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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

The wreck of the "Don Milo" and other Hallettsville R.R. History

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery

There are times when things just sort of "pop up" when I am doing research for a column. For instance, one of my colleagues here at the newspaper asked me when the railroad quit providing service to Hallettsville. I was involved with researching another story when that question was asked, so I put it in my brain's library of things to do and went on about my business.

It seems, however, that just like my colleague; the question about the railroad was not going to be put off for long. While browsing through some old newspapers, lo and behold, up pops a story about the railroad wanting to leave town.

That story was in the Dec. 2, 1949, issue of The Lavaca County Tribune; the headline, along with a sub-head, read "Hallettsville to Lose Passenger Train Service - Discontinuance of 'Dinky' Trains is Asked Due to Financial Loss."

The Texas and New Orleans Railroad Company asked the Texas Railroad Commission for permission to cease operation of Southern-Pacific passenger trains Numbers 309 and 310 that ran between Houston and Kenedy.

According to the newspaper, "These are the 'dinky' trains that come into Hallettsville from the west in the morning and from the east at night." Evidently the passenger trains were causing the company to lose a lot of money. So, they pulled the plug on the rail service that the people of Hallettsville had depended on for years.

Figures were given about the money lost. From January through October of 1949, the company had expenses of $101,042 and their revenue was $52,404. The company reported that they would lose over $58,000 annually. The story also included information that these losses did not include what the company was spending on maintenance to the tracks and buildings.

As a result of these financial problems, not only did the passenger train service cease, trucking companies began to haul commercial freight. Days of the railroad service to many small Texas towns ceased to exist.

I do not know if 1949 was the last year for train service in Hallettsville, but there is plenty of information about when it started. South of town, near the Lavaca River, stands a Texas Historical Marker (Location: Main St. & Russell St., Halletsville). It was erected by the Texas Historical Commission in 2009.

Wreck of the Don Milo Railroad
Wreck of the Don Milo
Photo courtesy Courtesy of The Portal to Texas History

The marker was put there to designate the location of a train wreck and it is titled, "The Wreck of the Don Milo." The inscription on the marker not only has information about the train wreck; it also includes information about the beginning of rail service to Hallettsville.

The entire wording on the marker is as follows: "The San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway Company (S. A. & A. P.) was chartered by the State of Texas in 1884 to connect the city of San Antonio with Aransas Bay, and the rail line officially came to Hallettsville on April 23, 1887. A large celebration on that date brought 5,000 to town to witness the completion of the track over the Lavaca River around noon, and the evening arrival of the first train. "The S. A. & A. P. railway met financial ruin when a disastrous train wreck occurred on the wooden bridge over the Lavaca River on January 2, 1890. The river had risen to within fifteen feet of the bridge's rails because of heavy rains. The engineer crossed the river in order to reach the water tank at the other side because the water was necessary to power the train's steam-driven engine.

"The engineer then crossed back over the bridge to reattach the remaining cars. Upon preparing to cross the bridge with the entire train, the engineer realized that the trestle had been washed away by the surging water.

"Although the engineer was able to stop the train at the edge of the river, the weight of the train's cargo caused it to plunge into the raging floodwaters below. The train carried liquor as part of its cargo, and the consumption of the liquor by spectators added to the confusion caused by the crowd of onlookers that soon appeared at the site. "The wreck of the Don Milo, engine no. 54, caused additional problems for the S. A. & A. P., which had already been experiencing financial difficulties. The resulting lawsuits forced the company to reorganize, and the S. A. & A. P. was acquired by the Southern Pacific Transportation Company in 1892."

Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary February 13, 2024 Column

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