A line with a most unique history. The Texas State Railroad's big oil-burning, Tremont & Gulf Mikado #30 charges out of the (not-so) Piney Woods of East Texas at the Gibson Road crossing, hauling a 2019 Lerro Productions photo freight east toward Maydelle and Rusk.
Of all of the steam tourist lines I've visited in the last decade or so, the Texas State Railroad has perhaps the most unique history of any of them. As the name implies, the Texas State Railroad was built by and is owned by the State of Texas. It had its beginnings in 1883 when the state completed a new penitentiary at Rusk, which included an industrial complex. An iron smelting mill at the prison was to be run by inmate labor and the railroad was constructed, also by inmate labor, as a means to bring in raw materials and transport finished goods to transportation hubs and thence to market. The railroad reached Maydelle in 1906 and was completed all the way to Palestine in 1909. The line gradually expanded to both regular freight and passenger service as time went on, but never turned a profit. In 1921, the state began leasing the trackage to other railroads, practice that continued for nearly 50 years, until 1969. In 1972, the Texas Legislature voted to turn the railroad over to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, to be used as a State Park and tourist attraction. The line's financial woes continued and after over 30 years of state operation, the Texas State Railroad Authority was created, and the operation was leased to private operators. For the past 25 years, it has been operated by several firms, including American Heritage Railways (which owns the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad) and Iowa Pacific Holdings. Since 2017, the operator has been The Western Group, which operates a number of regional railroads and railroad-related businesses.