If history had shadows, you would be standing in them now.
But things that are no longer leave only ghosts.
Their names are not whispered on the Gulf breezes, only the gentle rustling of the pecan leaves; time has scoured long-ago footprints from the earth.
But, still you stand there, in awe of what once was, and wonder if this is where Hastings stood 70 years ago as he watched the big GS-1 bring Train No. 6, The Argonaut to a gentle stop at the old depot embedded within the wye.
This is where the dreams of Uriah Lott, in the form of the San Antonio & Aransas Pass, crossed the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio at the diamond mere steps behind you, and Tower No. 3 stood for 94 years controlling the junction.
Train No. 1, the westbound Sunset Limited would breeze through town in the south Texas darkness at 11:15 every night without so much as a hesitation in her gait, high green beaming forth from ancient searchlight signals giving her priority over all the Sunset Route, the windows of the houses at the end of South Mill Street rattling to the chants of grey and scarlet Alco PA diesels as they rumbled through the backyards and clattered across the diamond on their appointed destiny with Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal at 6:30 am, two mornings hence.
Thomas Wentworth Pierce purchased the plot of land located in southwestern Fayette County in 1874 from W.A. Faries, and named after local business owner F.W. Flato, the town of Flatonia was established on April 8th of that same year.
And it has been a railroad town ever since.
Where once Black Widow diesels plied their trade under the Sunset Route herald of the far-flung Southern Pacific System, the Armour Yellow and Harbor Mist Gray and red-white-and-blue shield of Union Pacific’s SD70Ms have invaded once-sovereign territory in a move unthinkable when Phil Hastings recorded the action here on a summer day way back in 1948.
Here, at 1:14 on the fine autumn afternoon of Thursday, October 4th, 2018 only the trackage remains the same as 16-year old 4739 and a sister borrow the tractive effort from a visiting CSX GE unit to trundle westbound merchandise through the junction at Flatonia at half the posted speed limit.
With high green on the tri-color signals and cars stretched out across Faries Street in the background, the big units thump across the switch for the old derail-protected house track which leads towards a station that has long since been razed.
The turnout points for the connecting track to the former SA&AP line heading south to Yoakum and Victoria are lined straight ahead for the Sunset Route. Sadly, the historic SA&AP route now hosts little freight traffic, seeing mostly the unit coal trains destined for the power station along Coleto Creek near Fannin, Texas, south and west of Victoria on the last remaining segment of the original Spaghetti Line that once ran through Goliad and Beeville.
And, of course there is the immortality of the fabled Blue Streak Merchandise, running at passenger train speeds out of East St. Louis bound for the West Coast, coming south on the Dalsa line and curving onto the westbound Sunset Route, her final iteration rolling behind snoot-nosed Tunnel Motors running in multiple.
And witness to it all, Tower No. 3 has been preserved yet removed from its original site and relocated to the town center where it and an Espee bay-window caboose are more easily accessible to the occasional tourist browsing through the storefronts along North and South Main Streets.
And it has been since the 1960s that the 4-cycle ‘biblika-biblika’ burbling of Alco 244s reverberated across the backyards and rattled the windows of the houses at the end of South Mill Street. That task is left to modern EMD 710s and GE FDLs and, in keeping with the finest of railroad traditions, it is an undertaking that, at least to the purists of such things, they perform quite well.