Texas Railroad History - Tower 6, Tower 66 and Tower 196 - El Paso Union Depot

Crossing of the El Paso & Southwestern and the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio railroads

Tower 6 was the first railroad tower in the El Paso area; authorization for operation was granted by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) on January 23, 1903. It was located at the west edge of town where the El Paso & Southwestern (EP&SW) Railroad and the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway, a Southern Pacific (SP) property, entered El Paso on parallel tracks. EP&SW would eventually become owned by SP, but in 1903, the railroads were not under common ownership. This fact mandated an interlocking tower for their west El Paso junction. Tower 6 was located west of El Paso Union Depot, south of the tracks. Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of the early 1900s do not fully cover this part of El Paso, so the precise location is undetermined. But photos of the tower exist from which the location can be reasonably estimated.

Above and Below: The John W. Barriger National Railroad Library provided the original digital photographs from which these two images are created. Both images face west with the EP&SW tracks heading left and the SP tracks veering to the right.

Tower 6, from page 38,
Southern Pacific in Color
by David R. Sweetland
[Morning Sun Books, Inc., 1993]
photo by Marvin H. Cohen

The growth of traffic through Union Depot motivated an additional interlocking to be constructed to control the east entrance to the depot area. On April 23, 1906, a proposal was submitted to RCT to build a new tower for the "east end of the El Paso Union Depot grounds". The proposal was accepted, and the newly designated Tower 66 was constructed and placed in service on November 8, 1906. Unfortunately, the design of the interlocking created more problems than it solved. After only six days of operation, Mr. H. J. Simmons, General Manager of El Paso Union Depot, wrote a letter to RCT requesting modifications to Tower 66, explaining that El Paso Union Depot had "experienced great delays to train and switching movement since the inauguration of the interlocking." This letter is in the Tower 66 file at DeGolyer Library, but there is no follow-on correspondence to explain whether any changes were made. At the time Tower 66 was placed in service, the interlocking plant was in a 40-lever frame containing 15 levers dedicated to 22 switches and 10 locks, 7 levers controlling 12 facing point locks, and 15 train signals controlled by 15 separate levers. This totaled 37 levers with 3 spares in the frame.

Tower 66
Unlike Tower 6, Tower 66 can be found on the 1908 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of El Paso, a portion of which is reproduced below. Tower 66 is the rectangle in the upper left corner of the map between the EP&SW tracks (upper) and the GH&SA tracks (lower), close to the intersection of San Francisco St. and S. Durango St. It is denoted on the drawing as a 2-story "S.P. Signal Ho" (house). This location is confirmed by the interlocking drawing in the Tower 66 file at DeGolyer Library. SP employee timetables from the 1920s list Tower 6 at Milepost 830.9 and Tower 66 at Milepost 830.4. This places Tower 6 approximately one-half mile west of Tower 66. Tower 66 remained in operation until 1928. On May 18, 1928, SP proposed changes to Tower 66's interlocking plant in a letter to RCT. The changes also remoted the controls for the Tower 66 interlocker into Tower 6, and decommissioned Tower 66 as a manned structure. Presumably the Tower 66 structure was razed soon thereafter, but the fate is unknown. Tower 6 remained in control of Union Depot operations until it was decommissioned in the early 1950s. We do not have a photo of Tower 66 and the fate of the tower structure is not known.

Above: 1908 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of El Paso; Tower 66 is the rectangle in the upper left corner.

Above: This image is a snippet of a document that defined the division of expenses between the EP&SW, the GH&SA, and the El Paso Union Depot Co. for Tower 66. Expenses were divided on the basis of the number of levers applicable to each railroad. The totals were converted to percentages that were applied to all expenses associated with the tower. The document was revised in 1918 when Dwarf Signal No. 14 was added, and then canceled on Oct. 16, 1928 when the tower was abandoned. (image courtesy of Carl Codney)

Tower 196
The decommissioning of Tower 66 resulted from construction of a new brick tower near Union Depot housing the Union Depot interlocking equipment. This interlocking was designated Tower 196 and it was located roughly midway between the former sites of Tower 6 and Tower 66. Because it remained standing into recent times, we have photographs of Tower 196.

Tower 196 Photos (below left, Daniel Walford, below right Gary Bonnie)

 Jimmy Barlow notes that these Google Street View images show Tower 196's ultimate demise occurred sometime between September, 2015 (below left) and February, 2017 (below right).

Above: Tower 196 sat in front and slightly west of El Paso Union Station. Tower 66 was to the east; Tower 6 was to the west. These tracks see considerable daily traffic under current Union Pacific ownership.

Last Revised: 3/30/2019 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.