A crossing of the San Antonio & Aransas Pass (SA&AP) Railway and the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway
Facing west, John W Barriger III took this photo from the rear of
his business car as his train passed Tower 3 traveling to Houston
sometime in the 1930s. (courtesy John W Barriger III National
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 reorganized again 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.
In 1887, the San Antonio & Aransas Pass (SA&AP) Railway began a northerly expansion out of its traditional south Texas territory by building a line north from Yoakum with a destination of Waco. The line crossed the GH&SA at Flatonia, which became one of the earliest and busiest rail crossings in Texas. As a rural location which would otherwise not justify a large number of stopping trains, Flatonia was an ideal candidate for a manned interlocking tower due to the high volume of rail traffic. As a result, one of the earliest interlocking control towers, Tower 3, was established at Flatonia on October 9, 1902.
Houston Daily Post, October 10, 1902
Both railroads became part of the Southern Pacific system, and today, both lines continue to see significant traffic under the ownership of Union Pacific. Tower 3 was decommissioned in 1996 and relocated a few tenths of a mile east to a trackside location in downtown Flatonia. Restoration activities began soon thereafter and today, the tower is a historic showcase for the town.
Tower 3 in 1945 [Chino Chapa collection]
Flatonia Viewing Platform
October 2002 saw the opening of the Flatonia Rail Park Photo Pavilion at 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 site of Tower 3. This is a very good place to watch and photograph trains. The Photo Pavilion is very close to the UP's Sunset route (which runs east and west). The other rail lines adjacent to the pavilion are: The Dalsa Cutoff in from the north and the Port Lavaca Branch, which runs south via Victoria and on to Brownsville and Laredo. The Photo Pavilion is open to those who wish to watch trains 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The Pavilion is covered, and is 3'-6" above natural grade. There are over 25 trains in a 24 hour time. All rail lines are in the vicinity are owned by Union Pacific.
Other parts of the Flatonia Railpark include:
Additional Photos, Tower 3
In the distance, the Blue Streak passes by a closed Tower 3 while an empty coal train holds short of the diamond. (Tom Kline photo)
A new interlocker cabin was installed at the Tower 3 crossing on 7/23/96. (Tom Kline photo)
A view of Tower 3 shortly after its
relocation but before renovation
efforts began. Photo by Bill King.
Five Photos by R. J. McKay
The levers in the tower were connected to the rods that ran along the track.
The physical motion of the lever in the tower would be transferred to a field
device that moved. Switch points, semaphore signals and derail devices were
the common field devices moved be the tower levers.
Other Historic Railroad Structures in Flatonia (Tommy Shults photos)
This is an undated photo of the SA&AP passenger depot
with the signboard name "Flatonia Jct." on the end of the depot.
This is a "newer" SA&AP passenger depot still in use by the
Union Pacific as of mid 2003. This structure is located just a
short distance away from the diamond where Tower 3 once stood.
A rail spur off the main is how the SAAP served downtown Flatonia
with freight service. This depot is the SA & AP freight depot. Building
is privately owned, but may be viewed from public property just north
of the UP main on State Hwy. 95.
Satellite Image, Tower 3 Vicinity