Footprints of Fayette

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

Flatonia Switcher
By W.O. Wood

I guess everyone who has to work for a living is always thinking of finding that banker’s job. You know the one, go to work at nine in the morning, get off at three every afternoon, work Monday through Friday, off on holidays, no dirty greasy clothes, clean hands. Oh, what a dream! Working on the railroad, that is called a retirement job, if you can just get there, as your seniority allows.
I worked 30 years, all hours of the day and night, always on call, answerable to the phone at all times. In snow, sleet, rain, blizzards, unbearable heat, mosquitoes that could hit you like a BB gun. I would get called for a storm train when a hurricane was headed for Galveston Island, leave Houston with six engines and a caboose, come back off the Island with some 300 cars to get them to higher ground, so saltwater would not get in their running gear.
After 30 years, I finally could hold down my retirement job, the Flatonia Switcher. Working with an old head conductor made the job even more sweet; I did not have to watch some green rookie’s every move. Went to work at 7 a.m., usually off by 3 p.m. Sometimes worked until 7 p.m., no problem. Monday through Friday, off holidays. Had two pretty reliable engines to work with (no A/C), but I had my trusty little fan that I could plug into the engine’s electrical system. Had water buckets for our ice-cold water bottles. The dispatchers called us the “Road Show,” because we were always on standby to save the day. About 40 trains would run through Flatonia daily, between Houston and San Antonio, Hearne and Victoria. Our job was to get the cars designated for our local territory to the customer and spotted for unloading.
Flatonia’s inbound cars came in Monday and Wednesday nights from Hearne to be sorted out and delivered to the appropriate customer. Flatonia proper had Cal-Maine that received feed products for its many chicken houses in the vicinity. A clay processing plant received raw clay to be processed into specific drilling products. Waelder also has a large Cal-Maine plant for its chicken feed users. Harwood was our westward terminus, from which we interchanged with the TXGN Railroad (Gonzales) with feed products for Purina, scrap metals for the furnace, and tank cars to be cleaned and stored. Going south from Flatonia, we went to Shiner to deliver different grains to the brewery for the production of beer. We then went to Yoakum to deliver plastic pellets for the production of plastic pipe. Going east out of Flatonia, we delivered tomatoes to AMPI for the production of salsa. American Muffler got steel rolls for its muffler production. Contech got rolls of steel to make culverts. BWI got a lot of seed, especially during rye season. On to Weimar where M-G also got loads of rye seed. Glidden was our eastern terminus, where we spotted crushed limestone and lumber to be treated for landscape timbers. Army trucks were loaded at Glidden, which were manufactured at Sealy’s Stewart & Stevenson, eventually heading to the Mid-East.
Each day was a different day, depending on train traffic and what needed to be spotted and pulled. Some days we may have never left the yard because of congestion. Another day we may have had to help a train that was having trouble. Sometimes we were not able to return to Flatonia and had to ride the carryall (limo) in and start out the next day in the van going back to our engines. Never got boring. And when a hot car would show up for immediate handling, oh boy, the “Road Show” was called into action. The railroad was ours and get out of our way! We shoved a train all the way to Seguin when it lost its power. Went to Eagle Lake to get hot cars. Went to Caldwell to help a train that had mechanical problems. Went to Cuero when they were going to start loading crude oil.
A lot of history was around these locations out of Flatonia, and I was always open to listening to the old stories of how Oso was moved to a location where the GH&SA Railroad was being built for the establishment of Flatonia. How the town of Praha came about from the original Mulberry. And then the San Antonio Aransas Pass (SAAP) Railroad also being built through Flatonia south to north, crossing the GH&SA at the old tower.
When mealtime came around, we looked forward to the Praha and Cistern picnics. The Catholic church at Flatonia put on a good spread. And every Monday was good for the best burger at the auction barn. Other times it may be “veenie weenies” and crackers, or sardines, whatever we had in our grip. Had to make do.
We became friends with the workers at each of our customer sites; they were always glad to see us. We delivered the product that kept their jobs going. Railroad officials were always good to us, never harassing, always showing up with a smiling face, even taking us out to lunch. I have been retired now for 10 years; other men came into the Retirement Job along the way. The co-workers and friends made along the rails are missed, but I sure do enjoy retirement. God bless!