History of the A&TC and the High Iron Ranch

In 1931 while living on Cedar St. in Austin at the age of 13, John Carroll Enders, Sr., received a train set, believed to be O scale. This was the beginning of a hobby that inspired generations of family and friends.

At that time, the Houston & Texas Central railroad was part of the fabric of Austin (though it would merge with the Texas & New Orleans a few years later). This was the inspiration for John to name his personal railroad the Austin & Texas Central.

Starting a family and service during World War II would slow the growth of John’s railroad. After the war, approximately 1948, while living on 53rd St. with his wife, Helen, and daughter, Carolyn, John switched from O scale to HO. The HO layout filled the attic of the house. As his young son John Carroll, Jr., grew, Helen was nervous of Carroll going up and down the pull down attic stairs. So, the layout moved to the garage. Carolyn remembers making trees, trees, and more trees.

In 1956, the family moved to Berkshire Dr and John built a layout that filled the single car garage. Carolyn built lots of little houses and scenery. She had a boyfriend during her senior year of high school (1959-60) that would spend all of his time talking with John about railroading out in the garage.

In about 1961, John sold all of his HO equipment to finance switching to 1″ scale and finished his first live steam steam locomotive, an Atlantic, in 1962. The Atlantic wheel arrangement was featured in John’s HO, 1″ scale, and later in his 1½ scale railraods.

John was able to borrow some land off of Dessau Rd in northeast Austin in 1962 to lay 4¾” gauge track. The track was made of angle iron. In time the owner of the property asked John to leave as he wished to run livestock on his property.

John again found land to borrow near Onion Creek in 1964. This location became known as the Gravel Pit as it was part of the quarry that was used to build Bergstrom Air Force Base. On this site, John laid 4¾” track, but would later expand it to 7½” as he switched scales again to 1½” scale. John’s first 1½” scale locomotive, again an Atlantic, was completed in August of 1969.

In 1972, John and Helen purchased 5 acres outside of Manor for a permanent home for his railroad. He named this the Hi Iron Ranch.

The golden spike ceremony for the railroad took place in 1974. The railroad grew to a 2600′ mainline in a figure eight with passing sidings, a large yard, and turntable with steaming bays. Over the years, the A&TC railroad would host countless meets for the Southwestern Live Steamers, especially the Spring Meet each year in late April.

Finally, John decided he was no longer able to physically maintain his railroad. One Christmas, Carroll’s wife Becky Jane (BJ) and children Chuck, Beckey, Hollie, and Lacy pooled their resources to buy rail from John as a present for Carroll and his Texoma & North Texas Railroad. BJ’s father Eugene Youree also purchased some track from John. Eventually, BJ and Carroll purchased all of the remaining track, rail, ties, switches, and water towers. The property was sold in August of 2003 and John passed away in 2008. The old roadbed is still clearly visible in aerial views of the property.

John’s grandson Stephen Balkum is making sure the legacy of the Austin & Texas Central continues. In 2003 Stephen asked and received John’s blessing to continue the use of the ranch and railroad names as his own. Stephen and his wife Lori live on 20 acres of native forest northeast of Austin, the new High Iron Ranch. Stephen has been very active in the hobby and the Southwestern Live Steamers his entire life and is building a railroad to bring live steam back to Central Texas.