The Railroad — Frisco’s MotherJan 01, 2016 ● By Bob Warren
First, I will explain how the railroad actually “gave birth” to the town in the year 1902. That year, the Frisco railroad completed a rail line from Denison to Carrollton. The trains were powered by thirsty steam engines that needed water every 25 or 30 miles, so the railroad built a dam on Stewart Creek that created a large lake. They built a depot and decided to start a town. Land was purchased from a cotton farmer, Frances Emerson, and the Blackland Townsite Corporation was hired to draw up plans for the town. From those plans, lots were sold at a two-day auction, and the village we know today as Frisco was born. Giving birth to Frisco was only the first of many motherly acts we can credit to the Frisco railroad.
Being a railroad town, Frisco soon attracted businesses and residents from the nearby villages of Lebanon and Little Elm. Doctors, merchants, barbers and even a banker (“Spot Cash Rogers” from Hillsboro) relocated to the new town. Fourteen houses were rolled here on logs from Lebanon. One of those homes is now Randy’s Steakhouse, located on Main Street. It even bears a state historical marker telling of its rich heritage.
The new village needed a name. It was first called “Emerson” for the former landowner, but when an application was submitted for a post office in that name, the U.S. Postal Service refused it, saying the name was too similar to that of a town in Lamar County. The people then voted to name their town “Frisco City” for its mother, the Frisco railroad, but the postmaster vetoed that idea. He said, “That’s too long. We’ll just call it ‘Frisco.’” So, Frisco it is!
For years, the railroad unintentionally provided a great deal of entertainment for the town’s people. For example, in those early days, when trains were still a novelty to people around here, two passenger trains came through Frisco each day — one from the north and one from the south. One of the favorite pastimes, for those with little else to do, was to gather at the depot in their buggies and Model Ts, chat and meet the train to see who was coming to or leaving town.
The railroad’s lake became the town’s water park. It was in and around that lake that we fished, swam, hunted and trapped. The spillway furnished its own part of the fun. When it was wet, it was our water slide. We sat in an old dishpan and went sailing down, splashing into the pool below, and it was free. Sadly, all of that fun came to a halt when the railroad switched from steam to diesel engines. The dam was blasted and the lake was drained, which ended our water park.
Even before the diesels came, some of our teenage boys had found another swimming hole. It was in the open-topped, elevated tank from which the steam engines got their water. Often, under the cover of darkness, the boys shed their clothes, climbed the tank’s ladder and dove in for a nice cool swim. It all went swimmingly, until one night, the boys brought soap and lathered up, taking their Saturday night baths. The next day, when the steam engine filled its tank with soapy water, it stalled about a mile up the tracks. It seemed that the soapy water did not make good steam. That problem brought the stationmaster to action. He put a halt on the bathing by pouring black oil on the surface of the tank’s water. The next night, when the boys dove in the water, they came up covered in oil. They had to go to the gin yard across the tracks, pull cotton from cotton bales and spent about an hour swabbing the oil from their bodies before they could don their clothes and go home to take another bath.
So, another bit of fun was nipped in the bud. However, the railroad continued to have its positive influence on the growing town. It gave us Mayor Harold Bacchus (the stationmaster who oiled the water). He was elected mayor and served the town well from 1966 to 1977. It was during his tenure, while the town’s population was only about 1,600 people, that he and a very visionary council set a protective boundary around Frisco by annexing a 10-foot strip around a 100-square-mile area.
Then, in the early 1960s, when the still small town was desperately in need of some industry, the railroad came to the rescue with a significant gift. Some of the town’s citizens, namely Dr. Erwin Pink, Bill Christie and Benton Staley, flew, in Mr. Christie’s private plane, to St. Louis, Mo., one Sunday morning. They went, unannounced, to the home of the Frisco Railroad’s CEO and asked him to donate the 100 acres where the no-longer-used lake was located. They explained how badly the land was needed in order to bring industry to Frisco. After listening to their appeal, the CEO said something to the effect of, “Anybody who has the guts to come to my home on Sunday morning and ask for that land, I’m just going to give it to you.”
The land was soon donated to Gould Battery Company so they would build a battery recycling plant. Gould broke ground for the plant in 1964, and it soon became the city’s largest employer. For years, Gould was the biggest benefactor for our school and community needs.
The Frisco railroad mothered the city again in recent times by allowing the city to adopt the railroad’s logo. To fully appreciate that gift, you need to know how the logo came to be. Sometime in the early days of the fledgling Frisco Railroad Company, the system was small enough that the president of the company personally made occasional inspection visits to the depots along the line. On one of those trips, he visited a depot in a small Missouri town, and as he toured the property with the stationmaster, he found some raccoon skins tacked to the baggage room wall. The employee was also a trapper, and he had found what he thought was a great place to dry and tan his hides. He cringed in fear for his job as the president stopped to inspect the coonskins, without saying a word. It was sometime later that the railroad announced its new logo, one shaped just like a coonskin drying on the depot wall.
Now, the railroad’s mothering influence continues, as Frisco has become the site of the American Railroad Museum. The museum outgrew its site at Dallas Fair Park, and Frisco, being a city born of a railroad, makes the perfect home for this great institution. Frisco’s depot is long gone, and passenger trains no longer come here, but the busy railroad is still a part of the city. We old-timers sometimes miss hearing the steam engine’s lonesome whistle and the diesel’s loud horn. They have been silenced to make our lives more peaceful, but there is no way to silence the memories of the railroad, Frisco’s mother.