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Motor Carriers and Buses
The commission regulated railroads, buses, and trucks
The Railroad Commission was also at the forefront of regulating another emerging industry in the 1920s. In that decade, trucks began to challenge the railroads as carriers of commodities, and buses became important for passenger travel. As with the early days of the railroads, some of these vehicles were unsafe or being piloted by unqualified drivers. In 1927 and 1929, the Texas legislature gave regulatory authority over trucks and buses to the Railroad Commission. The commission handled the certification of truck and bus companies to do business in Texas and enforced rates for both shipping and passenger traffic.
With the advent of federal deregulation of the motor carrier industry in the 1990s, these responsibilities changed and were transferred to the Texas Department of Transportation.
Coal mining in Thurber, Erath County
Texans have mined coal for personal use since frontier times, but the commercial exploitation of Texas coal began in the 1880s. The coal mining industry reached a peak around World War I, then entered a long slow decline due to competition from oil. Interest in the mining of lignite (a low-grade coal) revived several times, first in the 1950s, then again in the 1970s. The 1970s also saw a significant upsurge in uranium mining. With these trends causing public concern, the legislature in 1975 gave the Railroad Commission regulatory authority over surface mining and the reclamation of mined land. The commission also administers federal programs related to surface mining.
After World War II, the commission got tough on railroads about segregation laws
A dark chapter in American history also touched the Railroad Commission. Beginning in 1891, the commission was responsible for enforcing so-called “Jim Crow” laws, which mandated the separation of African Americans from other passengers. In 1910 and 1911, the Texas legislature passed laws further dictating that railroad companies also had to provide separate waiting rooms and ticket counters for African-American passengers.
Not only in Texas, but across the South, African Americans had to ride in railway cars that were almost always inferior to those provided for whites. The cars were generally located right behind the locomotive and head-end cars, the noisiest, dirtiest part of the train. When cars were upgraded to electric lights and steam heat, blacks got the coal stoves and oil lamps; when cars were upgraded to include air-conditioning, blacks got the old cars with open windows. The black cars often lacked adequate bathroom facilities, and unlike the white cars, there were no reserved seats. A few railroads provided a dining car for their African-American passengers, but in most cases blacks had to eat behind a curtain next to the kitchen or simply bring something on board to eat at their seats.
After World War II, when the legal doctrine of “separate but equal” came under increasing attack in the courts, many railroads wanted to eliminate the Jim Crow cars as an unnecessary and controversial expense. Documents in the Historic Railroad Files of the Railroad Commission document the fact that Texas was adamant that Jim Crow cars continue to be used in the state. Other state agencies were also involved. In El Paso, at least, Texas Rangers sometimes boarded trains entering the state to make sure that black passengers were in the Jim Crow cars. It was not until the 1960s that court challenges finally overturned segregation in railroads and other public facilities in Texas.
For more on the railroads and segregation in Texas, visit our Forever Free site.