Texas Railroad History - Tower 3 - Flatonia

A Crossing of the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway and the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railway

Above: Facing west along the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio tracks, John W Barriger III took this photo from the rear of his business car as his train passed Tower 3 traveling to Houston, likely in the 1930s. (John W Barriger III National Railroad Library.)

Prior to the Civil War, the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado (BBB&C) Railroad built westward from Harrisburg to Alleyton, a town on the east bank of the Colorado River near Columbus. After the war, the BBB&C bridged the river but proceeded no further due to financial problems. In 1868, the BBB&C was sold to various investors to pay off construction debts and other judgments. In 1870, it was re-sold and then reorganized by Thomas Peirce who amended the charter and renamed it the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway. In 1873, the GH&SA resumed construction westward toward San Antonio, passing near an existing settlement known as Flatonia. The citizens of Flatonia moved their houses and businesses one mile northwest to the GH&SA tracks and the new town was incorporated in 1875. Two years later, the San Antonio & Aransas Pass (SA&AP) Railway began a northerly expansion out of its original south Texas territory by constructing a line north from Yoakum toward Waco. The tracks crossed the GH&SA at Flatonia. To control this junction, Tower 3 was authorized for operation by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) on October 9, 1902.

Above: These images supplied by DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University, show the "Manipulation Chart" and the "Lock and Dog Sheets" for the interlocker control levers in Tower 3 as of August 14, 1902, two months before the tower became operational. These drawings would have been incorporated into operator training materials, and were probably posted somewhere inside the tower near the levers. Operating a 24-lever manual interlocker was a non-trivial endeavor.

Southern Pacific (SP) had acquired the GH&SA in 1881 as part of its plan to develop a southern transcontinental route, ultimately known as the Sunset Route. SP saw increasing freight traffic between the midwest and Los Angeles, but trains originating in Memphis or St. Louis had to go south all the way to Houston before turning west on the Sunset Route toward San Antonio and Los Angeles. SP sought a way to shorten this route and to avoid the traffic bottleneck in Houston. The solution involved the SA&AP tracks into Flatonia. Approximately 40 miles north of Tower 3, the SA&AP went through the town of Giddings. In 1914, SP's Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) railroad built 39 miles between Giddings and the Brazos River, and bridged the river into Stone City on the east bank. SP also acquired the Hearne & Brazos Valley (H&BV) Railroad, a short line that ran 16 miles from Stone City to Hearne. Since Hearne was a major junction on H&TC's Dallas / Houston main line, trains leaving Dallas for San Antonio and points west no longer needed to go all the way south to Houston to reach the Sunset Route. Instead, this new Dallas - San Antonio ("Dalsa") Cutoff allowed southbound trains to veer southwest at Hearne to Stone City, cross the Brazos River, travel 39 miles to Giddings, and proceed south on the SA&AP to reach the Sunset Route at Flatonia. Saving a full day versus transiting through Houston, the Dalsa Cutoff via Tower 3 became SP's priority connection for fast trains between the midwest and Los Angeles. Thwarted by legal proceedings in an earlier attempt, SP finally acquired SA&AP in 1925. Today, all of these lines are under the ownership of Union Pacific (UP) and they continue to see significant traffic through Flatonia and the Dalsa Cutoff. Tower 3 was decommissioned in 1996 and relocated to a trackside location in downtown Flatonia. Restoration activities began soon thereafter and today, the tower is a historic showcase for the town.

Houston Daily Post, October 10, 1902
Tower 3 shortly after its relocation
(Bill King photo)

Above: Tower 3 in 1945 (Chino Chapa collection) Above: Tower 3 was relocated to downtown Flatonia, adjacent to the former SP main line. An extensive renovation was completed and now the tower is open for public tours. (Google Street View, May 2016)
Above: A new interlocker equipment cabinet was installed at the Tower 3 crossing on July 23, 1996. (Tom Kline photo)  Above: The Blue Streak comes off the Dalsa Cutoff and onto the Sunset Route westbound past the abandoned Tower 3 as an empty northbound coal train holds short of the diamond. (Tom Kline photo) 

Below: four photos by R. J. McKay

Tower 3, 6/16/74   Tower 3, February 1980

Flatonia Rail Park Pavilion

Right and Below: October 2002 saw the opening of the Flatonia Rail Park Pavilion near the original location of Tower 3. The new platform, which is handicap accessible, is located on land owned by the City of Flatonia and is diagonally across the diamond from the original site of Tower 3. The Pavilion is close to the UP Sunset Route and Dalsa Cutoff, and is covered, making it an excellent spot to watch trains in all weather. (Tommy Schults photos.)         

Above: The connection between the Dalsa Cutoff and the Sunset Route crosses Main St. at grade adjacent to the Pavilion. Behind the first grade crossing is a second one, for the SA&AP line from Yoakum to Giddings.
(Google Street View July, 2011)

Other Historic Railroad Structures in Flatonia (Tommy Shults photos)


the SA&AP passenger depot (no longer standing) with the signboard "Flatonia Jct." on the end   This is a newer vintage SA&AP passenger depot that was located a short distance away from the diamond where Tower 3 once stood. It is no longer standing.   This SA&AP freight depot in downtown Flatonia was served by a rail spur off the main line. It is no longer standing.  

Above: The former GH&SA main line runs east / west across this image of the Tower 3 site. The former SA&AP line crosses on a generally NNE / SSW heading. The tower was in the southeast quadrant of the diamond. Note the Flatonia Railfan Photo Pavilion marked on the northwest side of the crossing (with "Pavillion" misspelled.) Below: A slightly larger context shows the Tower 3 crossing at far left and the location of the relocated Tower 3 structure marked with the blue-green bubble at far right. The tower now sits 0.4 miles east of its former location. (Google Earth)

Last Revised: 2/26/2022 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Webmaster.