East Texas Quarterly Magazine Spring 2014 - Page 5

By Keith Hale Traveling between the cities of Rusk and Palestine on Highway 84 is onaly about a thirty minute drive through East Texas. But if you want an experience to remember, why not make the trip by traveling on the Texas State Railroad. American Heitage Railway, which also operates the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Colorado and the Great Smokey Mountain Railroad in North Carolina. It was during this time the railroad was named to the The railroad was first established by the Texas state list of Texas’ Most Endangered Historic Places. Thanks prison system in 1881. Built by inmates, it was used to the actions of the Texas State Railroad Authority, it to transport hardwoods to the prisonoperated iron smelters to be used as fuel for the furnaces. Prison crews extended the line to Maydelle in 1906, and by 1909 they finally reached Palestine, allowing them access to the main railroad lines. In 1913 the prison ceased operations of the iron smelters and the prison became the state mental hospital. By 1921 regular line service was discontinued and the rights to the track were leased to the Texas & New Orleans line, a Southern Pacific Railroad Company. From 1960 to 1969 the line was leased to the Texas Southeastern Railroad. In 1972 the Texas Legislature turned the railroad over to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to be used as a state park. The state brought in inmates to create the state historical park and it opened on July 4th, 1976, as part of the nation’s Bicentennial Celebration. In 1981 the Texas State Railroad purchased a turntable and installed it in Maydelle. Built in the late 1890’s by the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad in Paris, Texas, the turntable was first put into service in 1902 as part of a six stall roundhouse. By 2007 maintaining the state park cost Texas $1 million per year more to maintain and operate than the revenue generated. Because of budget concerns the Eightieth Texas Legislature passed SB1659, allowing for the creation of an operating authority for the train with the ability to lease it to a private operator. In September of 2007 the train was leased to the 3