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On the Rails

This article originally appeared in the Garland/Mesquite section of The Dallas Morning News on April 7, 1995.

 

By Michael R. Hayslip

 

How about an environmentally safe, light-rail transportation system linking Garland and Dallas?

The idea for such a system, costing $2 million, came rolling through Garland in 1912, only to get sidetracked as another failed venture.

But the vision will be remembered April 20 at the Garland Landmark Society’s annual Founders’ Day dinner.

The public event – beginning at 7p.m. in the Landmark Museum, 200 Museum Plaza Drive- will feature an address by Jerry Brewer, a former Garland resident who has written a booklet describing the ill-fated Interurban Railway project and the East Texas Traction Company, which was to operate it.

On display will be a copy of an advertisement soliciting investors for the bankrupt firm, as well as a stock certificate for $400 worth of shares in the project purchased by the late Haskell L. Roach.

Richard H. Roach, who donated his father’s certificate, said that prospects for the venture were so enticing in 1912 that his grandfather W.H. Roach, encouraged his 14-year old son, Haskell, to commit a portion of his own savings to the stock as his first investment.

Young Roach considered his first stock investment carefully before plunging into the cold waters of capitalism.

Some of his money had been earned from a job on the skeet-shooting range at the Garland Fair Park and Training Track.  A good suit cost only $12 at the time, and $400 would almost buy a new car.  But he already had a suit, and the entire county had only 480 miles of paved roads.  The stock could earn him dividends, which were more lucrative than bank interest.

Odds were good that passenger travel between Garland and Dallas would increase markedly in the future and this mass transit line would offer fast, economical access.  Beginning in 1904, similar lines into Dallas had been laid from Cleburne, Fort Worth, Denison through Sherman and Waxahachie through Lancaster.  The proposed East Texas Traction Company route would connect Greenville through Rockwall, Rowlett and Garland.

Texas Power and Light facilities, to be installed for the trains, would also provide the city with its first electric service.  All these things motivated young Roach, who pondered the future by the light of a kerosene lamp.

Besides, the local subscription committee included W.A. Holford, editor and publisher of The Garland News, which threw its solid support behind the venture.  The elder Roach, who was cashier o Garland’s Guaranty State Bank, agreed to hold the stock in his name because his son was still a minor.  So with sound and conservative council, the investment was made, while shares were still available at a discount.

As events began to unfold, however, the rail scheme began to unravel.  After considerable debate over the use of the Katy vs. the Santa Fe right-of-way, the Katy option was selected. Despite the fact that East Texas Traction Company was still only partially subscribed, all other right-of-way was acquired, including the site for a Garland depot near the Katy/Santa Fe junction.  Brush clearing, grading and bridge construction began, while 18,000 pounds of steel and 180,000 railroad ties were stacked in readiness.

To silence the perennial criticism of skeptics, who viewed rapid transit in terms of a fast house, traction company officials symbolically joined hands on a plow and officially broke ground along the Garland stretch of the line in November 1912.  Local businessmen closed their doors and observed the ceremony, as eight mules slowly pulled the plow and the railroad management team through the dirt.  The planned route passed by the site of the feed store which the Roaches later opened and west along Mewshaw Street, now West Avenue D., on which they lived.  Plans called for it to cross Duck Creek and head into Dallas along a road that later become Forest Lane.

Yet problems and delays mounted.  The rail supplier fell behind schedule, and the car manufacturer encountered a patent infringement suit.  While Henry Ford produced more car for the money and road paving plans abounded, much of the traction company stock remained unsubscribed, and many investors reneged on their pledges or support.  As attentions focused upon World War I, the principals of the company, none of whom possessed rail-management experience, admitted defeat, and by the close of 1917 declared bankruptcy.  Only eight mules and a plow had pulled through Garland on the Interurban line.

By the time of his death in 1991 at age 93, Haskell L. Roach had accomplished much as a leader in business, civic and financial affairs, but he had never ridden a rapid transit line to Dallas. Although the electric power lines had been built as planned, they had terminated a hundred yards short of his family home and he had completed high school by oil lamplight.  But the traction company stock certificate had been stored in a lock box alongside his Confederate money-just in case.