Texas Railroad History - Tower 18 - Fort Worth (Hodge)

A Crossing of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway and the Texas & Pacific / Missouri-Kansas-Texas "Joint Track"

The precise structure and trackside position of Tower 18 remains a mystery even though the crossing where it was located is well known. The mechanical interlocking plant designated by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) as Tower 18 is known to have controlled a crossing of the St. Louis Southwestern Railroad (traditionally abbreviated "SSW", but more commonly referenced as the "Cotton Belt") and the Texas & Pacific (T&P) Railway in northeast Tarrant County. The T&P line came first, built in 1880 from Sherman to Ft. Worth via Whitesboro to connect the western terminus of T&P's Sherman-Texarkana line with the T&P main east-west line at Ft. Worth. T&P's routing through Whitesboro was intentional (as explained for Tower 16) because at the time, both the T&P and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT, "Katy") railroads were controlled by Jay Gould. The Katy had tracks to Whitesboro from Denison, so the new T&P line passing through Whitesboro would provide a convenient connection for the Katy to reach Ft. Worth. A long-term trackage rights agreement was signed between the two railroads and the new line into Ft. Worth became known as "Joint Track", a term that persisted for a century reflecting the shared nature of its operation.

The Cotton Belt line was a lengthy branch from Commerce built in 1888 by the St. Louis, Arkansas & Texas (SLA&T) Railway, a short-lived successor to the Texas & St. Louis (T&SL) Railway. The T&SL had begun as the Tyler Tap Railroad, a company chartered in 1871 to bring rail service to the east Texas town of Tyler. Tyler had been bypassed by two main lines, hence the need for a short-line railroad to "tap" into one of these lines to bring service to Tyler (finally accomplished with a T&P connection at Big Sandy in 1877.) Two years later, the name was changed as the T&SL initiated expansion into Arkansas and Missouri via Texarkana. In 1886, the T&SL was sold at foreclosure to the newly formed SLA&T. In January, 1891, the SLA&T suffered the same fate, sold at foreclosure to the Cotton Belt.

The RCT 1903 Annual Report lists Tower 18 as a 12-function / 12-lever Union Switch & Signal mechanical interlocker at "Joint Track" commissioned on 25 July 1903. "Joint Track" was an odd location reference; RCT typically cited town names or geographic references for interlocker locations. It nevertheless pinpointed the crossing site as there was only one SSW crossing of the Joint Track. In the 1923 Annual Report, the location of Tower 18 was changed to "North Ft. Worth". Unfortunately, "North Ft. Worth" was also in the list as the location for Tower 60, a few miles away. In the 1927 report, Tower 18's location was revised to "North Ft. Worth (Hodge)", eliminating the confusion with Tower 60, but creating new confusion with the reference to "Hodge" since the crossing was not located at Hodge.

Historically, there have been two locations in northeast Tarrant County known as "Hodge". The original Hodge, also known as "Hodge Junction", was the location on the Joint Track from which the Fort Worth & Denver City (FW&DC) Railway began building north toward Wichita Falls on 27 November 1881. As this was FW&DC's initial construction, they did not yet have tracks into downtown Ft. Worth. Instead, by starting at Hodge Junction, arrangements with the Joint Track railroads (T&P, MKT) gave them access to downtown. When the SLA&T entered Tarrant County in 1888, it built across the FW&DC tracks 8/10ths of a mile north of Hodge Junction. This location became known simply as "Hodge". In 1890, FW&DC built their own line into downtown Ft. Worth by curving southwest at Hodge and paralleling the north side of the Cotton Belt tracks to the (future) Tower 60 junction.

Above: This image snippet taken from an 1889 topographic map of Tarrant County has been annotated to show the future locations of Tower 18 and Tower 60. The map shows "Hodge" located at the junction of the Joint Track and the FW&DC. Less than a mile to the north, the Cotton Belt crosses the FW&DC at a location eventually known as "Hodge". The additional railroad highlighted on this image is the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe (GC&SF.) Below: Tower 18 is off the map to the upper right on this annotated 1920 map of Niles City, a north Ft. Worth community. The map shows that after FW&DC built their own line into Ft. Worth by curving southwest at Hodge toward Tower 60, the tracks between Hodge Jct. (light purple) and Hodge (light blue) remained in place. Note also the map's identification of "Belt Jc." southwest of Hodge Jct. where the Ft. Worth Belt railroad (blue) had a connecting track between the Joint Track and Tower 60.

