –©photo by B.Smith

Frac sand cars being unloading in Fort Stockton, TX, June 5, 2015. --©photo by B. Smith

Frac sand cars being unloading in Fort Stockton, TX, June 5, 2015. –©photo by B. Smith

Hope you enjoyed this vignette of old school railroading in West Texas in the early 1990s.

Train orders, Dayton, Texas May, 1980. (Old school freight operations!)

SP freight at Dayton, TX May 1980.  Note engineer snagging the orders.  --©photo by C. E. Hunt

SP freight at Dayton, TX May 1980. Note engineer snagging the orders. –©photo by C. E. Hunt

Before automation, train orders were used to determine which train had the right of way at any point along the line. They also passed along important information about unusual speed limits, track work, etc.

One day in May of 1980 as a 17-year old armed with my manual Minolta, I was in Dayton, Texas to capture a train order sequence.

Dayton Texas station May 1980 door

The station from which the employees put out the train orders had seen way better days. –©photo by C. E. Hunt

I noticed a bustle of activity as I heard a train horn in the distance.

A woman came out of the station to put out a train order for the approaching SP freight.--©photo by C. E. Hunt

A woman came out of the station to put out a train order for the approaching SP freight.–©photo by C. E. Hunt

I was thrilled to be able to capture this moment as the train approached.

Train approaches.  Order is in place.--©photo by C. E. Hunt

Train approaches. Order is in place. Note a second employee getting ready for something else. –©photo by C. E. Hunt

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The locomotive crew snatches the orders! Note the second woman approaching the the train order stand again.  –©photo by C. E. Hunt

Then the process was repeated.

The orders for the caboose are put on the stand.  Both station employees are now visible.--©photo by C. E. Hunt

The orders for the caboose are put on the stand. Both station employees are now visible.–©photo by C. E. Hunt

Here comes the caboose!

See the conductor reaching for the orders?  --©photo by C. E. Hunt

See the conductor reaching for the orders? –©photo by C. E. Hunt

Big-time, old school, freight railroading using train orders.

Technology has replaced all of this process, but I am glad I was able to capture the “old school” way in 1980.

A trip to the Roundhouse…(Part II)

When I was finally able to pull myself away from the turntable, I set out to explore to rest of the Hardy Street Shops.  The diversity of locomotives and cabooses was pretty impressive.  Also impressive, looking back, was the access a 16-year old boy had–just me and my hand-me-down Minolta.

SP locomotives at Milby Street Roundhouse Jan 1979 V

NW2 1310 in between assignments. See roundhouse in the distance. –©photo by C.E. Hunt

Sanding tracks, Hardy Street Shops, January 1979.  --©photo by C. E. Hunt

Sanding tracks, Hardy Street Shops, January 1979. –©photo by C. E. Hunt

The diversity of equipment was staggering.

SP Alco at Milby Street Roundhouse Jan 1979 II

Alco C628 resting, Hardy Street Shops, January 1979. –©photo by C.E. Hunt

SD-45  #9126 in for service.  --©photo by C. E. Hunt

SD-45 #9126 and SW1200 #2268 in for service. –©photo by C. E. Hunt

I had to go peek at the turntable one more time before I left this magical place…

SW1500 #2674 sneaks onto the turntable.  Will her twin fit?  --©photo by C. E. Hunt

SW1500 #2674 sneaks onto the turntable. Will her twin fit? –©photo by C. E. Hunt

In part III, I will share some of the cabooses I shot there as well as my sneaking up into an Alco S-6 (#1257) just a few months before it would leave the SP in July of 1979.

My favorite spur (at least one of them) one more time…

On the outskirts of Marfa, Texas, there is a lonely little spur that services a very small operation that transloads molasses for cattle.  I had earlier done a series on molasses dealers along the rails in Texas and New Mexico. I wanted to come back to this one because, I guess, it is really special.  One, Marfa is a really interesting town.  It is a place where traditional ranching and Hispanic communities merge with arts and entertainment.   It has countless art-related entities including the famous Judd Foundation.  The foundation is closely associated with the minimalism school.

In the 1970s, minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa, Texas, where he created giant works of art that bask beneath vast desert skies. In the years since, Marfa has emerged as a hot spot for art tourism.

In the 1970s, minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa, Texas, where he created giant works of art that bask beneath vast desert skies. In the years since, Marfa has emerged as a hot spot for art tourism.

Two, it has a lot of interesting restaurants and businesses that one might not expect in a small, remote West Texas town.

Paisano Hotel, where the cast of Giant stayed during filming for the epic film in 1956.

Paisano Hotel, where the cast of Giant stayed during filming for the epic film in 1956. –photo by C. Hunt 

Presidio County Courthouse, Marfa, TX --photo by C. Hunt

Presidio County Courthouse, Marfa, TX –photo by C. Hunt

A warehouse in Marfa (featured in the novel, Marfa, France as the Galería Del Sol). ©photo by C. Hunt

A warehouse in Marfa (featured in the novel, Marfa, France, as Steve’s Galería Del Sol). ©photo by C. Hunt

All in all, it is kind of a quirky place.  (A site that inspired me to write a novel scheduled to be published in 2015.)

Enough on that, now back to my favorite spur…Third, it has this desolate little spur that captures my imagination.  Somehow, single car deliveries persist despite the fact that it is the only Union Pacific shipper for miles around.  It has to be serviced by through freights.  There are no locals this far out.  I have been here on beautiful sunny summer days and cold winter, wind swept days.  It is always special–just me, a tank car or two, the smell of creosote and molasses, mountains in the backdrop and the solitude (and sometimes a tumbleweed or two bouncing around).

Molasses dealer as seen across town.  --photo by C. Hunt

Molasses dealer as seen across town. –photo by C. Hunt

Fowlkes Cattle Company. It is a small operation on the east side of town.  It is located adjacent to Union Pacific’s mainline to El Paso, Texas.  It normally receives a few shipments each year and normally just one car.  Occasionally, two cars will be spotted there.

Lonely tankcar awaits unloading after being dropped off by the Union Pacific November 10, 2007.  --photo by C. Hunt

Lonely tank car awaits unloading after being dropped off by the Union Pacific November 10, 2007. –photo by C. Hunt

Pump that gets the molasses moving.  --photo by C. Hunt

Pump that gets the molasses moving.  Note stock pens in background. 

It can get messy.

It can get messy.

Other side of pump.

Close up and other side of pump.

One of the more interesting tanks car spotted there, March 25, 2008.

One of the more interesting tanks car spotted there, March 25, 2008.

Sometimes, two tank cars will be spotted.

Sometimes, two tank cars will be spotted.  Note tumble weeds–this is real West Texas.

Fowlkes Cattle Company from the air. The green dot denotes the unloading facility. Note tank car to the left. It was likely waiting to be spotted or retrieved by the Union Pacific.  The little rectangles above the unloading facility are cattle pens.

Fowlkes Cattle Company from the air. The green dot denotes the unloading facility. Note tank car to the left. It was likely waiting to be spotted or retrieved by the Union Pacific. The little rectangles above the unloading facility are cattle pens.

PLCX 221142 brought in a load March 8, 2014.

PLCX #221142 brought in a load March 8, 2014.

There you have it, my favorite spur (or at least in the top 10!)

Note: Marfa, France is a novel by the author of this blog scheduled to be published in 2015.