Texas Railroad History - Tower 40 - Luling

A Crossing of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad and the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway

Above: After being repurposed at various times over many decades, Tower 40 and an adjacent building (added after the tower's retirement) have been remodeled into a new bar and food truck court named "The Station" in honor of its prior uses as a railroad facility and a gas station. The view from the tower should make it a great place to watch trains! (Stacy Metzler photo, January 20, 2023)

Above: Tower 40 (undated, Luling Oil Museum, hat tip Ronnie Lewis)

The Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado (BBB&C) Railway, the first railroad in Texas, was chartered a few years before the Civil War. It began construction at Harrisburg on Buffalo Bayou southeast of Houston and laid twenty miles of track west to Stafford's Point in 1853. By the end of 1855, twelve additional miles had been built to Richmond on the west bank of the Brazos River, the county seat of Fort Bend County. The next five years saw tracks laid 48 miles farther west to the tiny community of Alleyton, three miles east of the Colorado River, a river the BBB&C did not plan to cross. Instead, the charter called for the railroad to remain east of the Colorado and follow the river north to La Grange and Austin, but the Civil War curtailed those plans. Post-war economic conditions left the BBB&C unable to make payments on its construction contract, and as a result, an 1867 court judgment awarded the BBB&C to the contractor, William Sledge.

Sledge knew nothing about operating a railroad, but he carried on and tried to generate revenue as best he could. His predicament caught the eye of Thomas Peirce, who saw the railroad as an asset to be developed for bigger and better purposes. Peirce (with the unusual ei spelling of his last name) was a wealthy Boston businessman, cotton trader, lawyer and landowner (including a large sugar plantation near Arcola.) He had done legal work for the BBB&C before the War, so he was familiar with it, plus he had been involved with other railroads, mostly on the legal side. Peirce formed an investor group for the purpose of acquiring the BBB&C from Sledge, which was accomplished in 1870. The BBB&C was not in great shape, so Peirce rehabilitated the tracks and improved its operations. Peirce had a grand vision of what he wanted to do, but he took the time to upgrade the railroad's facilities and learn the operational side of the business.

When he was ready to proceed, Peirce and his investors petitioned the Legislature to modify the BBB&C's charter to authorize his plan, which was...building to San Antonio instead of to La Grange and Austin. The citizens of La Grange protested, so when the Legislature granted Peirce's request, they added a condition that he build a branch line to La Grange (a requirement Peirce fulfilled in 1881.) The railroad's name was also revised; it would become the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway. Peirce bought out most of the other investors and initiated construction west toward San Antonio. He paused the work in 1874, 71 miles beyond the Colorado River and about three miles west of Plum Creek in southern Caldwell County. During the period that the rails terminated there, nearby settlers began relocating to the railroad and the new town of Luling sprang up, named for...?

Left: The Handbook of Texas offers three theories as to the source of Luling's name: an unknown judge, a Chinese laborer, or the maiden name of the wife of the railroad's contractor. But the Galveston Daily News of December 2, 1874 explains the whole matter. A revision request has been filed with the Handbook of Texas.

Right: The
Galveston Daily News of March 3, 1875 conveys the consensus that Peirce was in no hurry to resume westward construction. What the story does not say is that he may have been negotiating with Comal County.

Despite an offer of $100,000 from Comal County (a huge sum in those days) if he would build the GH&SA into New Braunfels, Peirce kept the railroad on his planned route, reaching San Antonio in 1877. Approached by the Southern Pacific (SP) Railroad, Peirce began discussing an extension of his line westward to El Paso to connect with SP rails being laid east from California. Financed entirely by SP, Peirce's El Paso extension was completed in 1883 and the GH&SA was then leased and ultimately acquired by SP. SP's southern transcontinental route passing through San Antonio spurred additional commerce and helped to enhance San Antonio's reputation as a major inland commercial center. This inspired other investors to lay rails into San Antonio, among them Uriah Lott.

Lott was more a dreamer than an investor, but he chartered the San Antonio & Aransas Pass (S&AP) Railway in 1884 with plans to connect San Antonio with Aransas Pass, a port on the Gulf of Mexico. By late 1886, SA&AP tracks had been laid between San Antonio and Corpus Christi, the latter chosen as the Gulf endpoint instead of Aransas Pass. With its main line completed, the SA&AP began expanding in south Texas. In 1889, it built a 54-mile branch line from Shiner to Lockhart, crossing the GH&SA tracks at Luling, a location interlocked with a 26-function mechanical plant on June 20, 1904 when Tower 40 was commissioned by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT).

SP had acquired the SA&AP in 1892 but was forced to divest it in 1904 due to a successful lawsuit filed by the State of Texas (but the divestiture did not motivate the interlocker, which had been planned since 1902.) SP wanted to find a way to regain control of the SA&AP, and they were helped by the Transportation Act of 1920. It directed the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to promote and plan for the consolidation of U.S. railroads into a limited number of "systems". The plan adopted by the ICC proposed that SP head one of these systems, with the SA&AP becoming part of it. On December 6, 1924, SP filed an application with the ICC for authorization to obtain control of the SA≈ the State of Texas opposed the move. The ICC ruled in favor of SP and in March, 1925, the SA&AP was re-acquired by SP and leased to the GH&SA. Controlling both of the Tower 40 rail lines, SP chose to retire the interlocker in 1931, and in 1933, the SA&AP line from Luling south to Shiner was abandoned. Fortunately, Tower 40 was not razed and it has remained standing near its original location.

Tower 40 (Jim King photo, August 6, 2005)                                                                                     Tower 40 (Google Street View, 2011)
Above: Within a few years after abandonment, Tower 40 was relocated a short distance south of the SP tracks and became a gas station at the corner of Mesquite St. and Pierce St. In 2011, it was the home of E&R Tire Service. It remains one of the few Texas interlocking towers still standing today.

Above Left: This 1929 Sanborn Fire Insurance index map has been annotated to highlight the Tower 40 rail crossing on the west side of Luling. Above Right: The crossing of the two railroads in Luling is apparent on this 1915 track chart from the Chief Engineer's office of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas (MK&T) Railroad. That office maintained a reference library of track charts for most major railroad junctions in Texas, even those, such as Luling, which did not involve the MK&T. (courtesy Ed Chambers)


Above Left: This image from the 1929 Sanborn map shows Tower 40 located in the southwest quadrant of the crossing. The lettering beneath the tower is not legible, but it appears to have been "Railroad Tower". Above Right: The Lockhart Daily Post of June 17, 1904, in its "Luling" column of news reports, carried this one-sentence item announcing that the Luling telegraph office had been relocated to the new interlocking tower. The tower was commissioned by RCT three days later.

Left: The 1941 Sanborn index map shows that Mesquite was the name of the north/south street adjacent to and slightly east of the crossing. Note also that by 1941, the route of the ex-SA&AP south of the crossing was abandoned (1933), but the northerly segment to Lockhart was still intact. It was abandoned by SP in 1942.

Right: The Tower 40 structure was relocated a few dozen yards south of the crossing and became part of a gas station. The 1941 Sanborn map shows a "Filling Sta" located on the corner of Mesquite St. and Pierce St., where Tower 40 continues to reside. The "2" indicates that the station structure had two stories and the almost illegible "1" in the box above it is the overhang built to shelter the pumps. "S. Railroad" became "Pierce" sometime between 1929 and 1941. This is presumably another manifestation of the confusion regarding Thomas W. Peirce's last name, spelled "ei", not "ie".
Last Revised: 1/26/2023 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Website