Railway Museum of San Angelo

General History of Railroading in the San Angelo Area
Researched and compiled by David Wood
Last updated January 2017

•September 30, 1888 - The Santa Fe brings in the first train pulled by Santa Fe Steam Engine #18 into San Angelo. When the train arrives from Ballinger, thousands of people come to the depot to greet it.  A big celebration that lasted for two days starts with the roar of artillery, a parade, and a dance.

May 4, 1897 - The Orient in Texas was originally chartered as the Colorado Valley Railway Company

July 15, 1899 - The Panhandle and Gulf Railway Company is chartered and acquires the Colorado Valley which had built only a few miles before being acquired.

May 1900 -   Arthur Stilwell acquires the Panhandle and Gulf and was named president of the company.

•1901 - The first rail of the Kansas City , Mexico and Orient is laid in Emporia, Kansas

•1904 - KCM&O starts construction in Sweetwater and builds northward reaching the Oklahoma border in 1907.

August 23, 1905 -The Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway of Texas is formed and the right of way through Tom Green County and $100,000 in cash was donated to the railroad by the citizens of San Angelo.

•1907 - Construction begins on the KCM&O track out of Sweetwater south to San Angelo, a distance of 77 miles.

•1908 - Santa Fe Railroad builds a new depot on the north side of town at 4th and Chadbourne streets to replace the one that burned. The new building is typical Santa Fe Spanish style with a white stucco exterior and a red tile roof.

•1908 - San Angelo Power and Traction runs first street car. One of the primary reason investors started the company was to sell land, which at the time was considered way out of town. Those lots were to become the Lakeview area of San Angelo.  The company closed just 4 years later. Some of the rails remained in the streets through the 1960’s.

•1908 - KCM&O opens the Freight station in San Angelo at Chadbourne Street with a state of the art icing dock located across the track.

•June 1909 - The Kansas City, Mexico and Orient (KCM&O) brings its first train into town.

•1909 - The KCM&O roundhouse (corner of Ave. L and Hill Street) and yards (in the area between what today is S. Bryant and Austin St. and from Hill Street to across Knickerbocker) are completed and track is being laid west.

•1910 - The KCM&O’s new depot is completed and opens for service. The depot is the second largest building in San Angelo and the only one made of brick at the time. The two-story structure is large for a town of just over 9,000 for a reason; it is the headquarters for the Texas Corporation of the KCM&O and is the largest structure on the KCM&O line.

•1910 - The Santa Fe plans to extend to the Rockies and lays track 40 miles to the North of San Angelo to Sterling City.

•1911 - Arthur Stilwell, President of the KCM&O, had the dream of building a railroad from his headquarters in Kansas City to the Pacific Ocean.  As part of that dream, tracks are laid from San Angelo to Alpine.  Crews in Mexico are busy laying track from Presidio to Chihuahua through the Copper Canyon region and over the Continental Divide. One of his contractors on the project is Poncho Villa. The cost of this work and Villa becoming a revolutionary (who decides to destroy the same tracks he helped build) puts the company into bankruptcy; reorganized Stilwell works to complete his dream.

•1920's - San Angelo has grown from a frontier fort, then to a small rail station, to the gateway for shipments over 5,000 railcars of livestock each year. All the wool from southwest Texas passes through the city. As the headquarters for the Orient Railroad San Angelo was the first Permian Basin Town to prosper from the oil boom. The ten story McBurnet building, the Hilton Hotel, the Texas Theater and most of the large building in downtown San Angelo are built. The Orient which had owned a lot of the land around where Santa’ Rita # 1 was discovered had sold it off in prior years although they did sell off more that $350,000 of township lots in the area.

•May 28, 1923 - The West Texas oil boom is started when “Santa Rita #1” brings in a gusher West of San Angelo, just 174 feet north of the KCM&O tracks. The Texon Oil Company drilled close to the tracks as they did not have enough money to transport their equipment the 4 miles to where their geologist wanted them to drill.  A train rolls through San Angelo every hour carrying equipment, supplies and men to the West and oil back to the East. With the increase of population from 12,000 to 25,000 and the additional tax revenues generated by the building and oil boom, San Angelo constructs a new modern County Court House and new City Hall with its own large stage and Theater.

•1925 - The Orient offers daily passenger train service between Wichita, Kansas and Alpine in two days and one night with sleepers added between San Angelo and Altus, Oklahoma. San Angelo has over 40 oil companies located in the Oil Capital of West Texas and times are good.

