Texas Railroad History - Tower 39 - Kaufman

A Crossing of the Texas & New Orleans Railway and the Texas Midland Railroad

The town of Kaufman was originally known as Kingsboro when the settlement began in the 1840s. In 1848, Kaufman County was organized by the State of Texas and the town was renamed for the county, which had been named for David Kaufman, a political leader during the Republic of Texas. The town did not obtain rail service until August, 1881 when the Texas Trunk Railroad arrived from Dallas, 36 miles away. The Texas Trunk had been chartered two years earlier to build from Dallas to Sabine Pass on the Gulf of Mexico, but after reaching Kaufman, it went into receivership. Briefly out of receivership, the tracks were extended 16 miles southeast to Cedar in 1883. In and out of receivership two more times with no further construction, the fate of the Texas Trunk was not resolved until 1899 when the Texas Legislature passed a law allowing the Texas Trunk to be acquired by the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) Railway. T&NO was the primary operating subsidiary of the Southern Pacific (SP) Railroad for Texas and Louisiana. The new law also required T&NO to complete a line between Dallas and Beaumont by connecting the Texas Trunk to existing T&NO tracks that went north from Beaumont to Rockland. T&NO resumed construction from Cedar, reaching Athens (26 miles) in 1900, Frankston (22 miles) in 1901 and Jacksonville (15 miles) in 1902. From the south, T&NO construction had reached Mahl (6 miles north of Nacogdoches) in 1902, and from there, they built the final 38 miles to Jacksonville in 1903.

During the years that the Texas Trunk remained at a dead end at Kaufman, a second railroad came to town and had a similar fate. The Texas Central Railroad had been chartered to build two disconnected feeder lines for the Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) Railroad, one of which was planned to go from Ennis to Paris. Building east and north from the H&TC main line at Ennis, the Texas Central entered Kaufman in 1883 and reached Roberts, 19 miles south of Greenville, in 1894. Construction was halted and the company went into receivership. The two railroads were both bankrupt and both ended at or near Kaufman, but they continued operating during receivership. In 1895, Wall Street financier Hetty Green purchased the Texas Central and renamed it the Texas Midland (TM). Her young son, Edward H. R. Green, was sent to run the railroad and he settled in nearby Terrell as construction resumed, building 19 miles north to Greenville that same year. TM then obtained trackage rights on the St. Louis Southwestern between Greenville and Commerce, where construction resumed to Paris, 38 miles farther north, in 1897.

In 1901, a new law took effect requiring interlockers for busy railroad crossings, with all such intersections to be outfitted with gates until they were interlocked. Even at gated crossings, the law continued to require that all trains stop before crossing another railroad at grade. The crossing in Kaufman was addressed relatively early with Tower 39 approved for operation by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) on June 16, 1904. It was a mechanical interlocking plant with ten functions built by Union Switch & Signal Co. The Kaufman crossing changed significantly in 1928 when the TM was sold to T&NO by "Colonel" Green, as he called himself, using a title granted by an honorary appointment from the Texas governor in 1910 ("Notorious" might have been a better title.) The TM sale put the tower under exclusive control of the T&NO which elected to formally retire the interlocker on April 9, 1928.

The decision to remove the interlocker should have conflicted with RCT's rules regarding "single railroad" crossings, so perhaps other controls were installed by T&NO to replace the tower's functionality to the satisfaction of RCT. Neither the precise nature of the tower structure nor its eventual disposition has been determined. The TM tracks in both directions from Kaufman, to Ennis and Paris, gradually became superfluous due to other SP routes. The TM was abandoned in phases beginning with the line south of Kaufman in 1942. The route to the north was abandoned in 1958. Operations continued on the T&NO line between Dallas and Beaumont until the 1980s when it was mostly abandoned, including the tracks through Kaufman.

Left: This Google Earth image has been annotated to show the crossing at Tower 39. Since the location of the tower relative to the tracks has not been determined, the map simply marks the crossing. The connecting track allowed movements between Dallas and points north on the TM. The depots are shown as colored rectangles marked with 'D'.

: This undated T&NO track chart from the T&NO Archives shows significant track details but unfortunately does not show the location of the tower.

Above: This image from the 1920 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Kaufman shows the TM and T&NO railroad stations across from one another roughly 100 yards apart immediately south of Mulberry St. Below: "S Old Rail Rd." is the former T&NO ROW. The TM ROW passed along the east side of the Family Dollar store. If Cherry St. ever existed south of the depots (more likely, it was "platted" but not built), the middle of the street would have coincided with the back wall of the Family Dollar store. Cherry St. exists farther west. (Google Earth 2018)
Left: (Carl Codney collection) SP used this form to record a summary of the functions and expense sharing for each interlocking plant in which they had a financial interest. This one, for Tower 39 at Kaufman, was originally drafted on January 15, 1904, six months before the plant became operational. It was not the original document because it reflects several revisions, most notably that the interlocker was taken out of service on April 9, 1928. Comments in the REMARKS column state that the plan for the interlocker was dated September 30, 1907, more than three years after Tower 39 became operational, implying that the 1907 plan was a revision that incorporated changes to the original design.

