Texas Railroad History - Tower 37 - Vernon

A Crossing of the Ft. Worth & Denver City Railway and the St. Louis - San Francisco Railway

Tower 37 was established in 1904 as a manual interlocking tower on the northeast side of Vernon. The tower controlled a crossing of the Ft. Worth and Denver City (FW&DC) Railway and the St. Louis - San Francisco ("Frisco") Railway. Unlike many cities in this part of the state, Vernon actually existed prior to the arrival of the FW&DC railroad in 1885. The railroad set off a growth boom in Vernon which reached 3,500 residents in 1892 and had a street railway, electric lighting and two ice factories. In 1901, the Blackwell, Enid and Texas (BE&T) Railway was chartered and began building from Vernon to connect with the Blackwell, Enid and Southwestern (BE&SW) Railway across the Red River, twelve miles from Vernon. A rail yard was built in west Vernon and in 1904, the BE&T became a Frisco line, remaining in service until 1957. The FW&D became part of the Burlington System and is today a main line for Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

Above: This image extracted from the index map to the 1927 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Vernon shows the Frisco line (red) running due east/west through the Tower 37 junction. A short distance further east, the Frisco line turned southeast to parallel the FW&DC line and avoid a crossing of the Pease River.

The Pease River runs very close to the northeast side of Vernon and proceeds in a northeasterly direction to where it joins the Red River. The BE&T avoided crossing the Pease by "going around it" to cross the Red River east of its confluence with the Pease. Unfortunately, flooding caused the Pease River channel to change boundaries, eventually undermining the Red River bridge and the Frisco grade near Vernon, causing its abandonment. Steve Goen explains...

"The Frisco (BE&SW from the north) crossed the Red River just east of where the Pease emptied into the Red. However, through the years the Pease continually crept eastward until at the time of the flooding the two rivers basically came together at the bridge. This was one thing that caused it to wash away. After the line entered Texas, it climbed out of the Red River lowlands and hugged the south side of the Pease valley. This would be directly north of Oklaunion by about 4 or 5 miles. Continuing southwestward, the Frisco continued to close the gap on the FW&D. About two miles east of Vernon, the Frisco passed by a large feed lot and mill which are still standing today. Prior to the big flood which took out the line, the Pease River was a bit further north, and away from the Frisco and FW&D. However the flood caused the Pease to change course and flow more to the south. When this happened it took out much of the Frisco between the interlocking and the feedlot/mill east of town. The FW&D was lucky that the erosion stopped at the Frisco.

The Frisco line was washed away on the night of April 27, 1957. The Frisco's last trains were Mixed Trains 663 and 664. The Frisco allowed the FW&D to service customers in Vernon until permission was granted to allow the Frisco to abandon the line and to sell all local trackage to the FW&D. The interlocker and diamond were removed at this time and replaced with a switch. Also, since the Pease River washed away much of the Frisco just east of the interlocker, there was no way for the FW&D to service the feed lot and facilities located east of town. So the only part of the Frisco acquired was the trackage west of the interlocker."

The fate of Tower 37 has not been determined and a photo of it has not been located. However, the same two railroads crossed in Quanah, not far from Vernon, and Tower 27 located in Quanah opened just seven months prior to Tower 37. Thus, it is perhaps likely that Tower 37 resembled Tower 27.

Above: The cars at far right sit on an angled spur that was formerly the Frisco right-of-way coming into Vernon from the east. The Frisco crossed the FW&DC (left) at Tower 37, which would likely have been visible in this view. (Jim King photo)

Above: The Frisco continued due east from the tower approximately 4/10ths of a mile before curving southeast to avoid the Pease River. Since the flood of April, 1957, the Pease River channel has crept further south to the point where part of the original grade is now on the other side of the river channel. The precise location of the tower relative to the crossing diamond has not been determined.

: This higher view of the Pease River and the Frisco right-of-way (ROW) east of Tower 37 shows how the river has wiped out the former grade. It is unknown for certain how much further south the river has moved since the flood of 1957, but it is clear from this satellite image that a portion of the original ROW is now on the north side of the riverbed.


Above: Richard Crabtree supplies this photo of a Frisco 4-4-0 locomotive parked at the Vernon depot in 1951.

Last Revised: 12/20/2021 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.