Texas HistoryToday in Texas History: First Railroad Locomotive in Texas Arrives

Like so much of the American West, the historic Sherman engine emerged from relative mystery and died unremarked.
December 24, 2021
On Christmas Eve in 1852, the first railroad locomotive was placed in service in Texas.

Like so much of the American West, the historic engine emerged from mystery and died unremarked. Thought to have been built by the Baldwin Company sometime around the year 1837, the locomotive traveled from Massachusetts to Galveston by boat in 1852 after being purchased by the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado (BBBC) Railway.

Eventually named for Texas Revolution veteran Sidney Sherman, who was involved in the construction of the railway, the locomotive was placed in service on December 24. It carried customers under its own steam for the first time in Texas in August 1853.

The railway that the Sherman traveled on was the first in Texas, originally spanning 20 miles of East Texas verdure from Harrisburg to Stafford’s Point.

On top of the fact that steam locomotives were invented in England mere decades earlier, these twenty miles were just the second railway west of the Mississippi. To put it not-so-figuratively, BBBC engineers were exploring uncharted territory, one of a burgeoning number of enterprises trying to adapt a British invention to American topography and distance. So when the company extended the railway past the Brazos River, it needed a creative solution.

The Texan Tumbler

Before eventually building permanent bridges, BBBC engineers built ramps on each bank of the river and used a ferry in the middle. The Sherman would dip down onto the ferry and pick up speed while crossing the river to build up momentum and travel up the ramp on the other bank. As the Texas State Historical Association describes it, this method “prevented efficient operation of the railroad.”

The company wouldn’t build a permanent iron bridge until after the Civil War, which was an inconvenient time for railroads in the South. The company stopped adding new track after 1860, and the Sherman engine was scrapped in 1899.

Though the company was eventually sold, the railroad is now a part of the Southern Pacific transcontinental Sunset Route between New Orleans and Los Angeles. It still carries commercial cargo as well as traveling passengers.


Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.

Get “KB's Hot Take”

A free bi-weekly commentary on current events by Konni Burton.

Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.