Saturday, December 11, 2010

Villa Maria Road, Finfeather, and the North End of Wellborn Road

Historically, for me, the last stretch of Wellborn Road was really neat, but it always carried historic fear, as the only reason to go that way would be going to the pediatric dentist. But the reason I wanted to cover this (originally planned as part of the defunct "Wellborn Way" plan). This post has been going on and off for several years now (it's one of the oldest posts in the collection). As a result, there are some things that are somewhat dated, as well as the overall structure of the post. I've tried and re-tried to rewrite the post but was never able to properly.

After passing the last stoplight for the FM 60 overpass, the road goes through a relatively sharp bend downward, quite noticable at 40 MPH. It also loses the left-hand turn lane, replaced with a median that prevents U-turns. Church Street is on the right, until the mid-2000s or so, it had a distinctive brown street sign with the same font but also a little CS logo (the one that looked like a snail). The font was the same as most of the other street signs, but the brown signs gave it distinction. Today, there's a different brown sign, but I miss the old ones.

The stretch of Wellborn in Bryan was always quite from College Station, rather than the modern paving of the College Station stretch (with its left hand turn lane and stripes), the Bryan paving had redder, older pavement, and Botts dots instead of stripes.

The Old College stoplight was quite old. I like it because of the almost curved pole, and how the green light has kind of has an inner burned orange. It's warmer than those newfangled LED lights, which are as ugly as all get out, at least without the diffusers. I nearly cried in 2012 when I discovered that they WERE replaced with LED lights. There's three apartment complexes. The first is the horrifically tacky Wave's Z Islander, which opened circa 2009.

I'd rather have those trees than Z Islander. By a long shot.

The railroad on the left goes through trees and is at a higher grade than Wellborn. After passing Montauk (leading into a subdivision built roughly at the time of the underpass), you enter the Villa Maria underpass area.

When I went to Blinn (and later, worked at Village Foods), I really did enjoy going under the Villa Maria underpass (west to east). Not that going underpasses is so great, more often than not I'm driving into the sun, and am often stopped at the stoplights, but given my daily commute, it is nice not to be backed up by trains. And when they redid the overpass, they also took out access to Green Road...that blind curve was not fun, especially if someone was turning left out of it.

But I still missed the way it was set up before the construction.

Villa Maria Road and Finfeather was one of the cooler road set-ups that I kind of miss (the admittedly less-exciting North Graham Road is coming up next). I don't have photos to give you justice, but I DO have this aerial photo that was taken in 2004.

As you can see, the two railroads are separated from each other paralleling Wellborn, coming together after the crossing. But to me it was more than that.

(click for higher-resolution)

As you approached Villa Maria from Wellborn, you would just go straight and meet a red barricade blocking a path to the golf course. Going right led you to College Avenue and the Green Street Death Trap™ but going left led you across the two tracks and the Finfeather stoplight, which I believe was a normal stoplight but of the hanging variety.

It was especially cool to me how, despite the large gap of the tracks, if one crossing guard went down, so did the other. The fact that one track was skewed made the effect even cooler.

Unfortunately, what was "cool" wasn't necessarily safe. And due to the very odd position of the tracks (about sixteen feet above the Wellborn level), it was not really safe at all. A train de-railed near the intersection in early 2003 (or 2004), and construction began in late 2004 or early 2005. When it was all over, the result was that Finfeather no longer had direct access to Villa Maria and the gas station at Finfeather and Villa Maria was forced to convert its prices to the electronic style so it could be seen.

Today, it's pedestrian accessible, there are neat graphics on the underpass side (such as the Queen Theater, which was installed long before the Queen was actually restored), and it's a lot safer for pedestrians, trains and automobiles alike.

But back in the day, there was the intersection of Tee Road, and then the stoplight and that red barricade that indicated that Wellborn had come to an end.

I used to believe that the red barricade had blocked off part of Wellborn that once existed long ago.

After all, Wellborn had paralleled the railroad until the county's end, and the space beyond was pretty clear-cut, as if something had been there in the past, and maps showed that Texas Avenue was pretty close to the railroad (this was before Google Maps, mind you). Even though I was wrong (and completely disproved as late as 2009), it was a question I had for years.

One more thing...there was a Citgo on the corner of Finfeather and Villa Maria, originally a 7-Eleven and later an EZ Mart (later renamed EZ For You, keeping the logo intact) which had stores facing the east side, originally a fish market (The Fishman) and later other stores that were never successful (Omar's Upholstery among them). The Citgo eventually became an Exxon as well, but still suffers from poor access. I'm surprised that it's still open and kept up in decent condition...while it's visible from Villa Maria, you'd have to make two rights to get up there.

Finally, just west of the intersection was Doug's Ace Hardware...long before Ace Hardware came to town, there was Doug's Ace Hardware on Villa Maria. In simple block lettering, the store...well, I don't really know a whole lot about it, like when it opened, but I'm thinking the 1980s.

Eventually "Ace" was removed off of the sign. This was long before Ace came into town, and I thought it was a bit underhanded. Then it closed altogether shortly after, circa 2006. It's now Enercon. I never went inside until after it became Enercon.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

[Side Stories] The Disappearing Railroads of Hearne

This post was updated on March 16, 2012, originally named "Hearne: Strippin' The Tracks". Minimal edits were made.
Rebranded as a "Side Stories" on May 8, 2013. No other edits were made, except the promise of more "Hearne stories" was removed.

One of the fascinating things about Hearne in my lifetime is the way they outright got rid of several rails (I knew there used to be more when I was younger!)

Naturally, it was a railroad town, long since the glory days that ended long ago, when Southern Pacific loaded and unloaded cargo. Today trains stop here, but I'm sure that they get more graffiti plastered on them on Hearne than any cargo exchange. So what's changed, even long after 1990 and even the Union Pacific acquisition of SP?

Well, for one thing: it still has a lot of tracks, almost 12 in the downtown area. As you can see in these 2010 and 1995 images (which you can click for full resolution!), you can see that in the heart of downtown, there are so many tracks, there are no at-grade crossings.

But they did remove a lot of tracks between them in the late 1990s or early 2000s. The white part (in 2010) is where tracks were removed:

The most obvious part is the bridge you go over when you enter Hearne from the south. A railroad goes under it. If you kept following this track, becomes the "MoPac Highway" railroad in Austin. But prior to the early 2000s, it was a true triangle with the tracks leading into the distance (I recall it did look pretty neat). Look at the difference between these. One of the "arms" from the "MoPac Highway railroad" is completely gone. You can't go southeast anymore. This could be from the way the trains function nowadays, after all, there is Valley Junction to the west...

...and there's probably this change in Downtown Bryan as well. Here, you can see the 2003 and 2010 pictures.

The railroad splits from a single track further south, but it's the railroad that skews northeast that goes to Hearne.

Finally, Google Earth spies an interesting railyard that seems to have literally gone to junk.

Wow, they had a turntable! My six-year-old self would've loved to see to that...too bad it was never visible from Highway 6.