This day in history: the first railroad locomotive in Texas arrives


On Christmas Eve in 1852, the first railroad locomotive entered service in Texas.

Like much of the American West, the historic engine has emerged from mystery and died unnoticed. Thought to have been built by the Baldwin Company around 1837, the locomotive traveled from Massachusetts to Galveston by ship in 1852 after being purchased by the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado (BBBC) Railway.

Eventually named after Texas Revolution veteran Sidney Sherman, who helped build the railroad, the locomotive went into service on December 24. She first transported clients to Texas on her own in August 1853.

The railroad the Sherman traveled on was the first in Texas, originally spanning 20 miles of east Texas greenery from Harrisburg to Stafford’s Point.

In addition to the fact that steam locomotives were invented in England decades earlier, these twenty miles were only the second railway west of the Mississippi. To put it figuratively, BBBC engineers were exploring uncharted territory, one of many booming companies trying to adapt a British invention to American topography and distance. So when the company extended the railway line beyond the Brazos River, it needed a creative solution.

Before finally building permanent bridges, BBBC engineers built ramps on each side of the river and used a ferry in the middle. The Sherman would dive into the ferry and accelerate while crossing the river to gain momentum and up the ramp on the other side. As the Texas State Historical Association describes it, this method “prevented the efficient operation of the railroad.”

The company would not build a permanent iron bridge until after the Civil War, a troublesome period for the railways of the South. The company stopped adding new tracks after 1860, and the Sherman engine was scrapped in 1899.

Although the company was eventually sold, the railroad is now part of the South Pacific Transcontinental Sunset Route between New Orleans and Los Angeles. It still carries commercial goods as well as traveling passengers.


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