Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Up the Hill: Memories of Ranger Hill on US-80 and the Bankhead Highway

Old time truckers have many tales of Ranger Hill in the days before Interstate 20 toned things down. It's still quite a hill to climb and there are remnants remaining of the earlier roads that took different, more difficult paths to climb the steep grade.

Ranger Hill really starts in Eastland County at about where IH-20 and SH-16 meet a few miles south of Strawn. It's on the flat plain skirting the lower Palo Pinto Mountains.  For those headed west, the escarpment juts up steeply and is a real barrier to any reasonably straight approach to Ranger and the cities beyond it on the way to Abilene and El Paso. The 300 foot elevation change from the bottom to the top of the hill would have made it almost impossible for use as a wagon road without multiple switchbacks. In times past, Ranger Hill has also been called Thurber Hill, although that usage is not as common today.

Old Road From Strawn to Ranger Pre-1919 ~ No Direct Route From Thurber to Ranger

As far as is known, the earliest main road from Strawn and Thurber followed the Texas & Pacific Railroad as it stayed at water level through Wiles Canyon into what was Tiffin and then Ranger. The Texas and Pacific Coal Co., which owned the coal mines at Thurber and had the oil play around Ranger, seem to have pushed their own privately financed road up across the Hill in about 1919 after which it was taken over by the State Highway Commission as part of SH-1 and the Bankhead National Highway. By this time cars and trucks that could handle the climb were in more common use. 

Ranger Hill From SH-16 to First Crest ~ Click to Zoom
We can see how really steep the Ranger Hill grade is by using the Google elevation display.  Starting at about 1130' above sea level (Almost 600 feet higher than Fort Worth) a sweeping left hand turn ends up about 200' higher in a very short stretch.  Still climbing, it's another 60' to the first crest at 1400' elevation. From this point it levels for a while and then climbs a little more than 100' to about 1530' at the site of the old Ranger Hill Station complex.

Just to the north of the main road is the old US-80/SH-1/Bankhead Highway route that attempts to cut the grade a little by circling wider around a hill and then pushes on up to the 1400' crest point where it rejoins the present highway on the way up.

Ranger Hill Station Today ~ Click to Zoom
For a place that was once known as a welcome landmark on the trip from Fort Worth to points west, Ranger Hill Station looks pretty sad today. However, in its day it was an oasis for those with steaming radiators, flat tires, burned clutches and useless brakes.  A whole community grew up on the Hill, aimed entirely at needy travelers and their vehicles.

The Ranger Hill Community ~ Click to Zoom
The Ranger Hill Station is located about a half-mile up the hill after exiting IH-20 to Ranger. This is the old US-80/Bankhead route. To the west of the station, were other service stations and buildings and shops some of which are in use today for other purposes.

Interestingly enough, it has just recently been announced that much of the area north of Ranger Hill will probably be in the new state park which begins just to the west of Strawn.  

Old Service Station-Now a shop ~ Click to zoom
The station itself had a coffee shop and there were at least two motels to shelter those who got caught at the top of the hill as well as at least one other gas station. There was a well-built field stone motel on the north side across from the station and it also appeared to have a coffee shop in the main building.

Motel Office and sign. Probably a Coffee Shop as Well ~ Click to Zoom
The shells of these buildings and their roofs appear to be in fair shape today. There is no name on what was once a lighted sign.
Stone Motel Office and Cabins ~ Click to Zoom

On the south side of the road to the east of the station and set back a little are the decaying ruins of another motel with cabins. There's no way to know how these might have looked back in their glory days..

Decaying Cabins On South Roadside ~ Click to zoom
Ranger Hill Station and the little service community that grew up around it was the stuff of legends among early truck drivers, oil men, commercial travelers and tourists. It's surprising that there hasn't been a song or two written about the wrecks and near misses and the shady things that may have gone on at the hilltop. Ranger Hill  has faded now, baking in the hot sun or enduring the cold northers, but its a place that ought to be visited before it is no more.

From Ranger.. Looking West ~ Click to Zoom

Once past Ranger Hill Station, it's a few miles into Ranger itself where there are some interesting buildings, some history and  some almost pristine remnants of the old red Thurber brick Bankhead Highway to Eastland......

Another time..

All images from The Electric Books Collection


  1. Great article, and great pictures. Keep up the good work.

  2. Great stuff, Pete. You really found some postcards from the past out there.

  3. Pete, you forgot to mention that just west of the stone cabins (with the Texas Stars imbedded) are the remains of a drive-in theater. It's on the north side of the road (old 80), as I recall across from "Ranger Hill" station. Last time I was by there, rusty old metal lawn chairs were still in place by the projection booth - just waiting for the movie to start.

  4. Pete are you aware of any photos illustrating the grade from bottom to top of the 200' section of Ranger Hill that was contiguous?