IT’S BEEN interesting, although often sad, to observe the rural-urban changes in Texas over the last 50-60 years.
In the Lone Star State particularly, the decline of family farms and ranches has brought a shift of the majority of the population from rural into towns large and small. While agriculture is still immensely important, it doesn’t employ nearly the percentage of the population as half a century ago.
Perhaps one of the most stark comparisons to me is Teague, my hometown, a great place to grow up.
Sixty years ago there was one traffic light there, replete with four-way red-yellow-green. It was on Main Street, which from the eastern edge of town is also U.S. Highway 84. At the traffic light at Main and Fourth Avenue, U.S. 84 makes a 90 degree turn onto Fourth to meander to Mexia, Waco and points west. So, the through traffic was exposed to downtown Teague which contained almost all of its retail outlets.
IN ITS infinite wisdom, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) built a loop around the city’s east-to-west northern boundary. Ultimately, a number of businesses relocated to the loop and, voila!, a couple of sets of flashing red and yellow caution lights were placed at strategic intersections, tripling the traffic light count.
Soon new areas of housing opened and loop traffic slowed somewhat.
While the loop ultimately did little long term damage to the city, it did change the retail pattern significantly.
TEAGUE has shown some resilience over the years, thanks to business cycles.
In the first 40-50 years of its existence, the once Brewer’s Prairie, became a railroad hub for the Fort Worth & Denver-Burlington Rock Island Railway. Rail yards with repair facilities dominated the city’s near west side. The steam locomotive was still prevalent and there was a “roundhouse” with a turntable of rails long enough for a locomotive and its “coal car,” which allowed the turning of the steam locomotive since it only ran long hauls forward. Diesel locomotives changed that because they were built to run either direction equally effectively.
Historical developments always provide little human interest yarns. In the waning days of the steam locomotive and the Teague “roundhouse,” there was a giant of a man who worked in the repair shops. He was well over six and a half feet tall and, it was said, weighed 400 pounds. I saw him pick up a steam locomotive wheel once, which had to weigh twice what he did. He also demonstrated his strength by attaching a chain to a “box” car (freight), and pulling it along the rails. I couldn’t even pick up the chain.
There was also a depot where passenger service was available for more than half a century. The depot is now a museum which interestingly depicts the Teague railroad history.
Teague has long been a crew change station. While passenger service is no longer available at the station, the freight trains switch cars, leaving empty ones and picking up loaded ones to deliver across the country from the Teague railyards.
WITH THE demise of the repair terminal and subsequent economic changes, Teague’s population declined from a 1930s high of more than 10,000 to just over 3,000 by the mid-1950s. There are still railroad employees in Teague, most of them “trainmen.”
A recent gas drilling “boom” in Freestone County has brought new economic progress and some increase in retail outlets and activity. Teague’s population is now estimated at more than 4,000.
Retailing is tailored mostly to necessities but with a nice representation of specialty shops. With significant retailing on the loop, more traffic lights have been required. And, the cycle continues.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.