Western Trips

Western Trips

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Railways in Texas / The Katy Railway

When reading about the history of trains, the Katy Railroad left a lasting mark in Texas. If you are familiar with the Houston area you know that a suburb is named Katy. Katy Texas took it's name from this railroad. Another interesting fact is that Houston's Katy Freeway follows the old route of this very busy railway.

katy railroad logo
The history of trains can be very interesting to explore because the railways at one time were the lifeblood of the nation. Before the trucking industry blossomed with the construction of the Interstate highways, trains were the primary way to ship goods. A town that was fortunate enough the snag a railroad line was truly a fortunate town. Railroads in Texas were critical especially when you consider the size of the state and the number of towns and large cities within it's borders.

The Historic Katy

The Katy Railroad was a train company that connected Missouri to Texas. In fact, the very first railway to enter Texas from the north was the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, often referred to as the MKT. The railroad was also often called the K-T. This was it's stock exchange symbol and was also the way it was called the Katy. The Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad was incorporated in 1870 and bought the southern branch of the Union Pacific Railroad which consisted of 182 miles of track. The MKT also acquired several other small railroads at the same time. The Union Pacific had gained approval for access into Texas in 1865. This was all a part of the massive railway expansion that took place all over the midwest and west after the Civil War ended.

steam locomotive
Fort Worth & Denver steam locomotive
The MKT reached Denison Texas just south of the Oklahoma border, then Indian Territory, with regular train service in December 1872. Eventually the Katy laid track in Texas to serve Dallas, Fort Worth, Waco, San Antonio, Houston, Galveston, and Wichita Falls. Being the first railroad to reach Texas from the north, the MKt took advantage of this by advertising itself as "The Gateway to Texas". Anytime you explore the history of one railroad, you usually find out that it was filled with mergers, acquisitions, name changes and charters awarded by state governments. The Katy was no exception. In the case of the Katy, the railway did not become officially incorporated in the state of Texas until the year 1891. Prior to that it operated in the state under various subsidiary companies. Another interesting fact about the history of the railway was that it never received any land grants from Texas.

map of mkt railroad
Katy Railroad route map
During the first decade of the Katy Railroad operations, a lot changed as far as ownership. This was the era of railroad mergers and acquisitions. Almost like a game of chess. The Katy was bought by Wall Street's Jay Gould in 1880 who then turned around and leased it to his Missouri Pacific Railway Company. During the time Jay Gould owned the Katy it kept expanding it's line in Texas. Several smaller lines were acquired and the Katy Railroad expanded it's service to Dallas, Fort Worth, and Waco. It continued to make it's way eventually to San Antonio and Houston.Gould also picked up the Dallas and Wichita Railway in 1881 and by the year 1882 the Katy had over 600 miles of track in Texas. Again, railroad history is a story of ever changing ownership and the history of this train company is a perfect example. The Katy Railway route map shown above illustrates all of the different routes that eventually spread into parts of west Texas. Acquisitions of smaller railroads added many more towns and cities. To the south the railroad reached down to San Antonio and Galveston.

The Staged Crash of Locomotives

Some people may have read about one of the most strange publicity stunts ever involving a railroad. While lines like to Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe were busy promoting towns such as Santa Fe New Mexico with the hospitality genius, Fred Harvey, the Katy decided it would get a lot of publicity by crashing two large trains together. Indeed it did. Reportedly there were some 40,000 people in attendance to witness this event on September 15, 1896. To jazz things up a bit, one engine was painted in red and the other in a bright green. The trains rode around Texas for about a month before the event to help stir up publicity.

katy railroad crash
Katy train collision in Crush Texas
Unfortunately, it was reported that four people died as a result of a boiler explosion and flying debris. The police were there to keep people back at a safe distance but it appears they weren't held back enough. The trains crashed each going about 45 MPH. The public domain photo at right is of the crash. The flying debris shown is about what you would expect in this type of collision. The place where this explosive event occurred was named Crush Texas (temporarily). The site was three miles south of the town of West Texas, in the Waco area south of Dallas. To guarantee a large crowd, the railroad offered spectators from anywhere in the state of Texas train rides to the crash site for two dollars.

As a side note, the temporary site was named "Crush Texas" after a man named William George Crush. Crush was the general passenger agent of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad and was the one who came up this idea. After the train wreck, William Crush was fired from the Katy and when it appeared that no public fallout would occur he was amazingly hired back the very next day. In fact, songs were written regarding the train collision which remarkably confirmed the publicity value of this event regardless that four people lost their lives. Music composer, Scott Joplin, wrote a piano piece titled "The Great Crush Collision March".

In line with a large number of railroad mergers in the 1980's, the Katy Railroad was acquired by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1988. Then on December 1, 1989 the Katy was merged into the MoPac, and the MKT is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad system.

Another Western Trips article with photos you'll find interesting is the story of the Doodlebug Locomotive in Belen New Mexico.

See our photo article on our Trips Into History site, Texas Railroads / The Frisco Texas Special.

Learn More About the Texas Railroads

There are several places where you can see and learn more about this historic Texas Railroad. One is the Wichita Falls Railroad Museum in Wichita Falls Texas. Included in their exhibits is a MKT diesel electric switch engine. Also, two  Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad cabooses. There is also an excellent railroad musedum in a Dallas Texas suburb. The Museum of the American Railroad collects artifacts and archival material from the railroad industry to exhibit and interpret their significance in American life. When you're in the Houston or Galveston area you may want to make a stop at the Galveston Railroad Museum. This museum has one of the largest restored railroad collections in the southwest, and is known to be one of the five largest in the country. These museums will offer the visitor a very good time line of Texas railroad history.

(Photos of Katy logo and  FW& D steam engine are from author's private collection. Route map and photo of Crush Texas train crash are in the public domain)

1 comment:

  1. Has anyone collected the track charts of the Katy? If so can they be found
    on the Interent?

    Ed Bradford
    egbegb2 AT gmail DOT com


Please share your comments...