A Day Around Baird Hill

My parents were from Sweetwater, Texas so over the years I spent time riding in a car along the Texas & Pacific, later the Missouri Pacific and now the UP between there and Fort Worth. One of the noticeable landmarks was the area around Baird where the track climbs a roughly 1.3 percent westbound grade that was a manned helper district back in steam days. As I grew older but was still young enough to easily climb the surrounding hills I was able to take some photos in this area of my own, but now I have my FAA Remote Pilot’s license and tend to let the drone do the climbing for me.

On Saturday July 12th I drove out to Baird to meet friend William Tollett who was nice enough to be my native guide and to arrange access to some of the private property in the area that would allow for shorter drone flights to capture new versions of old scenes. I left home at 7:00 am and my first train of the day was an eastbound welded rail train that I captured at the east end of Judd siding next to I20 at 8:19 am.

Back on I20 over the radio I heard an eastbound Big Spring to Fort Worth manifest train leaving Ranger so I exited and drove over to Strawn where I first captured their old depot turned museum.

At 9:03 am the train rolled through town with eight units up front and one DPU about two-thirds of the way back.

I drove on to Baird without encountering any more trains and visited with William before we headed out onto private property to catch two westbound trains. Here is a scan of a slide I took back on December 11, 1993 of the westbound Abilene Local climbing the first part of Baird Hill and passing over a wash.

Twenty-eight years later, William walked to the bridge for a ground level photo while I launched the drone and captured these views of a westbound intermodal from the air at 11:43 am. The train had two units up front and two more shoving on the rear out of sight back in Jayell.

At 12:34 pm a second intermodal came charging up the grade out of Jayell, this time with just two units on the head end. Here first is the view in this location of the Fort Worth to El Paso daily train also taken on December 11, 1993.

Now there was a gap before any more westbound trains would show up, and the next eastbound was out around Big Spring. We made our way back to Baird and had lunch before doing a bit of local rail-related sight seeing. Up first is this take on an old intermodal trailer sitting derelict just off the main street leading to the old depot.

Here are two views of a great but decaying mural on a building right across the street from the trailer.

The old T&P depot and office building has been preserved as a museum but was closed by the time we arrived.

Here is a view of the track side of the building taken back on December 08, 1994.

At 3:40 pm this westbound intermodal came by while enjoying the brief respite of flat land before taking on the second and steeper half of Baird HIll on the way to Clyde. I chose to shoot from the opposite side since the small trees in the “then” photo have grown to almost completely block the view of the station.

An aerial view of the building before I landed.

For the next westbound we decided to head to the east side of town so I could use the drone to capture a train passing T&P lake which was the local water source back in steam days. Along the way we passed the old freight house which has been moved away from its old location next to the depot and is now nearly unrecognizable.

We set up on the shoulder of the highway and William photographed from the overpass while I once again launched the drone. This view including the entire lake is impossible to capture from the ground and I was very happy to finally get it now with my flying camera at 4:30 pm.

In this going away view you can see us parked on the shoulder in the distance.

Now we had the westbound ZAILC “Laser” train getting close, and we heard on the radio that it would meet an eastbound Z train at Clyde at the top of the grade west of Baird. William and I drove our vehicles over to the west side of town where we parked near where the second half of Baird Hill begins the climb up to Clyde. This slide scan from near sunset on December 17, 1994 is not the best as I could have done a better job with the camera settings for this back lit photo. The result of a long climb up from the road, now it is all I have as back then you were lucky to get one train a day out here.

I am much more pleased with the results of this modern view including most of Baird with my drone at 5:36 pm.

As the train curved back to parallel 120 upgrade towards Clyde I quickly packed up and drove east on I20.

I stopped off of the I20 access road at Mexia Creek with the intention of launching the drone one more time to catch the eastbound Z train passing the relatively new Putnam siding east of Putnam and just east of Jayell siding. I wanted to include a little bit more of the curve ahead of the train but that meant increasing the degree of backlighting, so this was the best compromise at 6:16 pm.

I now set my sights on home but the radio alerted me to a westbound Fort Worth to West Colton manifest and I pulled off at Olden between Ranger and Eastland. The scene was perfectly lit with three units up front and a cut of clean TTX box cars not far behind.

This was a very long train with two more units in the middle and a single unit shoving on the rear.

The eastbound Z train I had droned earlier was waiting in Eastland for this slow train to arrive so I continued east to Ranger where I decided to try for a shot with the old depot. I could not find a view I liked so I settled for the pastoral scene about 1/2 mile east of the depot when the Z train raced by at 7:41 pm.

There was a westbound intermodal waiting at Strawn at the bottom of Ranger Hill for this train to pass and I decided to wait a few more minutes to see if there might be a potential photo before sunset. The gamble did not pan out and as the direct sunlight drained from my chosen scene I settled for this view looking up Ranger’s main drag where it was still 87 degrees at sunset.

I arrived back home around 9:45 pm after a very successful and fun day thanks to my friend William Tollett, the chief railfan of Callahan County!

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