GH&SA terminal at Sanderson, Texas, ca. 1920.
1. Oil storage tank 2. Roundhouse 3. Depot 4. Freight warehouse
5. Rail yard 6. Wilson's saloon
These facilities were constructed in 1882, shortly after
the railroad pushed through the area during its construction phase. Gold spike ceremonies completing the railroad were
held on January 12, 1883, just east of Sanderson.
When the projected rail route was known, Charlie Wilson
bought all of the land comprising the Sanderson townsite, and built the Cottage Bar Saloon close to the depot, in time to welcome
the incoming rail crews.
In later years, as locomotives grew more powerful, bigger and longer, the roundhouse
was extended to the front to accomodate the larger engines. Most repairs could be done at this facility, except for
major overhauls. Photo below shows the roundhouse before the extension. Below that is a photo and inset showing the roundhouse
after the extension.
6. Charlie Wilson's Cottage Bar Saloon - Charlie Wilson (or Uncle Charlie, as he was affectionately known) was a
unique character in Sanderson. In the beginning, if you wanted anything in Sanderson you had to go to Wilson. He owned
all the lots in Sanderson so he was the first real estate developer.
If you wanted liquid refresh-ment, you had
to trade at his bar. When Judge Roy Bean landed here and began a competing bar, Wilson spiked his whiskey with "coal oil" and
sent him packing to Langtry, down the road. This earned Sanderson the name, "Town Too Mean for Bean."
Wilson was a philan-thropist and gave to many good causes in the community.
This photo shows the railyards with roundhouse and turntable in the 1930s. Note the extension built to the front of the roundhouse
to accommodate the longer engines of the day. The original 80-foot turntable had also been extended to 100 feet for turning
the longer engines. The huge tank to the right stored fuel oil for the engines. In some climates oil burners had to have
heated tenders to keep the extremely thick, low grade fuel oil moving to the firebox, but that was not necessary in hot West Texas.
This is a view of the roundhouse taken about 1914-15, showing the rock facade, arched doorways with keystone
rockwork and large wooden doors used to close up the building in the old days. By this time the new engines were so much longer
than the old wood-burners for which this facility was designed, the doors could not be closed. Shortly after the picture was
made the rockwork was removed and an extension was built to get the engines out of the weather.
the "Vanderbilt"-style oil tenders which carried low grade (and cheap!) fuel oil to fire the engines. The lack of coal or wood
in our environment made these oil-lburners a necessity!
Though not apparent from this photo, these engines
were all Mikado-style, 2-8-2 wheel arrangement engines, built beginning in 1913. They were the workhorses of American railroads
for many years and the smaller drive wheels and greater tractive force were perfect for our mountainous environment.
Jump forward 25 years to about 1955 at the Sanderson rail terminal. Southern Pacific was in the process
of dieselization...scrapping the steam locos and replacing them with modern diesel "F-units."
steam on the Southern Pacific and almost every other railroad in the US (and the world, for that matter) because of the high cost
of maintaining steam locomotives. Terminals such as Sanderson had to hire a large staff of men to keep the machines in
operating order. Steam engines were limited on how far they could go before taking fuel and water. Generally, stops on
this railroad were about ten miles apart. Most but not all stops had to have service crew living there to maintain the facilities...track
crew, signal maintainers, pumphouse crew, depot staff (if there was a depot), etc. That cost money!
With the invention of diesel units in the 1920s and '30s it quickly became evident to railroad bosses that costs could be cut considerably.
Diesels ran further on a tank of fuel, did not require water stops, could be run with two- or three-man crews (as opposed to at least
four for steam units) and the mechanics of internal combustion engines was far simpler than steam locomotives, making repairs less
And there were other considerations. Unnecessary stops could be closed and the buildings liquidated,
extra staff could be retired or laid-off, roundhouses and turntables could be removed (diesels could be operated from either end of
the unit group and did not need turning) and a general reduction in white collar staff could be affected at headquarters with the
streamlining of the locomotive fleet.
And that brings us to Sanderson. Notice that the roundhouse has
been reduced to four stalls and the office, the giant oil reserve tank is gone and steamers are fueled directly from the line of tank
cars in the yard. Diesel repairs are made at other terminals which are further apart, and only emergency fueling is done at
Sanderson. The Age of Steam is almost over at Sanderson, Texas.
Northeastern corner of the roundhouse, ca. 1954
The roundhouse was demolisihed in 1963. Next page
Early photo of the roundhouse, turntable and crew, ca. 1913.
Railroading in Sanderson, Texas, through the years
Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio RR - Texas & New Orleans
Southern Pacific RR - Union Pacific RR
This was a capped-stack coal-burning 4-4-0 locomotive of the GH & SA RR. Called the American Standard,
this engine wheel arrangement was used on American railroads from the 1860s to the end of steam in the 1950s. The short wheelbase
allowed it to be used on railroads with short-radius curves and it could be found in huge numbers all over the USA. Though the
stack style changed according to the road's requirements, the basic wheel arrangement did not. Only when power and tractive
force requirements grew larger as trains became longer and heavier, did railroads design bigger engines with more wheels and greater
power. But these comparatively tiny engines continued on in lighter duty.
This particular engine, #748, was
built in Schenectady in 1892 and served on the GH & SA as the power for the old "Sunset Limited" passenger train from El Paso
to Sanderson. Later renumbered #231 by the Southern Pacific, it was scrapped in 1931.
Early "balloon-stacked" locomotive of the GH & SA, photographed at Painted Station, just west of Del
Rio on the old rail route. The railroad first hugged the Rio Grande in an effort to avoid the huge Pecos River Canyon further
to the north. When the Pecos River High Bridge was finally constructed, the old route was abandoned and the new, direct route
eliminated many miles from the trip.
The large balloon stack was used to prevent sparks from setting the countryside
on fire (wih limited success!)
Photos courtesy of the Grigsby Collection at Terrell County Memorial Museum
All text and photos on this site copyright Terrell County Memorial Museum, 2010-2013, except where attribution is given.
Southern Pacific roundhouse and turntable in the late '10s. By this time the front of the roundhouse had
been modified to allow wider engines to have access. The original native stone wall extended across the front of the building
and arched portals with prominent keystones and wood doors completely sealed the building.
clerestory dormer allowed smoke and steam to exit the building without suffocating the workers. In the earliest incarnation
of this facility, stovepipes, one for each engine stall, graced the back of the building for ventilation before the clerestory was
Repairs were made in the roundhouse and engines turned to make the trip back in the direction
from which they came. For times when the turntable was not available and when several cars needed to be turned along with the
engine, there was a set of "wye" tracks that encircled the building. Of note is the fact that this was a manually-operated turntable.
To the left of the turntable one can see one of two levers that were used for hand-operation. The table was so perfectly balanced
that only a few men were needed to turn the heavy engines to the proper stalls or lead tracks. In other facilities the turntable
was operated by steam or electricity, and some used steam from the engine itself to operate the turntable motors.
The Southern Pacific employed many men and a few women in its long history at Sanderson. Losing the railroad terminal
in 1994 was a great blow to the economy and the social fabric of Sanderson. The railroaders and their families supported every
public event, church and organization, pitched in with physical labor when necessary to help those in need, and dug deeply into
their pockets to support the town, the school and local businesses.