When the Kansas City Southern’s Holiday Express pulls into Jefferson at 4 p.m. on Nov. 29, a few in the crowd may realize they retrace the 100-year-old steps of families bound for a holiday trip to grandma’s house.
The Jefferson & Northwestern Railroad connected Jefferson to Naples by way of Linden and Marietta for 50 years but only glimpses remain today of the lanes carved for railbeds through East Texas forests.
A Jefferson family in 1918 could travel to Linden for Thanksgiving in relative comfort on the J&NW. The alternative would probably be a long, cold ride in an open wagon pulled by farm horses over muddy, and often impassable, roads.
Weldon Nash, a former Jeffersonian, has a J&NW fare schedule from October of 1926 showing the price for an adult one-way ticket to Linden was 60 cents. If you rode the J&NW to the end of the line, a ticket to Naples was $1.35.
Compare those prices to the $25 cost of a one-way Amtrak ticket from Marshall to Dallas today. Another Jefferson-born railroad boasts an even straighter connection to the KCS train next week. The East Line and Red River Railroad was chartered in 1871 in an effort by Jeffersonians to protect their businesses from traffic that was being diverted away from town by other railroads.
Jay Gould purchased the railway in June 1881 and then sold it to the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway Company (Katy) the following November. According to Francene DePrez, owner of the Historical Jefferson Railway, “The line changed hands many times during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Then in 1956, Kansas City Southern built a shortcut just south of Karnack. This meant abandonment of the line built in 1900. KCS donated the depot to Marion County in 1983 and was sold to Jefferson Railway in 2000.”
Kansas City Southern, the survivor of numerous mergers and consolidations, keeps freight moving on its line passing through Jefferson, treating local residents once every two years with a glimpse of their holiday train. While Jefferson children, with wide eyes and hushed whispers, relish arrival of the Holiday Express, KCS has added another element to the experience in keeping with the season.
The 18th annual Holiday Express will distribute a total of $171,756 in gift cards to The Salvation Army at stops along the route. The gift cards are designated for the purchase of warm clothing and other necessities for kids in need.
Led by KCS’ Southern Belle business train, the Holiday Express train includes a smiling tank car “Rudy”; a flatcar carrying Santa’s sleigh, reindeer and a miniature village; a gingerbread boxcar; an elves’ workshop; the reindeer stable; and a little red caboose. Each car is dressed in lights.
The train will stop in 22 communities in eight states.“KCS looks forward to bringing Santa and his elves on the Holiday Express train to communities throughout our U.S. service territory, and we are especially pleased to continue the tradition of charitable giving to each community where the train will stop,” said KCS president and chief executive officer Patrick J. Ottensmeyer.
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