Footprints of Fayette

A Historical Column From The
Fayette County Historical Commission
and Fayette County Judge’s Office

The 1913 Flood – Judge Roberts’ Railroad Odyssey By Gregory Walker
On the morning of Friday, Dec. 5, the flood waters crested at roughly 6 a.m. and slowly began to recede. The flood left behind not only destruction, but it also had isolated the city from the rest of the world. To add to the misery, a “whistling cold norther” blew in on the morning of Sunday, Dec. 7. District Judge Frank S. Roberts was not about to let the interruption to rail service stop his return to La Grange. Judge Roberts had been in Waco during the week of the flood and afterward needed to travel from his home in Lockhart to La Grange for the District Court session. He told his story in a letter to his wife, which partially appeared in the Lockhart Register, dated Dec. 19, 1913.
“Well, when I left home Monday [Dec. 8] I walked to Plum Creek bridge [one mile north of Lockhart] and of course the train had gone, but luckily R. Hilbut, superintendent Western Union, was there waiting for his motor hand car to be carried around via dirt road to a crossing on east side. The car arrived at about 4:30 and thereafter we sped along the track arriving at Smithville 6:30 p.m.”
The “motor hand car” that they rode is also known as a “speeder.” These were first introduced in 1896 and were built to carry two persons. There was a YMCA in Smithville where railroad workers stayed. It is likely that Judge Roberts and R. Hilbut spent the night there. Judge Roberts continues the story:
“He received orders to go south next morning on inspection and repair to the Brazos river and he invited me to ride with him as far as La Grange. I gladly accepted, we got up at 5 a.m. Tuesday, oiled up the car and left for La Grange. At West Point the track was still in bad condition for half a mile, and we had to walk and push the car part of the way, but finally got by and on to the Colorado river where we had to get off and again walk and push the car over the rough track, but the bridge was not seriously damaged, and at 8:30 a.m. we had breakfast at the Lester [Hotel]. In addition to this being the earliest and most thrilling ride I ever took, I think it was the coldest, but so far suffered no ill effects from the trip.”
The railroad bridge at La Grange survived the flood, but it must have suffered some damage. The La Grange Journal reported that bridge repairs had been completed by Thursday, Dec. 11.
“Bridge Repaired.
The pile driver and working crew, of the Katy [Missouri Kansas and Texas] returned to Smithville Thursday, having repaired the river bridge of the company at this point. Work was begun as quickly as possible, and no time was lost, in fact darkness and midnight hours were ignored. Trains are now passing over the bridge.”
Other railroad bridges must have fared much worse, based on the following notice in the La Grange Journal on Dec. 25, 1913:
“No runs are made over the La Grange branch of the Southern Pacific railroad [to Glidden], as yet, and will not be for several weeks. The Katy is running trains daily and they reach here when it is possible, all schedules having been abolished for the present on account of the many washouts and other damage as the result of the flood. Mail going to Winchester is carried up to Waco and sent down by the Sap [San Antonio and Aransas Pass], and mail sent to Weimar and other points west on the Southern Pacific is sent by way of the Sap to Flatonia.”
Based on a 1918 map showing the rail lines through Fayette County, the railroad bridges south of Winchester, north of Glidden and east of Columbus must still have been impassable at that time.
Judge Frank S. Roberts’ Account of the 1913 Flood, Fayette Heritage Museum & Archives, LG 1983.26.89
Map of Fayette County showing Common School Districts, 1918, Fayette Heritage Museum & Archives, MAP 33 1994.79.1
Speeder, article and photo on Wikipedia website
The La Grange Journal, Vol. 34, Issue 51, Dec. 18, 1913 and Vol. 34, Issue 52, Dec. 25, 1913
The Bryan Daily Eagle, Vol. XIX, No. 11, Dec. 6, 1913
Wood, W.O., The Coming of the Railroads to Fayette County, Footprints of Fayette online
Wood, W.O., Email correspondence, May 6, 2018