On the way from Houston to Austin on 290 (my son Ben details some of the problems of the trip here), we kept seeing signs for Giddings. No signs for Austin, which is the capital, after all, but signs for Brenham, Prairie View, and always Giddings. I had never heard of Giddings, and wondered why it was so important that the Texas Highway Dept needed to mention it every few miles, yet were willing to let us just hope we were on the right road to the state capital.
At the Giddings border, we were informed it has about 5,000 people - hard to see how that would impress while in the environs of Houston, eh? The road was lined with gas stations and car dealers for two miles, with blank emptiness behind them. Giddings proper was a nice little town, actually, though at 11pm it was hard to imagine it at its best. As we approached the train tracks we heard the whistle - alarmingly close, actually. I took my foot off the gas, expecting the RR lights to start flashing and the little gate to come down to stop us. Nope.
As we crossed the tracks, Ben and I looked right to see how close this train was. In memories of crisis and surprise things seem more alarming, so the blinding light above the track probably wasn't actually 20 yards away, but more like 50. Still, at the 30mph I expected that a train would be running through town that would be, oh, 3 seconds away. Alarming. Clearing the tracks without incident, I looked in the rearview for the flashing lights. It was quite some time before they started and the gates came down. The train crawled through at about 5mph - ah, the locals would likely know that. Guests from NH - or Romania - would assume wrongly.
Well, no harm done, I guess. But I wondered what was so special about Giddings, to make it such a focus, for no obvious reason.
Golly, it's the county seat. Settled in the late 1800's, and Lutherans, German Lutherans, moved in pretty quickly after. It was actually Wendish Germans - the sort of odd bit of geographic and linguistic information which I keep track of - and they were Missouri Synod Lutherans - the type of odd denominational information I keep track of. The town has a Wendish festival every year. Had I only known.
It was an oil-boom town in the 1980's, which was likely when all the signs went up telling people how close they are to Giddings, but it's shrunk back down again. Hilton Smith, one of my all-time favorite Negro League pitchers, was from Giddings, though I hadn't known that until I looked it up. He is best known for helping Satchel Paige pad his victory statistics: Paige would pitch the first three innings and get credit for the victory, Smith would pitch the final six and get squat.
The Southern Pacific Railroad still goes through Giddings, though. I'm a witness.