San Antonio, Texas, January 21 and 22
The Sunset Station, built by
Conductors and friend at the Exhibit Train
One of several uniform displays on board
|1970s passenger service
displays the "headless arrow" motif
|Do you have a favorite?||
Cowboy culture donated
The Amtrak depot sits within a stone’s throw of the gorgeous Sunset Station built by the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP). When it opened more than a century ago, residents referred to it as the “Building of 1,000 Lights” due to a dazzling display of electric lights that brightened the night. Large arches on the façade of the Amtrak station echo those found on the historic structure. Although the Sunset Station is no longer an active passenger facility, it has been restored to serve as a popular events venue.
Just down the platform from the Amtrak depot and historic station stands another link to the city’s railroading past: SP locomotive #794. Built in 1916 by the American Locomotive Company, it originally belonged to the Texas & New Orleans Railroad and was based in San Antonio. After four decades of freight service, it was retired by the SP in 1956; the next year, the railroad donated it to the city. Today, the “Friends of the SP 794”—a subsidiary group of the San Antonio Railroad Heritage Museum—oversees the maintenance of this grand dame of American railroading. In 2008, they repainted the locomotive in the old Texas & New Orleans livery. Over the weekend, the Friends gave tours of the impressive machine and explained the basics of steam railroading.
Volunteers from the Trails and Rails program—a partnership between Amtrak and the National Park Service designed to expose people to the natural and cultural attractions in our national parks—were a tremendous help on both days. They greeted and guided visitors, answered questions aboard the Exhibit Train, and offered to take photos for people. Many of these volunteers are based out of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. While just about any school kid knows the story of the Alamo, a lot of people don’t realize that the San Antonio River was a lifeline for a handful of Spanish missions. The first was established in 1718, but four more were started along the river within a dozen years and flourished into the late 18th century.
Exhibitors included Texas Operation Lifesaver, VIA Metropolitan Transit, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the San Antonio Railroad Model Association, and the National Association of Railroad Passengers. In addition to discussing the benefits of passenger rail with visitors, NARP representative Cody King wowed passersby with his amazing sketches that included locomotives and cowboys.
We were also delighted to have two railroad museums with us for the weekend. Since its founding in 2001, the not-for-profit San Antonio Railroad Heritage Museum has worked to educate the public about the railroad history of San Antonio and the South Texas region. It also supports efforts to restore and preserve rolling stock and railroad-related buildings. Located northeast of San Antonio, the New Braunfels Railroad Museum occupies a former International-Great Northern Railroad depot. In the 1980s, the New Braunfels Historic Railroad and Modelers Society gained a long term lease on the building and undertook a restoration. The broad collection of railroadiana includes a complete telegraphy system, historic photographs, uniforms, and HO and N scale models. Outside, visitors can explore a caboose, boxcar, and other rolling stock.
San Antonio is served by the Sunset Limited (New Orleans-San Antonio-Los Angeles) and the Texas Eagle (San Antonio-Chicago) and is therefore a crew base for Amtrak employees beginning or ending their runs. It’s always fun to see conductors and other onboard staff members take a walk through the Exhibit Train. Inevitably, they are drawn to the four decades worth of uniforms, from the bold red jackets and dresses of the 1970s to the sophisticated blue outfits worn today.
Common to all uniforms is the presence of the company logo, although it has changed from the original “inverted arrow” to the current three-part flowing wave. On those first uniforms, the arrow figures prominently as a design motif, particularly in the dress worn by the early passenger service representatives. Now, on the other hand, the logo is worked into ties and scarves on a smaller, more subtle scale. The uniforms tend to bring back all kinds of memories—and usually lead to some debate about which was the best and most flattering look.
As they say, the railroad never stops—although Texas was great and the welcome hearty, it’s time to head east to the Big Easy. Hope to see you in New Orleans!