Cotton Belt Color Pictorial by Steve Allen Goen
Cotton Belt Color Pictorial by Steve Allen Goen
Cotton Belt Color Pictorial by Steve Allen Goen
Cotton Belt Color Pictorial by Steve Allen Goen

Cotton Belt Color Pictorial by Steve Allen Goen

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Cotton Belt Color Pictorial by Steve Allen Goen
Cotton Belt Color Pictorial by Steve Allen Goen
Hard Cover
128 pages
Copyright ?
Acknowledgements 4
Introduction 6
Steam Locomotive Roster 13
Diesel Locomotive Roster 14
St. Louis Southwestern Ry. 1943 - 1997 16
Cotton Belt 819 112
Cotton Belt Depots 120
Although regarded in modern times as being the most profitable member of the entire Southern Pacific family, it was somewhat ironic that such a successful transportation company as the St. Louis Southwestern Railway could trace its ancestry directly back to an insignificant little narrow gauge line in Northeast Texas. However, in the case of the Cotton Belt that's exactly what happened.
The year was 1870 when the International Railroad first announced plans to construct a rail line from Longview southwest through Smith County. Being the county seat, Tyler was experiencing its first real growth since the Civil War and naturally felt that securing a rail line was a top priority. All looked good for a time, but unfortunately, when construction on the new line began in 1871, it soon became clear that the town of Troup (located in the southeast part of the county) would get the railroad and that Tyler would be missed by eighteen miles. Not allowing this to darken their spirits, Major James P. Douglas quickly organized a group of local businessmen to file a request to the Texas Legislature for permission to build their own line. Chartered on December 1, 1871, the Tyler Tap Railroad was granted permission to construct a rail line from Tyler to an unspecified connection with another railroad, "not to exceed 40 miles in length". However, even before the first spike could be driven, promoters of the Houston & Great Northern (closely affiliated with the earlier mentioned International Railroad) decided to counter the Tyler Tap's plans by constructing their own 44 mile long line from Troup through Tyler to Mineola. 1873 proved to be an interesting year for railroad construction in the area. The Texas & Pacific had built across neighboring Upshur and Wood Counties; Tyler had been reached by the Houston & Great Northern; and by the end of the year, both the International Railroad and the Houston & Great Northern had merged to form the larger International & Great Northern Railroad. Meanwhile, the Tyler Tap (which had yet to lay a single rail) appeared to be another Texas railroad chartered but never built.
Although Tyler could now lay claim to having a railroad, it soon became apparent that the I&GN (which was by now controlled by the infamous Jay Gould) could charge just about any tariff that it wanted. When the rails of the Texas & Pacific were extended west in 1873 (missing Tyler by only twenty-two miles), the idea of building the Tyler Tap northeast to Big Sandy quickly found momentum. Finally, in August 1875, after four years of planning and numerous other delays, ground was finally broken for the fledgling railroad.
With the country gripped by national recession, it was financing not topography, that was the line's hardest obstacle to overcome. As a result, it would not be until 1876 that grading would be completed. When tracklaying began the following year, it was decided to build and equip the line at three foot gauge. Placed in operation on October 1, 1877, the Tyler Tap owned one locomotive, one passenger car, sixteen freight cars and operated 21 miles of thirty-five lb. rail. Making a single round trip to Big Sandy each day, and being prohibited by charter from operating at night, who could have imagined then that this primitive East Texas narrow gauge would become the first chapter in the history of the Cotton Belt.
Although essentially completed, the Tyler Tap soon proved to be a fiasco. The gauge differential created interchange headaches and when the T&P also fell under the Gould regime the citizens of Tyler found their new railroad to be "cut off at the pass", with higher tariffs being levied on all shipments (mainly cotton) arriving at Big Sandy. With the town still in need of a cheaper method of transportation, Douglas traveled to St. Louis and met with James W. Paramore and a group of northern businessmen representing the St. Louis Cotton Compress Company. With everyone interested in securing a more competitive rail route from the cotton fields of Texas, Douglas found what he needed, returning home successful in his bid to secure capital for extending the line northeast to Texarkana and southwest to the Brazos Valley at Waco.
With grading north to Gilmer and Mt. Pleasant well underway, the first item of business was to reorganize the railroad. Effective May 17, 1879, the name Tyler Tap was replaced by the more impressive title Texas & St. Louis Railway (nicknamed the Cotton Belt Route), with the new line to be operated predominately as a feeder line for the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern (which was still independent of Gould at that time) at Texarkana. The line's southern destination was a bit more unclear. The charter first called for the line to be built only as far as Waco, being later changed to Gatesville. Amended for a third time, it finally called for a future extension to either Laredo or Eagle Pass. Sticking with the Tyler Tap's earlier choice of three foot gauge, the T&St.L completed extensions to Athens as well as much of the Texarkana line by the end of 1880 and by the following year the Texarkana to Waco route was in service.
Once completed to Texarkana, Douglas and Paramore worked out a cooperative tariff agreement with the Iron Mountain and it appeared that Texas cotton was now ready to be moved to St. Louis over the two roads. However, almost before the ink was dry, fate turned against the line for the third time when Jay Gould bought up the Iron Mountain (for the Missouri Pacific) and promptly canceled all tariff agreements.