•1926 - The Gulf Oil Company moves out of San Angelo to Midland which by now is in a better location with the new oil found all around it. The Honolulu Oil company is the second of the major oil companies to move the others followed suite in the next 10 years.

•1928 - Santa Fe buys out the again bankrupt Orient for $14.5 million. The Orient becomes a subsidiary of the Santa Fe, and continues to service San Angelo through the 1940's as such.

•Aug. 1, 1929 - Santa Fe moves their depot and administration operations to the much larger KCM&O depot at 703 S. Chadbourne and closes it’s depot at the corner of 4th and Chadbourne. The old 4th street depot building would later be used as a meeting place for several local groups. The Tie Treating Plant was moved from San Angelo to Wellington, Kansas and a few miles of Orient track that paralleled the Santa Fe Track north of Sweetwater were scrapped.

•1930 - Santa Fe completes the KCM&O line from Paisano near Alpine to Presidio after obtaining trackage rights from the Southern Pacific from Alpine to Paisano

•July 1, 1930 - The Santa Fe completes  a line south from San Angelo to Sonora, intending to build on to Del Rio along Stilwell’s planned route extension, where the railroad could link with the Southern Pacific and the Northern Mexico systems. The effort makes it only about one mile south of Sonora.

•June 1940 - The War Department chooses San Angelo as the site for a new airfield to train pilots. The Santa Fe extends a line the two miles Southeast of San Angelo to the site, which would become Goodfellow Air Field. Most of the materials and many military personnel for construction of the new airfield arrive by train.

•January 1941 - Goodfellow Air Field opens under the Command of Col. George M. Palmer and the KCM&O is formally merged with its parent Santa Fe System.

•1942 - Santa Fe scraps more of the old Orient Line between Anthony and Cherokee.

•February 1943 - A second rail spur is added to the southwest of San Angelo after the town’s new but not completed Carr Airfield is taken over by the Army and is expanded to add the second military airfield to the San Angelo area. Known as San Angelo Army Airfield, the name would later be changed to Mathis Army Airfield in honor of the San Angolan Lt. Jack Mathis, who trained at the field and was killed in action in Europe.  Later, Mathis Army Field would be San Angelo’s municipal airport and would be called Mathis Field.

War Years - During the war years Santa Fe’s monthly revenue as a line reaches more than $1 million. Freight revenue accounts for most of the money with the rest coming from passenger service. The Santa Fe has over 200 employees in San Angelo during the war years, with a local payroll of $450,000.

•August 24, 1947 - The old Spanish style Santa Fe depot is leveled to cut the railroad’s tax and personal liability and to make way for an industrial park that never happens. The Depot had been used for several things and by various groups after the railroad moved its operations to the much larger Orient depot on the south side of town in 1929.

•1950's - Santa Fe changes from steam to diesel engines, ending a legendary era.

The Orient- Santa Fe line ends passenger train service between Alpine and San Angelo leaving just the “doodlebug” motorized engines to service the area with two runs daily.

•1954 - San Angelo’s Pullman service to Dallas, Forth Worth and Houston ends.

•1958 - The Santa Fe, never having completed its rails farther north on the line than Sterling City, sells the right of way to the State for widening of U.S. Highway 87. Track is recovered and used in other areas.

•1961 - The first Mexican train to traverse the complete route originally started by KCMO from Chihuahua to the Pacific Ocean. The Chihuahua and Pacific Railroad now runs the Mexican portion of the track. This engineering marvel took almost 90 years and 90 million dollars to complete. The route is through 5 climatic zones from sea level to 8,000 feet elevation.

•Feb. 7, 1962 - Santa Fe demolishes the roundhouse located corner of Ave. L and Hill St.  Built in 1909 by the KCM&O, it could hold as many as 17 engines.

•1963 - The rail spur right-of-way to Goodfellow is sold and the track scrapped.

•June 1, 1965 - Santa Fe’s last passenger train, No. 78, leaves San Angelo and takes 700 children for the short ride to Brownwood.  W.M. Deaver is the conductor.

•1981 - Santa Fe consolidates several smaller yards into one San Angelo operation. The railroad begins using a computer freight system.

•1985 - Santa Fe closes down both the passenger and freight Depots in San Angelo.

