It would be hard to overestimate the impact of the railroad on Fort Worth history. And it would be hard to overestimate the impact of the year 1881 on Fort Worth railroad history.
For example, on May 9, 1881 the first Missouri Pacific train arrived, as reported in this no-big-deal brief in the Dallas Weekly Herald of May 12. But in Cowtown it was a big deal.
On September 14, 1872, the Dallas Weekly Herald had reported that Tarrant County had approved a subsidy to the Texas & Pacific railroad, which was laying track westward toward Dallas and Fort Worth.
In 1873 B. B. Paddock, then editor of the Fort Worth Democrat and the town’s foremost “I think we can, I think we can” booster, had drawn his ambitious “tarantula map” projecting that Fort Worth would one day be a railroad center. After all, the T&P had reached Dallas early that year. Fort Worth was next on the T&P’s to-do list.
In fact, on March 22, 1873, the Weekly Herald reported surveying of the route from Dallas to Fort Worth and predicted that trains would be running from Fort Worth to Shreveport by Christmas. The Weekly Herald said the line from Dallas to Fort Worth could cost $35,000 ($700,000 today) a mile because of extensive bridge and rock work.
But in September came the economic panic of 1873, and the California and Texas Railway Construction Company, which the T&P was paying to lay the track, failed. Fort Worth was left stranded for three years. Finally, on July 19, 1876, Fort Worth got its first whiff of coal smoke as T&P locomotive No. 20 rambled into town. With that arrival T&P had attached the first leg to Paddock’s tarantula.
On December 14, 1877, while Fort Worth’s tarantula still had but one leg, the Dallas Daily Herald poked fun back at Paddock and Cowtown’s aspirations.
Ah, but in 1881, five more railroads attached legs to Paddock’s tarantula: Missouri Pacific Railroad, Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway, Fort Worth and Denver City Railway, Fort Worth and New Orleans Railway, and Gulf Colorado and Santa Fe Railway.
A few weeks after barely mentioning the arrival of the Missouri Pacific in Cowtown, the Dallas Weekly Herald suffered this rare spasm of bonhomie about Fort Worth and its railroads.
Here is a railroad time table from the Fort Worth Gazette of December 27, 1883.
The railroads changed everything for every city they laid rail to. For example, here is an ad in the Gazette for a railroad that did not directly serve Fort Worth. But it served Dallas. And because the T&P served both Fort Worth and Dallas, people in Fort Worth could board a train downtown and via connections to other railroads go almost anywhere. Look at that one word: Europe. Now people in Fort Worth could reach New York City and the steamship lines of the Atlantic. People in Fort Worth in 1881 could sail across the ocean to the country where they or their parents were born! And the connection worked both ways: Now people from far-away places could take the train to Fort Worth. The railroads made Cowtown more cowsmopolitan.
Trains moved fast, had ice-cooled cars, so food that was shipped by rail stayed fresher. And the railroad brought cold beer to town.
Cattle could be shipped to market in rail cars, not on the cattle trails. The railroads carried letters, newspapers, books, parcels, increasing the speed with which people could communicate and share information. The railroads were the Internet of the nineteenth century, running on iron rails instead of fiber optics.