From the memory of Chuck Harris:
Glad to help out with the SSW/T&P-MK&T crossing near Hodge. The place was called Swestern on the Cotton Belt. It wasn't very far from the SSW yard office at Hodge and the T&P-MKT yard office at Hodge. The two railroads were about a mile or so apart and made a gradual slant toward each other before crossing. You could see the crossing of the two railroads from North Sylvania Ave grade crossing which was at the east end of the SSW yard. I would say a mile or so. Yes, there was a tower there, but probably gone by 1925 or 26. A 1916 dispatcher's train sheet for the SSW shows a telegraph call for that location which would indicate it was occupied.

Chuck refers to the "T&P-MKT yard office at Hodge" with every indication that this office existed at the same Hodge where the SSW yard office was located. This would indicate that when FW&DC built their line into downtown in 1890, the Joint Track railroads took over the segment between Hodge Jct. and Hodge. Significant rail yards developed at Hodge over time for both the SSW and the Joint Track railroads, adding connecting tracks and facilitating traffic exchange. Although the crossing diamond at Hodge may have remained in place for many years (but was definitely gone by 1952), it was never included in RCT's list of numbered interlockers. Interlockers were rare prior to the 1901 legislation that directed RCT to implement a comprehensive interlocker management system. In later years, crossings within "Yard Limits" (which this diamond clearly was) were governed by different rules, hence an interlocker was probably unnecessary.

Timetable References
There are references for the two Hodge locations in employee timetables and station lists (hat tip, Dennis Hogan):

1925 T&P List of Stations, Denton Division:
235.46   Watauga
238.23   StLSW crossing (telegraph) <== this was the location of the Tower 18 interlocker
Hodge                      <== this was "Hodge Junction"
241.20   Belt Jct. (with Ft Worth Belt)(telegraph)

1954 StLSW Employee Timetable #1 (Southern Division/Ft. Worth Sub):
622.31   Smithfield
         T&P crossing
627.73   Swestern                                           
<= this was the location of the Tower 18 interlocker
630.20   Hodge (Yard)                                        <= this was the location of the original FW&DC / Cotton Belt crossing
632.15   Tower (crossing with FW&DC, CRI&G, FtWB, and GC&SF) <= this was the location of the Tower 60 interlocker

As Chuck Harris explains, the existence of a telegraph call for Swestern implies that it was manned as of 1919, which seems reasonable. Also, the 1925 T&P List of Stations denotes "(telegraph)" on the "StLSW crossing" entry implying that it was still manned as of 1925. Tower 18's location reference changing to "North Fort Worth" in RCT's 1923 Annual Report may indicate that the Tower 18 controls were moved to another location, most likely Tower 60 (identified as "North Fort Worth" in RCT's listing). Perhaps the telegraph reference in the T&P station list indicates that Tower 18 had not yet been completely closed (or perhaps it was actually unoccupied but not yet dismantled.) Presumably, revising the Tower 18 location to "North Fort Worth (Hodge)" in RCT's 1927 list indicates that the controls were moved to Hodge where the SSW and Joint Track railroads had yards that required close coordination. It would make sense for those railroads to manage Tower 18 from Hodge since yard operations at Hodge affected movements past Tower 18. The date that the Tower 18 structure met its demise remains unknown. The interlocking plant would have been moved to an equipment cabinet at the crossing but there would have been no apparent need to retain the tower structure.

