Texas Railroad History - Tower 20 - Bells
A Crossing of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad and the
Texas & Pacific Railway
The north Texas town of Bells was originally known as Dugansville, named for an early pioneer settler, and this was the name of the community when the Texas & Pacific (T&P) Railroad built through the area as it constructed a line eastward from Sherman to Brookston in 1873, a line that eventually reached Paris and Texarkana. In 1877, citizens of Greenville and Denison chartered a railroad to run between the two towns, and by 1880, the Denison & Southeastern (D&S) Railway had begun building a line from Denison toward Greenville, crossing the T&P at Bells, the new name for Dugansville. The Handbook of Texas says that Dugansville's name changed to Bells in 1879 and speculates that the town may have been named for church bells. But considering that the D&S investment group included investors named E. Bell and W. Whitewright, it is not surprising to find towns named Bells (or Bell's) and Whitewright along the line between Denison and Greenville. The line to Greenville was completed in 1880, but the name was changed to the Missouri Kansas Texas (MKT) Extension Railway to reflect the sponsorship of the larger MKT ("Katy") Railroad. The line was formally merged into the Katy in 1881.
Both rail lines were very active, so it is not surprising that
Bells hosted one of the first manual interlocking towers in Texas,
approved by the Railroad Commission as Tower 20 in 1903. The Katy
was known to have built a tower as early as 1887 in Mineola
at another crossing of the T&P, so it is likely that a tower
structure was built in Bells in this timeframe as well. The proximity
of larger towns (e.g. Sherman, Denison, Greenville) limited the
population growth of Bells despite the junction of two rail lines.
The T&P line gradually fell to secondary status, and in the
1980s it was severed and partially abandoned between Paris and Texarkana. The
Katy line also was reduced to limited operation when the Katy was acquired by Union Pacific in the 1980s. The segment between Bells and
Denison was abandoned since UP had better routes between Denison
and Dallas. Today, a connection at the former site of Tower 20
is in place to permit Sherman-Greenville and Sherman-Paris operations.
The operations are leased to a shortline operator, and Bells sees
very little railroad traffic these days.
Tower 20 Historic Photo
From the George Kimbrough collection.
This photo and the derailment photos were posted on the bellstexas.com website which is no longer active.
George Kimbrough recalls Tower 20 and depot:
"The tower was located on the northeast corner of the intersection, probably no more than 8 or 10 feet from both tracks. I remember climbing the steps to the tower and watching the "tower man," Mr. Troy Griffin, as he pushed and pulled the line of brightly-colored levers that were taller than I... And there was the telegraph chattering away with its messages, all quite a treat for a youngster of six or eight. As for a depot, I only recall there being one depot building, located 50 feet or so south of the east-west tracks, and southwest of the tower. Access to the depot and the tower was from the south, parallel to the tracks. As for memories of the depot...most vivid was the huge coal stove that sat in the waiting room, and the wooden benches. I also have faint memory of the hook alongside the track in which the mail sacks would hang, waiting to be snapped up by those trains that did not stop in Bells."
Interlocker at Bells c.1996
Above: The remnant of a cabin interlocker is all that's left at the site of Tower 20. The line to the right curves south toward Greenville
while the line to the left is heading toward Paris. (Jim King photo)
Below: This aerial image facing east shows the same cabin interlocker at the former crossing. The ex-T&P remains intact
but seldom used. The Katy is abandoned to the north (left). The curved connector tracks allows trains to travel between
Sherman and Greenville.
Tower 20 Location Map