Texas (Part Two)

Monday 15 April – Space Center Houston

I visited this very popular science museum which has enough exhibits to occupy a whole day.

A highlight of the whole holiday for me was a visit to the Apollo Mission Control which has been restored beautifully. They ran replays on the screens of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the “one small step”, and finally the splashdown.

Another important exhibit is a Saturn V rocket. This one is made of unused parts from the cancelled Apollo 18, 19 and 20 missions.

The massive rocket was displayed in the open air for many years and suffered severe corrosion damage until 2000 when they built this shed and did a lot of restoration work. You can see below a piece of corroded metalwork which was replaced. I suppose when you’re designing a single-use disposable rocket, long term weather resistance is not a high priority!

Next, the space shuttle and Boeing 747. The shuttle here is a never flown mockup used for astronaut training, the 747 is the one actually used for test flights and for transporting shuttles between landing and launch sites. (And also for the European goodwill tour when I saw it fly over Altrincham back in 1983.) I could go inside both the shuttle and the jumbo.

Inside the cargo bay:

Finally, a SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage reusable rocket which was used for two missions before being retired:

This is one of the landing legs:

Tuesday 16 April

Houston’s 1940 Air Terminal is exactly what it says. A new terminal was built on the other side of the Airport in 1955 after which use of the art deco terminal built in 1940 declined and it was eventually abandoned. Fortunately it was not demolished and has been saved for preservation.

Unfortunately there is only one staircase so fire regulations prevent public access upstairs. I’m sure a visit to the control tower would enhance the visitor experience. Inside the building is an interesting collection of airline memorabilia going back over seventy years, and outside on the apron they have a Lockheed Lodestar, a contemporary of the more well known Douglas DC-3:

In downtown Dallas there were more trams to ride:

Wednesday 17 April

While studying the internet to plan the next leg of my Texan travels I came across the small town of Wharton and its 20th Century Technology Museum. Here I found an amazing collection of all sorts of 20th century technology:

Also in the same building is the Wharton County Historical Museum. Less interesting to me personally but still a very good collection covering the history of the area from the Mexican war onwards. The museums were originally created as the result of the philanthropy of a local oil magnate; one room displays the trophies from a three year round the world hunting trip he went on. Here’s just one wall:

Thursday 18 April

The San Antonio River Walk is a section of the San Antonio river where it passes through the city. Both sides of the river have been converted to walkways, and various flower beds and art installations have been added.

The authorities put a lot of effort into maintaining the river walk, I saw this boat “trawling” for rubbish:

The main reason for tourists to come to San Antonio is, of course, the Alamo:

Quite a bit of construction work was under way here, with parts of the site inaccessible:

Next, the Tower Of The Americas for some good views of the city:

Friday 19 April

The cave system at Natural Bridge Caverns was only discovered in the early 1960s. It soon became a tourist attraction. I went for a tour of beautiful caves and passageways, just a small part of the system:

Here is the natural bridge after which the caverns are named, and below it the entrance to the caves:

Saturday 20 April

The Texas Steam Train Association operate excursion trains along a line north of Austin. They don’t actually have an operational steam engine at the moment, so my ride on the Hill Country Flyer was powered by a relatively modern diesel:

At the far end is the little town of Burnet where the passengers scattered in search of lunch or shopping. I failed to find an open bar but had some traditional Texas barbecue (and a beer) at Warehouse BBQ:

Sunday 21 April

Austin is the state capital of Texas, and the capitol building is well worth a visit. After passing through security you are free to wander around this impressive building, which is still very much in use by the state government.

The Supreme Court of Texas:

The hinges on the door to the supreme court:

The House of Representatives:

Monday 22 April

As my holiday drew to a close it occurred to me that I had seen lots of America’s long freight trains but I hadn’t taken many pictures of them, so I called in to Saginaw Rail Park in Fort Worth to do a bit of train watching. Only two trains passed while I was there, the first one had five locos:

And with that, five weeks of holiday drew to a close. My time in the USA has been very enjoyable, but I think I need a rest now!

