County, West Texas
by Mike Cox
Texas is one of those ethereal ghost
towns—except for a railroad siding and a sign, no physical evidence of it
Fortunately for posterity, one of the few surviving former residents
emailed me to share her memories of Tesnus, as well as providing a collection
of family photographs showing where she had lived and other scenes.
| Founded in 1882 when
the tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad reached a point 23 miles southeast
of Marathon in sprawling Brewster
County, the town (a stretch of the word) consisted of a railroad section house,
houses for the section foreman and the water pumper, telegrapher’s house and a
few other structures. In addition to its role in keeping the tracks maintained
and the locomotive boilers full, Tesnus provided ranchers
a way to ship their cattle to market.|
foreman standing outside in the snow|
|First called Tabor,
the railroad enclave lost that name when a post office application got rejected
by Washington because a similarly named town already existed in Brazos County.
Then Sunset arose as a fitting name for the place, considering the famed
Sunset Limited passenger train came through each day. But nope, Montague County
had a monopoly on Sunset,
Someone finally came up with a solution to the name problem
that met the approval of the Postal Service, but more of that in a bit.
In 1945, the railroad installed a new man as signal maintainer at Tesnus. He arrived
with his wife, who became the Tesnus postmistress, and five of their seven kids.
(Two of their girls had married and lived elsewhere.)
foreman's kids on the motorcar|
|The addition of this
new family pushed Tesnus’ population up to about 20 people. Throw in the folks
who lived on the surrounding ranch and the postmistress had a small, but consistent
volume of mail to handle. |
“Patrons came up the steps to the front porch
and she served [them] through her bedroom window,” remembers one of the signal
maintainer’s children, who because of the career she had as a case worker for
a state agency asked not to be identified. “Maxon and Haymond were the railroad
towns on either side of Tesnus and those who lived in them and a ranch foreman
came to Tesnus to get their mail,” she recalls.
Occasionally, the railroad
would move in a work crew that lived in temporary housing the company constructed.
At other times, workers would stay in gang cars left on the siding for weeks or
months until a particular maintenance project got completed.
the occasional influx of additional railroad
workers, not much ever happened in Tesnus. The most sensational crime was when
the assistant telegraph operator went on a toot and shot up the Tesnus sign. Occasionally,
a railroad bull (detective) or train crewman would throw a hobo off a train, leaving
him temporarily stranded there.
“Mama would feed them in return for chopping
kindling,” the former resident says.
One time a skunk did get in the chicken
“I was supposed to hold the dog while Mama shot the skunk,” she
says. “But he was bigger than I was and broke away. Got there about the time Mama
shot, but the skunk sprayed her, my sister and the dog. Tomato juice helps, but
nothing cures except time.”
When a train hit a deer and word reached town
in time for the meat to still be fresh, her brothers went to the spot, field dressed
it and cut it up for venison on the family table. Classic big brothers, they once
barbequed a rattlesnake steak and tried to talk their little sister into eating
it. While she didn’t fall for that, the brothers did serve her older sister grilled
mockingbird one time, telling her it was dove.
Of Tesnus, she continues,
“It was mostly a railroad town,
in the middle of the Gage Ranch. There was a siding for trains to meet or pass
each other and it was a place for the chugga puffers [steam locomotives] to stop
for water, coal, and salt. (There was ice in the refrigerator cars.)”
said the ranch foreman lived in a house on the dirt road to Marathon,
inside of a mile from Tesnus.
how did they finally come up with a lasting name for Tabor cum Sunset?
again the power of simplicity, to use railroad metaphor, someone suggested switching
the caboose with the locomotive and spelling Sunset backwards as in T-e-s-n-u-s.
last-day postmark from Tesnus|
| But clever nomenclature
is powerless against change. With diesel-powered trains needing fewer stops than
“chugga puffers,” the railroad closed its operations in Tesnus midway into the
When word got out that Tesnus would be no more, the town’s last
postmistress had one last flurry of business mailing out last-date-of-service
cancellations to stamp collectors across the nation.
The post office closed
on June 15, 1954. The railroad razed all the structures it had there, leaving
only the siding.
“Now,” the former Tesnus resident (Tesnusan? Tesnusite?)
says, “when someone asks where I am from, I normally tell them I am not from anywhere,
because my home town was torn down.”
© Mike Cox
24, 2009 column
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