Footprints of Fayette

A Historical Column From The Fayette County 

Historical Commission and Fayette County Judge’s Office

The MKT Railroad Through 

Fayette County – Part I

By W.O. Wood

Railroads of the United States are laid out with Mile Post markers, much like those on the interstate systems. The main line of the MKT Railroad is measured from St. Louis, which is Mile Post 0.0. As the train moves down the main line from St. Louis, the mile post numbers increase, with a new marker each mile. Smithville, Texas is MP 969, hence 969 miles from St. Louis. La Grange is MP 988, which is located off the south end of the Colorado River bridge, the railroad being laid out in a north/south direction. The La Grange depot is at MP 988.3. This story of the railroad is intended to take you on a trip in the 1940s from the Bastrop County line to the county line of Colorado County, a distance of 34 miles. Some of the landmarks that were evident in the mid-20th century no longer exist. 

The MKT, also known as the Katy, enters western Fayette County at MP 973 on the flat between Shipps Lake and Kirtley. At MP 973, there once was a gravel spur toward the river called Wa-Tex to a pit where gravel was loaded and shipped to Houston. The train keeps rolling across flat track to MP 974 at Kirtley (originally called Primm), which has a depot and a spur track running beside the Anton Elias Gin for loading cotton. The main line then drops downhill to Barton Creek to begin the ascent of Kirtley Hill (Lady Bird Hill) to MP 975 halfway up the hill, which the engineer must be ready for, so that a train hauling rock can get completely on the hill before hitting the crest at MP 975.6. A cut was made into the top of the hill to lower the elevation to make it easier to get over, but there are bad mud slides when there are heavy rains, resulting in 2-3 feet of mud covering the rails. 

Proceeding downhill to MP 976, which is the trestle bridge over Cedar Creek, carcasses of rail cars are evident under the bridge from early derailments. At MP 977 at the bottom of the hill is Robinson Creek; then as the train moves slightly uphill, it is shoved forward by the momentum. A gravel spur called Tamarillo, located at MP 978.8, went back into the pit on Will Moore’s present ranch; this gravel was also sent to Houston to gravel its streets. 

Then there is a straight track to the West Point Interlocker with the Southern Pacific Railroad. The interlocker located at MP 979 is an automatic interlocker – first come, first one to get through the crossing, like a red/green light at a highway crossing. In the early days, it was controlled by an operator in the tower. The MKT depot sits on the southeast side of the crossing between the mainline and the SP transfer track. There is a siding on the river side of the mainline that extends about 4,000 feet south. It will be removed in the late 1950s. 

Proceeding southbound from West Point, the track is slightly rolling to MP 980, where the Western Switch is now located. Drilling sand and mud will be unloaded here in the 1980s and 1990s during the drilling boom.  At the Prairie Valley Road crossing is MP 981, where the train starts up the hill to Plum. MP 982 is at the top of the hill in the curve. At this point, there is a switch that runs all the way to a gravel pit near the river. Some of the rails from that switch line to the river will still be evident for decades.

In the 1980s, Tex-Ark will build a plant near Plum that will later be used by Jimmy Greene to cleanse the inside of tank cars for loading chemicals. The Plum depot sits in front of the Morgan Mercantile west of the mainline, and the Plum siding switch sits at MP 982.3. The siding runs for 4,500 feet; its pilings will still be seen in the creek for more than a half century. MP 983 is located just before going into the curve toward Lad Kovar’s property. The terrain is still rolling, and MP 984 is north of Huelsebusch Road.  Rolling south to MP 985 behind the future site of Boening’s wrecking yard is a wye switch for the Vasek Gravel Spur, which also runs all the way to the river. This pit will be discontinued in 1969.  

MP 986 is south of Trinity School Road where a hot box detector sits; it signals the train if it has a hot journal, which is a brass-lined box filled with oil-saturated cotton packing. The wheel axles revolve in the journal box. If the brass wears out, the steel axle rotates on steel, becomes hot, melts or breaks and causes derailments. A detector is required every 30 miles. Trains will eventually evolve from friction bearings to roller bearings, so hot box detectors will not be as common as in the past.   

(To Be Continued)