In October 1923, the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad introduced a new service for passengers traveling between San Antonio and Kerrville, a small self-propelled passenger vehicle called the “500” motor railroad car.
J.E. Grinstead, who published “Grinstead’s Graphic,” featured the new service in his November 1923 issue, complete with numerous photographs of the little car traveling the route.
This motorized car ran on the railroad tracks and was about the size of a small school bus. It was operated by a “competent railway engineer,” and featured “‘modern air-braking aparatus.”
By counting the benches through the windows of the car, I’m guessing it could carry around 24 passengers.
“The latest effort of the Aransas Pass,” Grinstead wrote, “to aid in the development of the Hill Country, and provide for the comfort and convenience of the people is the installation of a railway motor service between Kerrville and San Antonio. The first of these motor cars was put in service in October, as an experiment. That is, it was not known at the time whether the modern motor car could negotiate the stiff mountain grades, and make the time. A two hour and fifty minute schedule was planned. The ‘500,’ a motor car of the most modern type was tried out on the run. It was found that it could make the schedule without difficulty, and during its first month has never failed to make the run on time. This gives a double daily passenger service between Kerrville and San Antonio. The motor car leaves Kerrville at 6:50 in the morning, while the steam train leaves San Antonio at 8:37. In the afternoon the steam train leaves Kerrville at two o’clock, and the motor car leaves San Antonio at four.”
Even at nearly three hours, this connection between San Antonio and Kerrville was a big improvement, certainly over transportation by wagon or horseback, but likely better even than travel by automobile in the early 1920s. In those days, most of the roads were not paved, threaded their way through hills on a meandering path and went through the middle of each town on the route. (The “500” likely made stops at each station, too, between the two points, which added to the time required.)
I’m old enough to remember when trains came to Kerrville, but not passenger trains. Competition for passengers came from the Kerrville Bus Company and private automobiles, and slowly the number of passengers taking the train diminished.
By 1940, there was only one train a day between San Antonio and Kerrville, “with a few [passenger] cars at the rear of the daily freight train,” according to the Texas Transportation Museum website. Regularly scheduled passenger service ended in 1947.
My own memories of the train are from the late 1960s. I remember its low rumbling, even at a distance, and the clacking of its wheels as they passed gaps in the rails; the rail line was next to the playing field beside First Baptist Church, running along North Street. As children, many of us (who should have been inside the church instead of playing baseball outside it) would run alongside the train as it passed, begging the engineer to blow the whistle.
On those evenings when we were actually sitting inside the church, we’d listen for the train. In those days, before air-conditioning was considered such a necessity, the big blue stained glass windows of the church would often be left open. In addition to the occasional bird (or bat) that flew into the sanctuary, the rumbling of the train was always a welcome distraction. Again, from our pews, we children would silently urge the engineer to blow the train’s whistle, and when he did, the preacher would pause, look out the southwest windows, and wait.
The very last train to Kerrville, carrying gravel, ran on May 15, 1970, about 83 years after the first train arrived here, carrying more 500 passengers, in 1887.
Here and there, one can still find evidence of the rail line that once ran inside the city limits of Kerrville.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who would have benefited from more time spent in church and less time playing baseball beside the railroad tracks. Herring’s column appears each weekend in The Kerrville Daily Times.