Here are some statistics for the 38 day holiday:

  • Rail miles: 3,195
  • Road miles: 1,128
  • Photographs taken: 900
  • Bars visited: 56

If you would like to see details of all the bars and breweries I visited in Texas, click here.

Texas (Part One)


The base for the Texas part of my holiday was the pleasant town of Denton located about 40 miles north of Dallas.

Denton’s oldest house:

Denton has its own rail service, the “A-Train” is a little diesel service that runs 20 miles to connect with Dallas’ light rail.

Monday 08 April

On this momentous day we headed to Carrollton, another small town in the Dallas area, where we joined the eclipse party at Three Nations Brewing.

The weather, a solid grey overcast at one point, cleared and we sat in bright intermittent sunshine as first contact arrived. Was the weather going to be kind?

It got darker and darker, and then came the eclipse, to a chorus of gasps and cheers.

Eclipse picture by Howard R Wheeler on Unsplash

Yes, we saw it all, diamond ring, prominences, Venus and Jupiter and finally after what seemed like ages but was actually four minutes, another diamond ring and the sun was back, gradually getting brighter again.

I can’t find the words to describe this amazing experience. Now I understand what all the eclipse chasers I met on the train from Los Angeles were talking about. Egypt 2027 anyone?

Wednesday 10 April

One can’t visit Dallas without seeing the site of the Kennedy assassination. The museum was quite interesting, with lots of stuff about the man himself, the assassination and subsequent events. Possibly due to the Eclipse bringing in lots of visitors, it was ticket holders only today. Fortunately we had booked on the website yesterday.

Visitors can look out from close to the actual window on the sixth floor. If you look carefully in this picture you can see an X painted on the road.

Outside, you can see the grassy knoll. I was a little disappointed to see a stream of Americans dodging the traffic to be photographed laughing and waving, posing on the X.

Time to take the light rail towards home.

Thursday 11 April

The next part of the holiday was an extensive exploration of Texas.

The pleasant town of Palestine, TX has some good looking old houses and an impressive county court building:

Friday 12 April

The Texas State Railroad is a heritage railway that runs excursions for twenty-five miles between Palestine and Rusk. The railway was originally built by the state using prison labour in order to transport iron ore to a smelter also operated by prisoners.

Today’s trip was powered by number 400, a 2-8-0 built by Baldwin and dating from 1917.

They have a number of other locos including this beautiful pair of FP9As:

I had booked for the open-air coach, it was lucky the rain of a couple of days ago had cleared.

Also in the train was this beautiful dome car, I’m guessing it dates from the 1940s:

The far end, at Rusk, is too far from the town for a visit so just a pleasant place for a picnic before rejoining the train. The station here, and the one at Palestine, were constructed for the tourist train operation.

Saturday 13 April

On the move again, towards Houston, I called in at the little railway museum at Rosenberg:

On arrival at Houston I was rather excited to see that the view from my motel room included the tail fin of a space shuttle!

Sunday 14 April

The Galveston Railroad Museum has a very impressive collection and is located in the former Santa Fe station on Galveston Island.

Amongst the indoor exhibits is an amazing collection of railway crockery and glassware, here’s just a small sample:

I took a short ride on the end platform of this caboose hauled by a diesel shunter made in 1958:

Galveston is a town in two parts, first there is Historic Downtown, a tourist trap for passengers from the cruise liners that dock nearby. (There were two there today.) It is full of shops and bars, frustratingly I drove here so no pub crawl.

Then a short tram ride away (It’s a diesel powered modern replica.) is the beach, a proper seaside place in the style of Blackpool. Needless to say, I had fish and chips for lunch here, although in an attempt to stay local I actually had catfish and chips, which was very good.

In between the beach and downtown I saw lots of attractive buildings:

This imposing building with a rather brutal exterior is the Post Office and Courthouse and was built in 1937:

More from Texas in Part Two…

Los Angeles

My USA excursion continued in Los Angeles:

Saturday 30 March

The weather was cold and wet this morning as I started just round the corner from my hotel, at the Angels Flight funicular. There didn’t seem to be much of interest at the top, I couldn’t really see any reason for its existence. Perhaps it would be more attractive if the rain stopped!