The form was also "
Revised effective Jan. 19, 1924 account installation of movable point crossing frog." RCT documentation states that Tower 39 had ten functions at the time it was approved and this document shows fourteen, of which two (Lever 5) can be attributed to the 1924 modification. Thus, the 1907 plan appears to have incorporated two additional functions, most likely the facing point locks (Lever 6). The form lists only two Distant signals; a "typical" installation would have four, one in each direction, but the track topology and the stations' proximity to the crossing may have eliminated the need for distant signals to the south. Trains would always slow and often stop at the stations anyway, so they did not need to know if the interlocker was lined against them when approaching from the south. They would either be stopped at their station or moving slowly in its vicinity hence they could depend on the Home signal.

The form shows that each company was responsible for half of the functions resulting in 50/50 expense sharing. It also shows that the combined expenses included OPERATION and that the tower was OPERATED BY the TM. This is significant because it virtually guarantees that the interlocking plant was housed in a manned tower. Unmanned "cabin interlockers" did not have shared expenses for operation because they were operated by train crews as part of their normal duties.

Also of interest is that the TM is listed as the SENIOR COMPANY. The Texas Trunk arrived in Kaufman first, but its extension to Cedar occurred the same year that the Texas Central passed through Kaufman. It is possible that the T&NO track did not originally reach the location where the Texas Central track was laid and thus, depending on the timing, the T&NO extension to Cedar could have been the second track at the crossing. It's also possible that the TM was listed as SENIOR COMPANY by agreement between the two railroads, which SP is known to have done although the reasons for doing so are not fully understood. It seems that in this particular case, it would not make any real difference. This crossing existed prior to the 1901 interlocker law so the capital outlay for the interlocking plant and tower was required to be shared by the railroads. It seems likely that the tower structure would have been designed and built by SP since TM had no experience with interlocking towers. But the fact that the tower was both OPERATED BY and MAINTAINED BY the TM suggests that they may have built the tower. At the very least, it appears they exercised the right (as SENIOR COMPANY) to decide that they would take on the operation and maintenance assignments. The precise sequence of construction events and the decision-making that pertained to the legal roles of the railroads with respect to the interlocker remains undetermined.
Right: The 26th Legislature passed this law in 1899 allowing the T&NO to acquire the Texas Trunk under several conditions. These were:

1) that it complete within four years a rail line from Dallas to Sabine Pass by way of Athens using a 100 ft. right-of-way through Athens and Henderson County plus land for a depot to be obtained with clear title from local citizens within six months from the date the law passed;

2) that it accomplish this by connecting the Sabine & East Texas Railway and the Texas Trunk Railroad;

3) that it build at least 50 miles of track during the first year after passage of the law;

4) that it build at least 100 miles of track during the first two years after passage of the law.

The Sabine & East Texas had built a rail line from Sabine Pass through Beaumont to Rockland in 1881-82, and was then sold to the T&NO. After this law took effect, it was extended north to Mahl by 1902 and then to Jacksonville in 1903 to complete the route.

Above Left: The tree lines mark the merging northbound rights-of-way of the Texas Midland (left) and T&NO (right) approaching their crossing just off the top of this image. Tower 39 might have been located within this birds' eye view -- the ground is open and accessible -- but the visible abandoned foundation might be too "new" for a concrete foundation abandoned in 1928. The telephone poles at the left edge of the image are associated with a road that runs along this property line. But, there are three telephone poles visible along the T&NO right-of-way (ROW) on the right side of the image. (Microsoft Visual Earth) Above Right: This satellite view shows the rail lines diverging rapidly to the north after their acute angle crossing. The route of the connecting track between the two main tracks can also be discerned despite 60 years since abandonment. The thick woods in the area north of the crossing and the lack of any apparent roads into that area (for access by tower operators and maintenance personnel) suggest that the tower was located south of the crossing. (Google Earth)

Below Left
: This view is to the north along the T&NO right-of-way from East 1st St. North. (Google Street View) Below Right: Google Street View superimposes "Midland" so you'll know for certain that it's the TM grade. Actually, the street is named Midland, for the obvious reason. This view is to the south from East 1st St. North, approximately 135 ft. west of the T&NO ROW. There are numerous concrete foundations, undoubtedly railroad related, along Midland St.

Above: Looking southwest, this Google Street View image shows the street signs at the intersection of E. Mulberry St. and Old Rail Road. The building and parking lot occupy the site of the T&NO passenger station. Below: Across from the Family Dollar store looking north with Google Street View, the TM grade appears as a generic dirt gap between two businesses, serving as a parking area for trailers.

Last Revised: 4/15/2021 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.