While looking through my Katy Railroad information looking for my file on railroad robberies last week, I came across some interesting information about the roll that Texas onions played in popularizing meals served on the Katy trains along with the recipe for the Onion Soup that anyone who tasted it back when the passenger trains still were operating would like to have.
The industrial agricultural development department in Texas had learned that a lot of land in North Texas was suitable to grow onions and had attempted to interest farmers in this area to try raising onions.
About that time the Great Depression was coming to an end and the railroad was picking up business as the economy improved. Business was getting better, according to a message by the Katy’s President Matthew S. Sloan published in “The M-K-T Employes’ Magazine in September 1935.
Sloan and other Katy officials had just returned from a six week trip through a large part of the Katy’s territory, to Mexico and points in the west, and he was touting the importance of a good reputation with the people the railroad was serving or wanting to serve. Sloan said he saw signs of an interesting traffic volume as a boost for the railroad.
For two months only, fares were reduced to points north, east and west, with liberal stopovers and air conditioning travel in convenient, comfortable, luxurious cars possible.
At the same time T.T. Turner, superintendent of the Katy dining service, had decided to do his part to popularize onions grown in Texas. He reasoned that since the Katy was developing a new industry and having some success – at the same time generating onion distribution business - he needed to find ways to patronize some of these onion shippers and use some of the home grown onions in the Katy’s dining cars.
He knew that some people liked onions fried, boiled or raw, especially on hamburgers, but he wanted something different. Finally he hit upon a plan to serve a special onion soup on board the Katy’s dining cars.
An article in that September 1935 Katy Employes’ Magazine compared onions to the little girl who “when she was good, she was very, very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid.”
So Turner began carefully training chefs and stewards in the fine art of coaxing all the goodness possible out of the lowly onion and into the soup. In fact, he wouldn’t serve the onion soup until it was perfect and a compliment to the dining cars’ cuisine. It wasn’t until then that the soup was added to the menu. That’s why the Katy’s onion soup was said to be a joy to the palate and regarded by patrons as “a glorification of the lowly onion.”
When it first appeared on the menu, there were very few takers. Little by little, however, its fame grew to a point that 90 out of every 100 Katy travelers asked particularly for Katy Onion Soup. In the beginning, when prompted to try some, patrons were a little wary of onion soup. Its fame began to spread even beyond the confines of Katy Territory and personnel received as many as 12 requests a day for the recipe.
Turner gave out the recipe, but said that because as much emphasis was placed on how the soup was made as upon the ingredients that went into it, he couldn’t guarantee that everyone who made the soup would make it taste like the Katy’s. He pointed out that the ingredients could be changed a little to suite the personal palate and that the soup was very simple to prepare.
I know by now that readers possibly are tasting onion soup, so here’s the recipe published in 1935 by the Katy Railroad dining service.
Katy Onion Soup
“First, select good Texas onions and slice them into one-eighth inch cubes. Then sauté them in butter until they are a light brown. Then place them into a chicken broth (Any broth will do, but a rich chicken stock gives the finished product a certain delectableness not otherwise possible.)
“Next comes a stock of parsley and some bay leaves and ‘just the right amount of garlic’, and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.
“After boiling for 20 minutes remove the parsley and the soup is ready to serve.”
The recipe says to pour the soup over croutons or slices of Melba toast then add grated Parmesan or regiano cheese. Since the cheese adds a certain something, Turner recommended serving a dish of extra freshly grated cheese along with the soup.
Turner said that those who follow the recipe religiously and experiment with pinches and dashes of this and that, and leave nothing whatever to chance will, provided they have the certain something that was a natural attribute only of a master chef, be able to turn out the Katy Onion Soup.
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Coincidentally, in this same magazine was a death notice for Pat H. Tobin, 84, who had died on Aug. 17, 1935. Tobin is remembered as a young man in 1872 who piloted the first Katy train across Red River on into Denison. He was helping build the track when those in charge wanted to send a work train on in to town to be sure the rails were in good order. This was on Christmas Eve, 1872, the day before the first passenger train was to arrive.
Tobin again piloted a Katy train into Denison in a 60th anniversary celebration of the first train’s arrival in Texas and to Denison.
He was connected with the Katy for many years until he quit to enter the ice manufacturing business, the Crystal Ice Co., in the 100 block East Woodard. According to the article, he was the patentee of a re-icing car that the Katy used in Denison and Parsons, KS for many years. He also established many ice manufacturing plants in Texas and Oklahoma. He remained the active manager after the Crystal Ice acquisition by the Southern Ice Company until a few years before his death.
In his later years he worked for the city, helping build Randell Lake. He also established the first cotton compress here and in other cities. He was a member of the company operating the first refrigerated railroad cars in the Southwest and built a cold storage plant in Denison that was one of the largest in the country in 1935.
Funeral was held at his home and city hall closed during the funeral.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.