Connections through ribbons of steel

Posted 1/26/23

At their core, trains, above all else, connect. The long-lived physical connection of the tracks is a common feature for folks in East Texas, and Wood County specifically.

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Connections through ribbons of steel


At their core, trains, above all else, connect. The long-lived physical connection of the tracks is a common feature for folks in East Texas, and Wood County specifically.

There is that physical connection to be sure, but there are also connections through time, connections within families and through generations. Chatting with recent travelers in Mineola Station as they waited to board provided great examples of these special connections through the rails.

On a recent Friday morning, Quitman resident Cynthia Reagan was early at the station, anxious to see her three great-grandchildren again. The three youngsters were in Fort Worth, and in a couple of hours, they along with their mother Angelica and grandmother Christiana would be waiting to greet “Gigi” at Fort Worth station.

For Reagan, the ability to take the train to Fort Worth has been a great aid to her life – which she admitted, revolves much around her great-grandchildren. 

“I try to teach them the meaning of things that I remember from my childhood,” she explained. That included the significance of finding money, nuts and an orange in one’s Christmas stocking.

“The orange is for sharing,” she offered, “the money reminds us that no one comes before God.”

She described how a combination of chronic arthritis and a significant issue with maintaining a sense of direction had made driving to visit family a significant challenge. 

“Last Thanksgiving a friend suggested I take the train, and it has been a real blessing for me,” she explained. 

The bag-full of goodies for Xavier, “Josie” and Kaylee, contained their favorite snack, ‘jigglies’ – small jello treats. Embarking on her second such trip, Reagan usually only stayed away a couple of nights, as she had to get back to tend her chickens.

Shortly before the scheduled arrival time of the Amtrak from Longview, the Neuenswanders  of Lindale – Dean and Marjorie Sue – walked into the station. They were headed to Dallas to pick-up a car which was having major maintenance done on it at a dealership in Dallas. 

While Cynthia Reagan’s railroad connection was future-oriented, the railroad had brought the Neuenswander’s a connection with their past.

They had no history, that they were aware of, with Texas. The two had grown up in California and New York, met in Utah and had lived in Garland while Dean practiced his art as an architect in Dallas.

When the pandemic hit, the two and their teenage son bought a small holding outside of Lindale and headed to East Texas. Dean would work out of the home and commute to Dallas periodically. Once a month he would take the train into Dallas Union Station and then continue to Love Field on the Dallas Area Rapid Transit for his business travel. 

One day, Marjorie Sue received an old photo reproduction and small newspaper clipping from a relative who was researching the family. The clipping was from the Wills Point Chronicle and dated from the late 1800s.     

It stated that Ms. Florence Latham was departing Wills Point on the train for her college studies at Cumberland University. Florence Latham was Marjorie Sue’s grandmother. 

This short clipping and photo were the first and only evidence that her forefathers had ever lived in Texas. Much research followed. Evidently, her great-grandparents – W.A. and Francis Julia Latham – had lived for a ten-year span in Wills Point. 

That fact had remained hidden in part because their time in Texas had started after the 1890 census and they had returned to their native mid-west before the 1900 census.

The Neuenswanders’ discovery prompted much investigation which included a photo of a regal three-story home built by the Lathams in Wills Point. 

The home eventually succumbed to fire, but the connections between the couple and their great-grandparents’ time in Texas continues. “Finding that connection has made Texas a part of me,” Marjorie Sue expressed.    

She marveled at the fact that today she would be traveling over the same ground on a train that her grandmother had traveled as she departed for college.

“It is a tender mercy from the Lord,” she offered. 

The following day, a young family filed into the station. Randy and Francisca Dodd of Sulphur Springs and their children Yahudah, Saya and Megami were embarking on a one-day adventure. 

They were honoring a birthday wish of their son, Yahudah, who would be celebrating his 16th birthday next week. He had requested that the family take a train trip. 

The plan was to take the train to Dallas Union Station, spend the day at the nearby Dallas World Aquarium, and return at the end of the day. Randy Dodd explained that they may plan a train trip further afield – likely to San Antonio – based on how the day’s travel went. 

Appearing at the station a few minutes before the westbound Amtrak on that morning was Evan Thomas, George Brigman and Evan’s mixed-breed companion ‘Cruze’. They had walked over from downtown just to watch the train arrive, as trains were among Evan’s many hobbies.

Evan’s interest in trains was sharpened minutes later when, upon arrival, the train conductor, John Langbein, came down and introduced himself to Evan and chatted a bit about trains. Langbein graciously offered Evan and Brigman to return the following Saturday morning and he would have a memento for the young railroad fan. 

Evan, the son of John and Rhiannon Thomas, was in Mineola as John had just been named pastor of Mineola First Methodist Church. While John is a West Texas native, the family does have East Texas roots, as Rhiannon graduated high school in Lindale. 

Moments later the whistle sounded and new adventures began, some connecting to the past, some reaching into the future and some making new memories of the day.