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The Hollis and Eastern (H&E) line started life in 1910 as the Wichita Falls, Altus and Hollis (WFA&H) to build a line from Altus, on the Wichita Falls and Northwestern (WN&NW) line that was then being built westward to Wellington, Texas, and a connection with the Fort Worth and Denver Railroad. The next year the WF&NW took over the WFA&H and finished the line from Altus to Wellington. When the WF&NW was leased by the Missouri, Kansas and Texas (MK&T, or Katy) in 1914 (purchased 1922), the Wellington branch was run by the Katy, generally at a loss. During the Great Depression of the 1930s agricultural production was at a low ebb in Oklahoma and elsewhere, but the economy recovered somewhat after 1945, and the line survived.

Nevertheless, in 1958 the Interstate Commerce Commission approved a decision to abandon the branch. A local committee, headed by Claude Brown, a businessman in Duke, Oklahoma, and E. S. Stephens, a railroad promoter from Arkansas, decided that the region could not survive without the railroad. They managed to drum up enough support to buy the thirty-four-mile Hollis-to-Altus section of line from the Katy for fifty-five thousand dollars. To operate this line the Hollis and Eastern was incorporated in 1958. In 1959 the first train was run after the repair of the washed-out bridge across the Salt Fork of the Red River near Altus. Wheat and cotton were the staple traffic of the H&E for many years until the opening of the wallboard plant of Republic Gypsum Company at Duke in 1964. Products of the Duke plant then became the major freight.

In 1971, when majority shareholder E. E. Stephens wanted to sell his holdings in the H&E, the Republic Gypsum Company, anxious to keep the railroad in friendly hands, agreed to purchase his shares. At the close of the twentieth century the H&E existed as a company-owned shortline serving the community as a whole. The successful takeover of an unremunerative branch line from a major railroad company by local interests set an example for many such ventures elsewhere in later years.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Donovan L. Hofsommer, Katy Northwest, The Story of a Branch Line Railroad (Boulder, Colo.: Pruett Publishing Co., 1976).

Augustus J. Veenendaal, Jr.

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