In the comments the other day I was asked about an early rail spur that was used to bring coal to the campus power plant. This is one of those things that you can’t just go look up in a file. Everything I do know about it I’ve learned in bits and pieces, sometimes by accident, over the years. I’m sure that there is much more about it that I don’t know.
The first time I came across it was in President Lovett’s papers, which contain most of the records that remain of the early design and construction history of the campus. Here’s a 1913 letter from my old friend Wilmer Waldo, who was responsible for much of the basic infrastructure work (such as drainage, grading, laying out the roads, etc.):
Waldo did get this job and did most of the work to build the spur, which came off the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway. You can see it clearly in the drawings done by the students in the early surveying classes at Rice, dropping down from the north, crossing Harris Gully and swinging around behind the Power Plant. Here’s one from 1916:
The drawing ends at the campus boundary, though, so the next thing I wondered was what the “spur” was spurring off from. I assumed it was the tracks to the north, up near where Highway 59 is today, but I never had a good reason to stop what I was doing and go look. So I just forgot about it. Then when one of my colleagues was organizing the old William Marsh Rice land lease records (remember the “Sundry Contracts” file?) he turned up this blueprint that confirmed my hunch:
Unsurprisingly, there aren’t many images of the spur to be found. The one at top might be the only one where you can actually get a good look at the tracks and here’s one from 1921 where some railcars are visible at the right edge:
The only other picture I’ve seen that might show railcars is this one, which I scanned because I was interested in the sheds and only later noticed something else in the background right in between the Mech Lab and Physics:
The next obvious question is when did they take it out. Short answer: I don’t know. The beginning of a longer answer: it might be gone in aerial shots from 1928. I’ll look closer.