I dodged the weather with a short trip on the metro and then a long tram ride to Santa Monica.

When I arrived the rain had finished so I took a stroll onto the famous pier which marks the symbolic end of Route 66.

In the cold weather no one was on the beach:

With the weather slightly improving, I headed back to Los Angeles and the place everyone has to visit, Hollywood Boulevard. The stars in the pavement go on for miles (literally) so here’s just one picture of a random sample:

This star will become more relevant later in the holiday:

I noticed the underground station at Hollywood and Vine has a ceiling decorated with film spools:

Sunday 31 March

Another long tram ride saw me in a cold and wet Long Beach, where I quickly headed for the shelter of the Queen Mary. The art deco glory of thus museum/hotel/tourist attraction has been beautifully restored, and I took a fascinating guided tour:

Monday 01 April

On a much sunnier day I headed out to La Brea to visit the tar pits, an interesting museum and park. The pits there now are the result of asphalt extraction a hundred years ago, and are mostly full of dirty oily water with the occasional bubble of gas breaking the surface.

The pits have been and still are a great source of fossils of the many animals that became trapped in the tar. To give an idea of the quantity of fossils recovered, this wall in the museum displays about 500 wolf skulls. The wolves fed on other trapped animals but occasionally got stuck themselves.

In my continuing search for breweries (See my pub blog here.) I next caught the metro and then a tram to Chinatown, where I particularly liked the Chinese-style station:

Tuesday 02 April

An early start found me back at the beautiful Union Station for another Amtrak train ride, on the Pacific Surfliner to San Diego.

The Santa Fe station at San Diego is also beautiful:

My main target in San Diego was the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier commissioned in 1945 and decommissioned in 1992. In its new role as a museum it welcomes more than a million visitors a year.

I can only show a few of the many aircraft and other exhibits from the massive collection here:

The ship was equipped with all sorts of radio equipment:

Air traffic control:

Pilots briefing room:

Having spent a large amount of time in this really good museum, I moved on to the nearby maritime museum. Unusually, the small exhibits are displayed on one floor of Berkeley, a former San Francisco steam ferry dating from 1898:

Moored around the Berkeley are a collection of historic vessels, all of which you can board and explore.

The museum also provides trips around the bay on this 110 year old pilot boat:

There is lots to see on the trip:

Wednesday 03 April

For my last day in Los Angeles I headed up to the Griffith Observatory, found on Mount Hollywood, a very popular place to view the most famous sign in the world:

There are also good views over Los Angeles from here:

The observatory itself is well worth a visit. Built in the 1930s it is an impressive building and contains lots of interesting exhibits as well as a planetarium. On a sunny Wednesday during school holidays it was very busy.

A brief mention of the rather good cafe here, which had a method of operation I’d not seen before: You serve your own food – I had chilli and rice – and at the till you pay for it by weight.

Next, a rather longer train journey. I left Los Angeles Union Station at 22:00 on the Texas Eagle for a 38 hour, 1,700 mile trip to Fort Worth.

Dawn saw us in Arizona:

A chance to photograph the locos at Tucson, AZ:

Approaching El Paso, TX, we could see “Trump’s fence”:

At El Paso I texted my brother who was meeting me in Fort Worth to say “I must be nearly there because I’m in Texas”. Of course, there was another twenty-four hours of travel to go! The pause here was a chance to view the station building, and watch a very long freight train overtake us – The picture shows two locos in the middle of the train.

Trains at El Paso are met by Juanita the “Burrito Lady” who has been selling her food here for many years. She was even mentioned on the train announcements as we approached. I had a very tasty beef and bean burrito and a bottle of pop for only $5.

The next day we paused at Temple, TX for another photo opportunity, note that we had a different loco and some different carriages after shunting at San Antonio. They have a small collection of historic trains here:

My holiday continues in Texas …