The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981 Page: 30
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Individuals drawn to electric railways as a business venture saw ad-
ditional advantages. An electric line could likely penetrate an area
with inadequate or no rail service, mainly because of lower overall
interurban construction costs. (Most builders never designed their elec-
tric roads to duplicate the exacting standards employed on the major
steam routes; branch lines became their models.) With the advent of
traction roads, land prices increased, even soared, often to the personal
benefit of the promoters. The potential for long-range commuting
made housing along traction arteries desirable. And if the electric road
offered extensive package express and carload freight (a common prac-
tice in the Old Northwest and the trans-Mississippi West), patrons
could compete more successfully in the market place. Their depen-
dence upon wagon travel over primitive roads, repeatedly made
impassable by the vagaries of weather, hindered development of com-
mercial agriculture, manufacturing, and mineral production. Devel-
opers of interurban lines, moreover, stood to reap financial windfalls
by supplying electricity to commercial and residential customers along
their routes, since, after all, electric power had to be generated and
high-tension transmission lines and substations built for the rail op-
Interurban "fever" infected Texas. Although the state never emerged
as the heartland of the electric intercity railway (Ohio held that honor),
Texas ultimately claimed nearly five hundred miles of interurban
lines, the greatest mileage in any state west of the Mississippi River
except for California. The Dallas-based Texas Electric Railway, with
its 226 route miles, became the largest system in the western half of the
country. Yet the Lone Star States's interurban story is more than a
chronicle of the eleven companies that actually opened, for hundreds
of other lines were proposed between the 189os and 92sos. While sta-
tistical evidence is sketchy, projected traction mileage in Texas ranks
it at or near the top of any listing of "paper" proposals for a single state.
It reached an astonishing total of more than 22,500 miles."
"Varnish" is a commonly used railroad term to lefer to passenger trains. In the era
before all-steel equipment, roads employed wooden cars, often with oak exteriors and
highly polished mahogany and walnut interiors; hence the expression.
3Hilton and Due, Electric Interurban Railways, 8, 54-55; Margaret M. Gilson, "A His-
tory of the Texas Electric Railway, 1917-1955" (M.A. thesis, North Texas State University,
1972), 6; "The Farmer and the Interurban," SRJ, XXVIII (Oct. 6, 19o6), 497.
4Hilton and Due, Electric Interurban Railways, 376-380; Rod Varney, Texas Electric
Album (Glendale, Calif., 1975), 5-7. For a list of the Texas companies that opened see note
22. The computation of the Texas traction proposals is based largely on the weekly listings
of such schemes that appeared in two trade organs, Street Railway Journal (189o-1907)
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 84, July 1980 - April, 1981, periodical, 1980/1981; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101225/m1/50/: accessed April 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.