Texas Railroad History - Tower 1 - Bowie

A Crossing of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad and the Fort Worth & Denver City Railway

Bowie was originally the site of a construction camp for the Ft. Worth and Denver City (FW&DC) Railroad as it built northward from Ft. Worth toward Wichita Falls in 1882. Local residents began to establish businesses to serve the railroad and eventually voted to incorporate the town in 1884. In 1893, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific (CRI&P) Railway built through town, heading south from El Reno, Oklahoma to Ft. Worth. With two railroads, Bowie quickly became a market and financial center for the region, and had some 2,600 residents by 1900. In 1902, the crossing at Bowie became the site of Tower 1, the first interlocking plant commissioned by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT). Tower 1 was a manned two-story structure authorized for operation on April 17, 1902. Today, the crossing continues to see frequent traffic; the former FW&DC line is operated by Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and the former Rock Island line is operated by Union Pacific.

Above: Google Earth satellite view of the Tower 1 crossing

John Speake, a retired Rock Island employee born and raised "within one mile of the Bowie Tower", provides these historic photos of Tower 1, and comments: "This picture [above left, magnification above right] is at Bowie Tower looking southbound standing on the FW&DC tracks. The person taking it would have had his back to Wichita Falls on the FW&DC. You can see the north end of the 'short transfer' used by northbounds on FW&DC and southbounds on the CRI&P. Rail cars were much shorter at this time but I expect it held 15-20 cars in it."

John describes the photos below..."[below left]...is a northbound Rock Island train heading towards Waurika and points beyond. Notice the overhead bridge of the old highway. You can see the interlocking rods from the tower to the switch and signal running along the south side of the rail. The rear of the train is near the north switch of the 'long transfer'. [Below middle is]...the tower as taken from the south. I have no idea who is in the picture. It clearly shows the steps in the early days (early 20's) as being on the Waurika-El Reno (north) side. When I was a child in the 40's, the steps up to the tower were on the Ft. Worth side. When the tower burned, the steps were on the south side and came down along the CRI&P rail. The door you can see would have been more or less under the steps. The FW&DC is on the left and CRI&P is on the right. [Below right] The person in this picture, which is dated August 1927, is a family friend who has long since died. His name is A. Y. Holiday and he is sitting at the telegraph desk of the tower. This desk was in the southeast corner of the tower next to the FW&DC main on the Ft. Worth side."

Historically, there were two transfer tracks between the railroads at Tower 1, the 'short transfer' southwest of the diamond and the 'long transfer' northeast of the diamond, both mentioned by John Speake in the captions above, but neither remains in place today. John does not recall ever seeing a through train use these transfers, explaining..."I have no recollection of that scenario happening. If a northbound Rock Island train had a car that was destined for a location on the FWD they would put it on the 'long transfer'. If a southbound train (from Waurika) had a car with a destination on the FWD then it would go on the 'short transfer'. My father fed a milk cow at home. Someone would ship a load of syrup in a tank car. It would end up on the transfer track as a load. Some train would come by and take it to its destination for unloading. A week or so later it would end up on the transfer but this time as an empty car with no seal. Dad would get his trusty 5 gallon bucket out and put it under the car spigot and drain the leftovers out of the car. When he got off work he would bring it home and use it on the cow feed as a supplement and, yes, it went on our hotcakes also."

Above Left: John W Barriger III took this photo of Tower 1 from the rear platform of his business car as he passed through Bowie on Rock Island rails sometime in the late 30's or 40's. The view is to the south down the Rock Island toward Ft. Worth. The lettering on the side of the tower simply says "No. 1"; RCT had not yet established tower identification standards. They would subsequently adopt a standard calling for a white rectangular placard with black numerals only (no abbreviation.) (John W Barriger III National Railroad Library) Above Right: The interlocker cabinet that replaced the original tower is visible in the northwest quadrant of the crossing along the ex-Fort Worth and Denver heading northwest toward Wichita Falls to the left. Straight ahead, the ex-Rock Island line disappears to the north toward Waurika, Oklahoma.

In August, 1950, the original Tower 1 burned to the ground. At this time, control of the crossing was changed from a manned operation to an automatic interlocker. Below is a series of photographs taken during the installation of the new interlocker cabinet and cleanup of the fire. These photographs were provided by the The Rock Island Technical Society.

Above Left: A pile of rubble is all that remained of Tower 1 after a disastrous fire in August, 1950. The large piece of metal in the middle of the foundation is the interlocking machine of levers which controlled the signals, switches and derails around Tower 1. John Speake adds "...you can see an old gas station back to the upper left. This station was at one time on the 287 highway between the downtown area of Bowie and right before the highway crossed over both the CRI&P and FW&D tracks. We did not get much hard winter and snows at Bowie but when we did, my father would take a bucket of coal to an elderly lady that lived in this old station. She had no heat or electricity, just a wood stove to cook on. She raised two or three children under these conditions. Behind the signalman's shack you can see the 'long transfer' track that provided interchange for southbound FW&D trains and northbound CRI&P trains. As you can see, it hit the CRI&P main about 50 yards north of the tower and the south end of this track hit the FW&D main about 1/4 mile south of the tower at MP 69." Above Right: The remains of Tower 1 are in the foreground, across from the section shed used for tools and materials for the local maintenance-of-way gang. The small shed to the right of the signal pole was used for motorcars ("speeders") for track inspection and maintenance. John Speake adds that the photo also "shows a Coca-Cola Bottling plant [right edge of photo] that also had a spur to it off the long transfer. The building burned down several years before my time (1940), but as a kid there were old Coke bottles in the building melted with the heat, and some bottles were still unbroken."

Above Left: A Rock Island steam crane (also known as a "big hook") lifts the new automatic interlocker concrete bunker from a gondola car. Above Right: The new bunker is carefully set in place just a few feet from the foundation of the tower.
Above Left: After setting the new bunker, the big hook picks up the old interlocker machine.  Above Right: The old interlocker is lowered into the gondola ultimately to find its way to a scrap yard.
Below: Google Earth satellite view of the Tower 1 crossing

  Robert D. Speake was an operator at Tower 1. He is the father of John Speake, the contributor of the above photographs to the Rock Island Technical Society. John adds "He was leverman-operator at this tower from the early 20's to the day it burned down."

Last Revised: 4/26/2014 JGK   -   Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.