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At the end of the 1800's San Antonio was served by four railroads. However a group of San Antonio business men thought the city would be well served to have a rail connection with the Santa Fe as well. A route through Llano to San Saba or Lometa would serve a large area in Hill Country that had no rail connections while also providing the desired connection with the Santa Fe. It would also make possible a future extension to Fort Worth.
Beginning in early 1900, a survey team, lead by Colonel John Forist, a former US Army civil engineer, scouted a route through the extremely rugged Texas Hill Country. Amazingly the route did not call for extensive blasting and required only one tunnel along the way. The route revealed many prospective customers; some willing to sign contracts before a single rail was laid. The town of Rimrock and the cement plants of Longhorn were ecstatic about the possibility of a north-south rail line through their area. Ultimately the route to Llano proved too treacherous, and legal entanglements prevented another railroad in Lometa. But just a few miles to the east on the AT&SF route, the fledgling town of Clarke Center was ready for a north-south railroad to serve its rapid industrial growth with plentiful lumber and natural water springs.
Even though there were numerous curves and steep grades, the survey team deemed it worthwhile to file the proposed route with the Texas Governors office of Land Records and immediately obtain a charter. Thus the San Antonio & Northern Railway was born on September 9, 1901. Ernest Jordan was the first President. Ernest Kaak was Secretary-Treasurer. Board members were Rodney Varney, Thomas Zengerle, Richard Elvy, Cecil Beck and George Ginder.
The years of 1902 and 1903 were spent raising the required capital to build the railroad and to negotiate trackage rights. Two railroads, the International and Great Northern and Missouri, Kansas and Texas had previously completed railways from San Antonio to New Braunfels. Rather than build a third railway to New Braunfels, the SA&N negotiated trackage rights with the I&GN to New Braunfels and then with the MKT to a point where the railway would turn north through the Hill Country. Additionally, an agreement was reached with the Gulf, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway to use its passenger station in San Antonio. All of the above agreement included reciprocal trackage rights on the SA&N.
Construction of the railroad began in early 1904 and trains began running to Clarke Center in late 1905. Passenger service was established using the new Sunset Station in San Antonio, built by the GH&SA in 1903 to replace their old depot. The SA&N quickly gained financial strength and the extension of the route to Ft Worth began in 1908. The chosen route allowed easy construction with one exception, a very large bridge over Zengerle Gulch just northwest of Waco. Upon reaching Ft. Worth a large yard with engine facilities and a passenger depot were built at Narrow Pass, a location on the north side of town.
By 1925, the long associations with the MKT, the MOPAC (parent of the I&GN) and the SP (parent of the GH&SA and SA&AP) allowed the Company to negotiate trackage rights north of Ft. Worth all the way to St. Louis. The agreements also provided rights south of San Antonio to Corpus Christi and east of San Antonio to Houston. In 1932 the Narrow Pass depot burned down. Suffering financially from the Depression, the Company made an agreement with the Texas and Pacific (MOPAC) to use their new passenger depot and LCL freight house until a new depot could be built at Narrow Pass. The T&P station remained a regular stop on the SA&N after the Narrow Pass station was rebuilt.
In 1936, the SA&N was honored by becoming a CLASS I railroad. In the 1940's new diesel locomotives began to appear on the railroads. The SA&N joined the other railroads in evaluating all types of diesel locomotives. The traditional black paint scheme used on steam locomotives gave way to many new color schemes used on the company diesels. During WWII the SA&N, like all US railroads, contributed significantly to the success of the war while at the same time recovering from the financial effects of the depression.
In the 1950's, the Company's President was John Barteau. Surprisingly, the Secretary-Treasurer was still Ernest Kaak, having given 50+ years of loyal service to the company. Under their able leadership the company prospered, and provided much needed passenger and freight transportation to central Texas. Most notable trains on the railroad were two named non-stop passenger trains, the Alamo Express and the Mission Flyer, which ran daily between San Antonio and Ft. Worth.
Because of the many mutual trackage agreements made by the Company over the years, it is not unusual to see Katy, MOPAC, SP and Santa Fe trains on San Antonio and Northern tracks. In some instances, the SA&N painted their diesels to match or compliment these other railroads.