Left: This image snippet of a 1915 MKT Railroad track chart (courtesy, Ed Chambers) has been re-oriented so that north is up and has been annotated to highlight Tower 18 (yellow circle). The track diagram (which was not drawn to scale) clearly shows a connecting track in the southeast quadrant of Tower 18. Reportedly, this was in place to allow Cotton Belt passenger trains to use the Joint Track to reach downtown Ft. Worth, bypassing potential congestion at Hodge and Tower 60. (hat tip, Steele Craver)

By the late 1990s, the T&P, MKT and Cotton Belt railroads had all been absorbed into Union Pacific (UP) through various successions, mergers and acquisitions. Although the FW&DC / Cotton Belt diamond at Hodge was dismantled sometime before 1952 (based on historic aerial imagery), the track segment between Hodge Junction and Hodge remains in place as of 2020 with a few spurs into various trackside businesses. It is owned and operated by the Fort Worth & Western (FWW) Railroad, a Class III short-line railroad founded in 1988 that operates a yard at Hodge. Among various expansions, the FWW took over operation of the former Cotton Belt line between Carrollton / Farmers Branch (in Dallas County) and Fort Worth.

Jim King photos c.2002
Above:   An equipment cabinet houses the interlocker formerly controlled by Tower 18. The boxes on the post allow crew members to control the interlocker manually. Above: Using a replacement crossing diamond (with a different angle) forced a curved relocation of the FWW's tracks east of the interlocker. This has since been corrected.


9/22/04 - Update on Tower 18 by Kal Silverberg:
Tower 18 now has a connection in place in the northwest quadrant so southbound trains on the former T&P can go west on the former SSW through Hodge Yard. There is a new track along the north side of Hodge Yard, and it has CTC signals at the east end of Hodge Yard (by Sylvania St. crossing) waiting to be turned on. The new track ties into the former FWD line just east of Deen Road. It is my understanding that UP will run directionally between Towers 18 and 55.

Below: Undated photos of the Tower 18 crossing (Jeffery L. Ritter photos)

Above: The acute angle of the Tower 18 crossing is easily seen in this aerial image c.2005. The transfer track in the northwest quadrant mentioned by Kal is visible and is the likely destination for the southbound UP train. Below: This 2019 aerial view shows that much has changed at the former site of Tower 18 in the past 15 years. TEXRail, a commuter rail transit system between downtown Ft. Worth and DFW airport, was constructed sharing portions of the former Cotton Belt right-of-way. The large shadow in the image illustrates the bridge over Old Denton Rd and the former Joint Track.

6/4/2020 Update - Kal Silverberg explains some of the changes at the Tower 18 crossing:
TexRail to DFW Airport from the T&P station in downtown Fort Worth began operations in January of 2019.  Construction probably started in 2017, so that's when the bridge over Tower 18 went in.  TexRail is completely separated from the railroad network from north of Tower 18 to the former 6th Street Jct. in Fort Worth, with the exception of one crossover at the north (east) end of Hodge Yard to enable equipment to get to and from the TEXRail maintenance base.

Additional Google Earth and Street View imagery associated with Tower 18:

Above: Facing east-northeast along the former Cotton Belt right-of-way, this February 2019 Google Street View shows the Tower 18 crossing site. FWW owns the former Cotton Belt tracks as far as Carrollton / Farmers Branch in Dallas County. Right-to-left is the former Joint Track. UP's 2004 connector track in the northwest quadrant is at far left. Overhead, the TEXRail bridge keeps commuter rail trains to/from the airport grade separated. Below: This c.2019 aerial view of Hodge easily conveys how the former FW&DC (large curved track at left) would have continued straight across the Cotton Belt main line and continued south to Hodge Jct. That crossing is long gone, and now, the track coming up from Hodge Jct. splits into two connector tracks as it reaches Hodge.

Map of Tower 18, Hodge Jct. and Hodge

Above: This recent Google Map has been annotated to show the railroads and the locations of Tower 18, Tower 60, Hodge Jct. and Hodge relative to Fort Worth roadways. The large yard at upper left belongs to Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), successor to various railroads including the FW&DC and the Santa Fe.

Block Train Order Office at Belt Jct.

Above: As noted above in the caption to the Niles City map and in the 1925 list of T&P stations, Belt Jct. was located on the Joint Track 1.15 miles southwest of Hodge Jct. At this location, the Fort Worth Belt Railroad had a connecting track that led directly to Tower 60.  Denton, R. L. [Belt Junction], photograph, 1917; University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, crediting The Grace Museum (hat tip, Dennis Hogan)

Last Revised: 6/28/2020 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.