Texas Railroad History - Tower 7 (College Station) and Tower 36 (Bryan)

Two Crossings of the International & Great Northern Railroad and the Houston & Texas Central Railway


Above Left: This Bryan Eagle newspaper clipping dated Jan. 5, 1958 shows the upper floor of Tower 36 being relocated out of Bryan. Unfortunately, the destination for the tower is not specified (hat tip, Noe Guttierez.) Above Right: Houston Daily Post, February 22, 1903 news item regarding the new interlocker at College Station

The town of Bryan was founded in 1859 by landowner W. J. Bryan when he donated land for a town site to the Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) Railroad as they built north through the area. Construction was halted south of Bryan (at Millican) during the Civil War, but eight years later, the railroad finally reached the town. Texas A&M College opened in 1876 south of Bryan at a location that became known as College Station, named for the railroad station used by college students. In 1901, the Calvert, Waco & Brazos Valley Railroad built south from Valley Junction to Bryan as part of a plan to connect Waco with Houston. The International & Great Northern (I-GN) Railroad took over the construction effort and finished laying tracks south from Bryan through College Station to the I-GN main line at Spring, near Houston, in 1902. The I-GN paralleled the H&TC line through Bryan and College Station, crossing the H&TC line twice: at the south end of College Station and near downtown Bryan. Interlockers were planned and subsequently approved at both locations by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT): Tower 7 at College Station on February 21, 1903 and Tower 36 at Bryan on April 22, 1904. North of Tower 36, the former I-GN line curves west and then north to Valley Junction while the former H&TC line continues north to Hearne. In the 1920s, the I-GN became a Missouri Pacific (MP) property while the H&TC was merged into the Texas operating railroad for Southern Pacific (SP), the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) Railroad.

SP records show that on June 14, 1956, a plan for an automatic interlocker to replace Tower 7 was created. Whether this plan was immediately implemented has not been determined. Documentation shows that the plan was revised on September 26, 1960 and the revised plan became effective on November 8, 1960. Either Tower 7 had been removed by then, or its removal occurred soon thereafter; its fate has not been determined. The Tower 36 interlocker was converted to an automatic system in 1957 and the tower structure was removed (to an unidentified location) on January 5, 1958. In 1965, MP and SP agreed to share the SP line south of College Station to Navasota. This allowed the former I-GN line to be abandoned between Tower 7 and Tower 9. The parallel lines through College Station and Bryan were operated jointly by the two railroads, both of which have since become part of Union Pacific (UP).

We contacted the Bryan/College Station public library to see if they had any info on Towers 7 and 36. This was their response:

We searched the early day newspapers and found a couple of mentions of the interlocking towers--no pictures. The Bryan Eagle of April 28, 1904 on page 5 reads "Having begun operation of the tower switching system, Messrs. Vick and Batts asked an Eagle reporter to say to the public that all spectators are required to remain outside the operating room. A reasonable number of visitors may go upstairs, but must not pass inside the railing where the levers are worked. If these rules are violated they will be forced to lock all visitors out altogether." The Bryan Morning Eagle of Feb. 22, 1903 on page 3 reads "Charles Smith in charge of the works here went to College Station today to put into operation the interlocking switch plant recently installed there. The state railroad commission is to be present at the test to pass officially on its efficacy. Navasota Examiner."

   
Above Left: Tower 7 is barely distinguishable in the highlighted box of this undated aerial view of College Station. The tower was near the baseball grandstand with the original Kyle Field nearby which appears to be hosting a football game. (collection of Dr. John Fike, who estimated the date of the photo as c.1929.) Above Right: The 1938 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Bryan - College Station depicts Tower 7 as a small, unidentified 2-story structure (red circle) at the railroad crossing adjacent to the Kyle Field baseball grandstand.

  
Above: In this old postcard of the I-GN depot in downtown Bryan, Tower 36 is visible in the distance directly adjacent to the tracks.  (magnification at right).
Below Left: The 1912 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Bryan shows the tower location. Below Right: a late 1990s photo of the Tower 36 cabinet (Jim King photo)
   

