courtesy of Lola Hall Norton and Laura Jean Hall
Life on a West
Texas Paint Train
in the 1940s
Note: While we usually publish memoirs that pertain to a specific
town, we were delighted to receive a letter and photos from Lola and
Jean Hall, sisters who will be introduced below. Their letter of May
2007 was transcribed for inclusion here by their cousin, Dee Welborn.
While the photos are few and the stories short, the descriptions and
memories are as colorful as a freshly-painted section house. This
glimpse at a rather unusual childhood provides perhaps the only memory
of the ghost town of Tinaja and a look at an era that few West Texans
can remember. - Editor
to right: Lola Hall, Maria, Tina, Laura Jean Hall. Behind is our boxcar.
Maria and Tina were the daughters of Gus. He and his wife had nineteen
children. Don't we all look alike?" - Jean Hall
My father, J.C. Hall, was the paint foreman for the Santa Fe Railroad
Slaton Division. Mother's name was Billie Delma Lindley Hall.
Our living quarters were literally on the railroad track. Our family
occupied the foreman’s car. I remember that my sister and I had bunk
beds to sleep on. For the support of the working crew there was a
cook’s car, a car for sleeping quarters, a coal and water car, a paint
car, and a materials car. That string of six railroad cars was our
home for eight years.
Our journey began at San
Angelo, Texas and stopped at Presidio.
Our crew painted depots, crossing signs, and all railroad structures,
including outhouses. Daddy’s territory was 1,400 miles from Altus,
Oklahoma to Presidio, Texas and all
the Santa Fe lines running crossways. We moved every few weeks and
saw much of the State of Texas. Of our travels, we carry the Big Bend
area fondly in our hearts.
My cousin, Dorothy Hall Dodd was married to the Fort
Stockton depot agent, Herring Dodd. She was recently widowed and
currently resides in May, Texas. My sister Lola and I are still influenced
by the remote places. She lives in Arkansas and I live out in the
wilds of Arizona. We are both in our 70s now and were so afraid our
Papa's love for the steam engine days would disappear.
We have enjoyed some good laughter plus some sweet memories in writing
this letter. Our pictures are few as this was a long time ago.
We are Hall girls and love you Big Bend! - Jean Hall
the Big Bend
A great drought was on and the longhorn
cattle were dying everywhere. We crossed ranch land in an old
Model A Ford—my father, John Chester Hall, my mother, Billie Della
Lindley Hall, my sister, Laura Hall and myself, Lola Hall.
Woman in hat is Billie Della Lindley Hall with Lola Hall Norton in
front of her. To her right is Laura Jean Hall and friend. The tall
woman came to take over cooking for the crew. Prior to her arrival
Billie Hall cooked for the crew.
| Laura Jean Hall
wearing her constant knee bandage, and Nathaniel Melton
|Lola Hall Norton
(l) and Laura Jean Hall with un-named friends
Tinaja, Texas had a railroad water
tank, many shade trees and very special, natural spring-fed swimming
pool. The bottom of the pool was a rock bottom. It even had a diving
board. Our good Daddy had made it long ago for his daughters. It had
quite a few trees in it, so our Daddy cleaned it out some and we got
to enjoy it. What a wonderful treat! The Santa Fe Railroad built a
water tower there for the train engine to water up to make the trip
on down to Presidio.
Hall with daughters Laura Jean and Lola far left
"The pool at Tinaja was fed by a natural spring."
Peanut Butter and Tortillas
We went to school where one very sweet teacher taught all the grades.
I don’t recall her name. The children were supplied cans of peanut
butter to spread on tortillas they brought from home. Evaporated can
milk was mixed and passed around to all, at lunchtime.
My sister and I carried sack lunches and traded our sandwiches and
fresh fruit for some of their peanut butter and milk.
We played school yard games, “Tag” and “Red Rover Come Over” during
recess. We learned some Spanish and they learned some English. They
were the best mannered children and made us welcomed there. We were
sad to leave.
I can’t recall any buildings but the school. We rode in a pickup truck
with two little girls from Plata.
Their father, named Gus, was a section hand for the Santa Fe Railroad.
Our father knew him and his family. We, four girls, were the only
children there and so glad to be friends. All told, Gus and his wife
were the parents of nineteen children, some already grown.
We spent a good Christmas there. We shared Mother baked cake to trade
for squash and vegetables from Gus and his family. Daddy was a hunter
and fisherman. He always shared his bounty with his neighbors. We
were monetarily poor, but so rich in the things that count.
Very remote—just a railroad section house. An old couple named Fannie
and Mac McKinley lived there with their dog, who had his own plate
set at their dining table. They were truly wonderful, warm people
to know. Fannie tried to teach us girls how to play the piano. They
raised turkeys, which often felled prey to coyotes, mountain lions,
and bobcats. Mac McKinley was a section foreman, for the Santa Fe
RR. They lived in the section house on one side of the tracks and
there was a ranch house on the other side of the tracks. J.C. Hall
painted the section house every other year.
Sometimes our father would put the motor car on the tracks and send
Lola and I (all by ourselves) down to visit with the McKinleys. When
we got there, Mr. McKinley would take the motor car off the tracks
and when we were ready to head back, he would put the motorcar back
on the tracks towards our boxcars. I am sure that the Santa Fe Railroad
would have had a fit if they knew that.
A large school with lots of children. I was thirteen, and my sister
was 11-12 years old. The town had a drugstore, with a pharmacist,
a large café and several businesses. We took picnics to the Rio Grande
River on Saturdays to swim, play and have good time.
A family named Fenny raised pigs. They kept them in adobe ruins, fed
and water them. For their living, the Fenny family would sell the
pigs fattened up after they fattened them up. One December day, snow
fell on Presidio, Texas. It was very unusual. Everyone came outside
to touch it. It seemed no one owned a coat and I thought it was strange.
But, when the snow melted quickly, I understood better. Who needs
a coat in the “Big Bend”?
Also, I remember the pharmacist who sent penicillin out to my mother
for a serious burn. It was new then. He said, “I hope this medicine
helps her.” It healed her and she went in person to thank him for
his help. Good folks lived in the Big
July 6 2007
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