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Historic Murals: The 503 Iron Horse

The 503 Iron Horse mural is Part 3 of the Historic Murals of San Angelo transportation series. Painted in 2002 by Crystal Goodman, this mural continues the history of the railroad and its influence on economic and industrial growth in San Angelo and West Texas. Whereas the many stagecoach lines (e.g., Butterfield and Wells Fargo) were named after the individual owners and investors, trains were identified by individual engine names and numbers, as well as their assigned geographic routes.

Many of the earliest steam locomotives for American railroads, like the Stourbridge Lion, were imported from Great Britain before the domestic manufacturing industry really got started. In 1830, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Tom Thumb was the first American-built locomotive to run in the U.S. The Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway Company (BBB&C) was chartered for operations in Texas on Feb. 11, 1850, and its first steam-powered locomotive arrived in late 1852. The BBB&C was not only the first railroad to operate in Texas, it was the second railroad west of the Mississippi River and the oldest component of the present Southern Pacific.

After being designated as the county seat in 1883, San Angelo grew quickly and became a transportation hub for the Santa Fe and the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient (KCM&O) railroad companies in 1888 and 1908, respectively. Having both railroads in San Angelo connected the city to Ballinger, Miles, Rowena, Brownwood, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and Altus, Oklahoma.

The Iron Horse No. 503 engine, shown in the mural with its 4-4-0 drivetrain and two-man crew, was one of the first trains to stop at the San Angelo depot, according to historian and photographer, Allen Johnston. It is pictured along with its tender, painted with the Orient line markings. During the West Texas oil boom of the mid-1920s, a steam engine like this one rolled through San Angelo every hour pulling cars full of passengers, equipment, business freight, livestock and oil east and west across Texas. The distinctive sounds of steam engines hauling heavy loads and their unmistakable whistles and clanging bells as they approached towns and crossings marked this significant era in the history of our state.

The artist painted T.A. Jones and A.J. Jones (not related) as the engineer and fireman on the mural train. Both these men had operated similar engines in the mid-1860s and 1870s. Most of the passengers on the train are people the artist thought of as she painted their faces. Rick Smith, a San Angelo Standard-Times columnist who wrote about the mural in one of his newspaper columns, is painted in the front row as the passenger making notes. The two gentlemen waiting near the travel trunks were copied from a vintage photo belonging to Helen Arthur Fenton, a native San Angeloan whose father was a train conductor.

This mural captures just some of the excitement that passengers might have experienced when boarding the "The Angelo" train No. 77 on the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe line in the late evening, knowing they would arrive in Fort Worth in time for breakfast. Imagine them traveling along faster than many ever thought possible, looking out of the windows at scenery not yet seen in their lifetime–all the while enjoying dining and lounge car services. It was these experiences that newspaper men like Rick Smith documented as they visited with travelers at the depots and on the trains.

Texas railroads and Iron Horse steam locomotives like No. 503 were unquestionably the biggest economic force in Texas prior to the discovery of oil and the awakening of military and civil aviation.

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