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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

Stage Coach

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
In 1944, as Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower wrestled with the myriad details connected to the planned Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France, on the other side of the Atlantic the people of Lake Jackson, Texas pondered their own logistical problem.

What with gas rationing and other shortages due to the war effort, coming up with reliable public transportation presented a considerable challenge. People who lived in Lake Jackson, almost all of them connected to the newly opened Dow Chemical plant at nearby Freeport, needed a convenient way to get from their homes to downtown businesses and to get their children to the day school operating in the Community Center.

Named for a nearby oxbow-shaped lake in Brazoria County, Lake Jackson sprouted as a company town built by the Dow Chemical Co. in the early 1940s. It incorporated as a city on March 14, 1944.

"We were building a new town and needed to interest people to live in Lake Jackson," A.C. Ray later told longtime Dow employee Bill Colegrove, author of "Episodes: Texas Dow 1940-76." (Published in 1983, the now out-of-print book is a compendium of 48 feature stories about Dow and Lake Jackson originally published in the Brazosport Facts.)

Given that "it took just about every gas stamp to drive back and forth to work at the Dow Plant," Ray continued, the business community "needed a new idea to sell Lake Jackson, and also to be useful to the residents there."

Noting that Dow still used horses and mules to pull graders, someone among the business leaders suggested that the nascent town should provide its residents transportation with a modern day stagecoach.

Committee members secured a used lumber dolly and added two automobile axles with balloon tires. To accommodate a team of horses, a wooden wagon tongue went on the front of the vehicle. A row of wooden seats anchored each side of the coach, with an aisle down the middle. Passengers boarded by walking up a two-step platform on the rear of the coach. Finally, a rounded canvas top provided protection from the blistering coastal sun. The conveyance, which could carry a couple of dozen people, looked more like a long covered wagon than an Old West stagecoach, but they called it their stagecoach.

Following the acquisition of two black draft horses, the Lake Jackson stagecoach began serving the community. "Pop" Crumrine, a farmer who knew how to handle a horse-drawn wagon, operated the one-vehicle, and privately funded "transit system." Starting at 8:30 a.m. and continuing every 45 minutes until 4:15 p.m., the coach left downtown for the residential area and then returned to the local drug store.

Youngsters took particular delight in riding the stagecoach, though they preferred to hop on it from a running start rather than step up on it like the adults did.

Quite popular with all concerned, the stagecoach saved passengers precious motor fuel and reduced mileage on already well-worn tires with free trips from their houses to the businesses downtown. In turn, the merchants and service providers saw a much-appreciated upswing in their receipts.

But eventually a problem developed. Traditional iron horseshoes did not last long on concrete pavement. And soft horseshoes could not be had because of war-time demands for rubber. Also, with Lake Jackson having no blacksmith, Ray and fellow businessman J.T. Dunbar shoed the stagecoach horses every Sunday whether they wanted to or not.

Finally, the two men had enough of their extracurricular civic duty and the Lake Jackson stagecoach rolled into history.

All but forgotten today, the horse drawn vehicle has the distinction of having been the last regularly scheduled stagecoach in Texas history even if it didn't much look like one.
Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" > February 21, 2007 column
Published April 3, 2007

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