To record the expense sharing arrangement for each interlocking plant with which it was involved, SP used an internal document known as a "Drawing No. D-205" titled "STATEMENT SHOWING LEVERS, FUNCTIONS AND DIVISION OF EXPENSE AT INTERLOCKING PLANT". Interlocker expenses were shared among the participating railroads generally weighted by direct function count, but special circumstances sometimes caused the railroads to agree to variances. The original document for Tower 7 (below left) shows the "DATE" (presumably the date the form was initially filled in) as October 23, 1901. This is particularly significant because it was only eight days after the first hearing ever held by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) pertaining to the requirements of the new state law (effective three months earlier on July 1, 1901) mandating the use of interlockers for safety control of railroad grade crossings. This suggests that consideration of the use of an interlocker had begun when I-GN's construction through College Station was completed earlier that year. The first RCT order regarding the new law did not occur until November 8, 1901 wherein RCT required railroads to implement non-interlocked gates as an interim measure until RCT could publish rules and regulations governing interlockers, and define a priority list of crossings to receive interlocking plants. The rules were adopted in May, 1902 and the first three crossings were identified (including Tower 1 at Bowie which had already received authority to operate on April 17, 1902.) At the end of 1902, RCT's Annual Report included a table of 17 priority railroad crossings, but it did not list the five interlockers that had been approved during 1902 (Towers 2, 3, 4 and 5 being the others.) This table of 17 priority crossings included seven that were grade separated where, obviously, no interlocker was required. However, state law specified that RCT had the duty "to define the mode of crossing to be made when one railroad seeks to cross the tracks of another railroad company." RCT clearly had the authority to force grade separated crossings, but how often they did so when a railroad objected has not been determined. College Station was included in the table among the ten crossings at grade, and the interlocker was formally commissioned as Tower 7 on February 21, 1903. At the end of 1903, RCT began publishing a comprehensive list of active interlockers within each annual report. The first report identified Tower 7's interlocker as a mechanical plant built by Union Switch & Signal Co. with 19 functions and 17 working levers.


Above Left: SP's original Form D-205 Drawing for Tower 7 shows that despite 13 of the 21 interlocker functions being assigned to SP, the I-GN is listed as responsible for 100% of the operation and maintenance (O&M) expenses. I-GN was the "second railroad" (i.e. the one initiating the crossing) and thus responsible for the capital outlay for the tower and interlocking plant. Perhaps the railroads agreed that I-GN should pay all O&M expenses since SP had no crossing-related expenses prior to I-GN's line being built. Of course, that would always be the situation for the first railroad at a subsequently interlocked crossing, and that approach did not become the norm. Given that this might have been the very earliest attempt to address interlocker expense sharing for any Texas interlocking tower, the railroads had no guidance from RCT, which would not issue interlocker regulations for another six months. Notations at the bottom of the form indicate the document was "checked" by SP personnel in 1916 and again in 1920. Above Right: This hand-written version of the same document retains the original 1901 date but appears to have been created 24 years later to address a revised interlocker design plan dated October 10, 1925. Notes in the REMARKS column explain that the new functions were placed in service four months later on February 23, 1926, and that additional changes were made in September, 1927. Two additional columns were added in pencil in what appears to be a draft of another set of changes. A notation across the bottom, also written in pencil, reads "This statement never approved or sent out. Pencil figures on right show correct functions after removal of mainline derails in 1940 (Oct.) Court ruling is that T&NO shall pay for maintenance of 6 functions & no part of operation. A M M said on Nov 10 - 41 not to make any revised statement, but leave as is. (A E)." (Carl Codney collection)

Below Left: The I-GN (MP) and H&TC (SP) lines were intertwined and sometimes parallel as they made their way north from Navasota to College Station to Bryan. The H&TC line went north out of Bryan and continued to Hearne while the I-GN swung west out of Bryan and then curved north to Valley Junction near Hearne. The I-GN line was abandoned between Navasota and Bryan in 1965 and MP began a shared arrangement to use SP's line. All of these lines are now part of UP and remain intact except for the I-GN line south of the university. Below Right: Portions of the I-GN right-of-way extending several miles south of College Station have been reused as roads. In Bryan, the I-GN ran down the middle of W. 27th St. which has since been redesigned so that the tracks are not directly shared with the roadway.

Below: This Google Street View from December, 2019 shows that there is no longer a diamond at the former Tower 36 crossing (now known as Bush Jct.) Looking south down the former SP right-of-way, the track coming north from College Station curves to the northwest to join the former MP right-of-way instead of crossing over the MP right-of-way as it previously did. The track on the former MP right-of-way coming north (where railcars sit at left) from College Station continues straight across as it always did, but a switch has been added to connect to the track on the former SP right-of-way to Hearne.

 
Last Revised: 2/2/2021 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.