This move left the T&St.L with very few options. One, it could accept Gould's inflated shipping charges, two, it could sell out to Gould, or three, it could build its own line to eastern connections forcing Gould out of the picture once again. Although most lines in Texas caved in to Gould's high-handed tactics, Paramore used Gould's threats as his reason for continued expansion. First he purchased the Little River Valley & Arkansas Railroad in April 1881 (a 27 mile long narrow gauge running from Malden to New Madrid, Missouri), following suit one month later by incorporating the Texas & St. Louis Railway Company of Arkansas. With Bird's Point, Missouri (across the Mississippi River from Cairo, Illinois) the line's immediate destination, the Texas & St. Louis continued building northeast, soon reaching Camden, Fordyce and Pine Bluff. By the end of 1882 the T&St.L was once again virtually complete, with its three foot gauge mainline extending from Pine Bluff south to Gatesville, Texas (including a six mile branch from McNeil to Magnolia, Arkansas) and from Clarendon, Arkansas north to Bird's Point (including a four mile spur from Lilbourn to New Madrid, Missouri). Construction continued on the remaining 35 mile stretch between Pine Bluff and Clarendon until August 12, 1883, when Paramore drove in a silver spike on the Arkansas River bridge at Rob Roy marking the official completion of the line. Now a definite threat to Gould's stranglehold in the region, the little narrow gauge from Tyler extended an incredible 723 miles from Central Texas to the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers!
Although the decision to stick with narrow gauge presented a number of interchange problems, the T&St.L wasn't the only three foot line in the region. At Bird's Point, cars were ferried across the Mississippi on barges before being handed off to another narrow gauge, the St. Louis & Cairo, (later becoming part of the GM&O) which more or less followed the east bank of the Mississippi into East St. Louis. In Texas, narrow gauge connections could be made at Pittsburg with the Katy's East Line & Red River (McKinney to Jefferson), at Tyler with the Kansas & Gulf Short Line (Douglas' second narrow gauge operation), and after the Cotton Belt's acquisition of the K&GSL in 1887, with the Houston East & West Texas Railroad at Lufkin. However, at all other interchange points the line was faced with the time consuming dilemma of either retrucking cars (changing out narrow gauge or standard gauge trucks) or having to unload cars altogether.
Although the T&St.L had been constructed as an alternate route for shippers wishing to avoid Gould's price gouging, it was just a matter of time until the road's gauge, poor physical condition, unpaid construction debts and failure to generate traffic caught up with it, forcing it into receivership on January 23, 1884. With Cotton Belt General Manager W.R. Woodward appointed as the line's receiver, (followed by Samuel Fordyce on April 1, 1885), the line somehow managed to hold off Gould. Paramore was granted approval from Federal Court to completely reorganize the line which called for rebuilding its locomotive and equipment roster, adding several important branch lines, standard gauging its system, and to begin making court ordered partial payments of the line's indebtedness. Still unable to correct its financial situation, the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered Fordyce to sell off the Texas portion of the line unless he could raise $250,000 within six months. With time about up, Fordyce traveled to New York where the banking firm of Kuhn, Loeb & Company offered $100,000. Smelling victory around the corner, Gould offered $500,000. Luckily, Fordyce turned down both offers, shrewdly selling the bankers exactly $250,000 worth of receiver's notes at face value (which was said to have totally frustrated Gould's attempts to take over the pesky narrow gauge). In February and April of 1886 the line acquired a new set of corporate titles, the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas Railway (in Arkansas and Missouri) and the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas of Texas (to satisfy corporation laws in the Lone Star State).
As promised earlier by Paramore and later by Fordyce (the line's new president), the first and perhaps most important item of business was to rebuild the line to standard gauge. This decision could not have come at a better time since many connecting rail lines were by now refusing to allow their cars to be retrucked for usage on the Cotton Belt or to allow Cotton Belt equipment on their rails. With regauging the line now a matter of "when", not "if', Fordyce ordered that all subsequent tie replacements be made with standard gauge ties with one rail spiked along the outer edge of the tie. This would allow the railroad the luxury of already having one rail spiked in its standard gauge position when the order to convert the line was issued.
Much could be said of the fateful day when the Cotton Belt made railroad history by standard gauging the northern half of its mainline in one day. Reminiscent of Union Pacific track crews racing toward those of the Central Pacific in 1869, the Cotton Belt hired every worker that it could lay its hands on in preparation for the big event. Then on October 18, 1887, at a prearranged hour, traffic north of Texarkana was suspended as an army of section gangs went to work. Almost impossible as it may seem, the railroad managed to convert the line's entire 419 mile long Northern Division to standard gauge in twenty-four hours! As could be expected thousands of people came from all across the South to witness the occasion, and even though the project simply called for one rail to be moved over a bit and then re-spiked, its success showed all that the Cotton Belt Route was here to stay.

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