•1993 - The historic Orient-Santa Fe Passenger and Freight Depot buildings are saved from destruction when a group including Golda Foster and Allen Johnson talks the District superintendent into having Santa Fe donate the building to the group. The group, not having formed a tax except organization, talks the city into accepting the depot.

•1993 - Members of the original group and other interested people to a  organize into a non-profit corporation, The Historic Orient-Santa Fe Depot, Inc., which is to oversee the buildings. The group sets about to restore the passenger building first, which had fallen into decay after years of abandonment. Many hours of volunteer time is spent to stabilize the building and start restoration. The group seeks and receives a grant from TXDOT for the initial phase of the restorations as the first Depot in the State of TXDOT’s projects to restore Old Historic Depots in the State. The grant comes through the city because they are listed as the official owners.

•1994 - A rail district is formed by counties up and down the line when Santa Fe files for abandonment of the rail line from San Angelo Junction, between Santa Anna and Coleman to Presidio. The district and the State buy the rail line right of way and lease the use line of it to the newly formed South Orient Railroad. The two Dallas businessmen who are the primary shareholders in the group retain the right to scrap the rail.

•1996 - Needing additional money of $100,000 to do a complete roof restoration on a leaking tile roof the Historic Orient- Santa Fe Depot, Inc. turns to the city who pledges it in return for shared use with the Historic Orient – Santa Fe Depot, Inc. of the waiting room, ticket area and two downstairs offices for the transit system as the building they were using on North Chadbourne was in poor repair, not attractive and hard for the buses and public to use. Money for the completion of the building restoration is received again from TXDOT by the City with stipulation that the City uses the building for ten years as a City bus terminal.

•May 1997 - Restoration of the Depot is competed at a cost of over $1.1 million dollars. The Railway Museum of San Angelo is opened in the Depot along with the west half of the downstairs being shared use by the City of San Angelo’s Transit Department.

•1998 - Historic Orient Santa Fe Depot, Inc. is asked to give up its oversight of the Freight Depot so the City may use it and seek grants for a Senior Citizen Center. This grant and the money used to restore the passenger depot are used as seed money to get additional grants for the RUDAT inspired project of the Mercado, now called The Paseo De San Angelo and Celebration Bridge which allows pedestrians to cross the Concho river contenting the new Paseo and the downtown side of the River.

•March 1998 - The South Orient leases for 99 years the land directly across the tracks from the Passenger depot to the Historic Orient – Santa Fe Depot, Inc which plans to develop it into a display area of rail equipment.

•April 1998 - The South Orient notifies the Surface Transportation Board it is considering abandonment and scraping of its 400-mile line from San Angelo to Presidio. Once again the rail district and counties band together with the State in efforts to save the line.

•October 1998 - The STB rules that the Orient may discontinue service between San Angelo and the Mexican border but the rails must stay. The State pays off the South Orient for its rights to the rail and other infrastructure along the line. South Orient, Inc. had transferred many buildings and land that had belonged to the Santa Fe to another corporation formed by the two partners prior to this action.  Also, much of the sidings had been torn out and sold for scrap by the group.

•April 2001 - Groupo Mexico’s Fierro Mex rail division forms a new company, Texas Pacifico, and takes over daily operation of the South Orient line from San Angelo Junction (near Coleman) to Presidio. The State of Texas puts up money to pay the South Orient for their right to operate and all their other rights to the line including most importantly the rights to the rail. Texas Pacifico pledges to spend over 10 million dollars to upgrade the line.

•February 2004 - The Catholic Charities opens its new building at the site of the old Santa Fe Depot, Chadbourne and 4th streets. The group worked closely with the Railway Museum to come up with drawings, plans and pictures of the Original Depot on the site. The results of the co-operation of the two groups was a grant that helped the front of the new building to look very similar to the original depot and added greatly to that area of downtown.

•November 2004 - Texas Pacifico announces it is ready to resume a minimum of weekly train traffic all the way from the port of Topolobampo on the Mexican Pacific coast to Fort Worth starting in early December of 2004 and pledges to bring the track up to federal standards which would allow it to run a least 25 miles per hour over all the line. The average speed of all train traffic in the US is quoted to be 23 miles per hour. Nothing happens.

Dec 2009 to Dec 2010 - The Railway Museum of San Angelo celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Historic Orient/ Santa Depot Inc.
This page was last updated on: September 7, 2017
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