Texas Railroad History - Towers 9 and 41 - Navasota

Crossings of the International-Great Northern, Houston & Texas Central, and Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe railroads

Navasota is one of the oldest railroad towns in Texas, becoming a major rail junction with the intersection of three lines. First to arrive was the Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) Railroad in 1859, building north out of Houston, the first major north/south railroad in Texas. The Civil War disrupted progress, but by 1873, the line was complete to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). The H&TC was eventually acquired by Southern Pacific (SP) and integrated into the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) Railroad, SP's operating railroad for Texas and Louisiana. H&TC's original route remains in active use through Navasota, today operated by Union Pacific (UP).

In 1878, the newly chartered Central & Montgomery (C&M) Railway built 27 miles of track between Navasota and Montgomery to provide timber interests in Montgomery County with rail access via the H&TC line. In 1882, the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe (GC&SF) Railway initiated plans to build from their main line at Somerville to Conroe and points east to tap the growing east Texas timber industry. The Somerville to Navasota segment was built in 1883, and the C&M was acquired by Santa Fe to provide additional trackage toward Conroe which was reached in 1885. This line remains in service, now owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

In 1902, the International - Great Northern (I-GN) Railroad passed through Navasota as it constructed a main line from Houston to Ft. Worth. The I-GN would later come under the ownership of the Missouri Pacific (MP) Railroad. In Navasota, the I-GN paralleled the other two railroads through town with the Santa Fe line in the middle, the I-GN to the east and the H&TC to the west. The former I-GN route was abandoned north of Navasota by MP, but south of Navasota, the line remains in operation by UP.

The postcard photo at right shows a "NAVASOTA" sign on an interlocking tower. The sign also shows the numeral "3", possibly reading "No. 3". Although there were eventually two towers in Navasota, the proximity of the railroad depot in the background makes this almost certainly the Santa Fe/Southern Pacific tower, designated Tower 41 in the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) management system on June 24, 1904. The meaning of the numeral "3" on the tower sign remains to be determined. The style of this tower is identical to many other towers that involved the Southern Pacific. Comparing Navasota Tower to Tower 16, Tower 17, Tower 21, Tower 30, Tower 81, Tower 100 and Tower 121, particularly note the "fish scale" circular patterns between the upper and lower stories. Also, in most cases, the door frame incorporates a small window above the door.

The other tower in Navasota was Tower 9. Although it was 32 "interlocker numbers" before Tower 41, it was commissioned only a year earlier, authorized for operation on June 16, 1903 at the crossing of the I-GN and the H&TC approximately 1,600 ft. northwest of Tower 41. In 1904, the I-GN constructed a branch line from Tower 9 to Madisonville; this line was abandoned in 1944.

For 60 years, all three rail lines co-existed through downtown Navasota. In 1965, SP and MP agreed to share the H&TC line to College Station and abandon the I-GN line north of Tower 41. This eliminated the need for Tower 9. Today, Tower 41 has become an automated interlocking cabinet and the three lines still run parallel through town. The fate of the original Tower 41 and Tower 9 structures is unknown.

Historic Photo, Tower 41
(Dennis Hogan collection)

Navasota Tower

Reverse side of postcard from the above photo, listing names of the individuals in the photograph.


Historic Map, Navasota, 1925

Above: This index to the 1925 Sanborn Insurance Co. map of Navasota has been annotated to highlight the railroads through town and the location of the two towers. Apparently, the draftsman did not fully understand the names of the railroads. Along the left side of the image, he identifies two of the railroads as "Gulf Coast & Santa Fe RR" and "International & Great Western RR" !

Historic Photo, Tower 9

Above: This photo, provided courtesy of the Denver Public Library Western History and Genealogy collection, was
taken by Robert W. Richardson. It pictures Texas & New Orleans locomotive #412 passing a signal tower in Navasota on December 15, 1946. In the background, an interlocking tower is visible (see magnification below left). Based on comparison to the "Navasota Tower" photo above and other information, it appears that the tower in the background is Tower 9. Below right and further below are image magnifications showing that this train is at milepost (MP) 71.25. Official T&NO sidetrack records posted at the T&NO Archives state that Navasota was officially located at MP 70.76, approximately one half mile south of this train's location. If MP 70.76 represents the
milepost of the joint GC&SF/H&TC passenger depot in Navasota visible in the postcard photo, then the location of the train at MP 71.25 can be estimated as 0.49 miles north of the station. This would be approximately 1,000 ft. north of Tower 9, which is consistent with the distance to the tower in the background of the photo.


Historic Maps, Navasota
Above Left: The 1925 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Navasota shows Tower 41 located in central Navasota where the Santa Fe tracks (center tracks) cross the H&TC tracks to the left that were parallel to the I-GN tracks to the right. Magnification (above right) shows the building to be a 2-story "RR Signal Ho" (House) with the stairs on the northeast side. Note also the proximity of the combined GC&SF/ H&TC depot northwest of the tower. The location of the stairs and the location of the depot match the postcard photo of "Navasota Tower". Below Left: The same 1925 Sanborn map of Navasota shows Tower 9 located where the I-GN line to Ft. Worth crosses over the H&TC line. The right-hand track is the I-GN line to Madisonville which will parallel the H&TC for some distance before veering off to the east. Magnification (below right) shows Tower 9 to be a 2-story "Signal Tower" with an L-shaped staircase on the south side of the tower. This is consistent with the magnified image of what we believe to be Tower 9; that image was taken facing south toward downtown so the staircase on the south side is not visible but downtown buildings are visible in the background. Note also that the absence of large buildings on the Sanborn map in the vicinity of Tower 9 is explained by the fact that the map was made 21 years before the photo was taken.

The conclusion is that the tower in the background of Robert Richardson's photo is Tower 9, based on the following observations:
1. The tower number on the side appears to be a single digit.
2. In comparison to the "Navasota Tower" photo, this tower lacks the band of circular patterns between the windows and the
    lower structure, the roof line and chimney appear different, and the surrounding ground is different.
3. The background buildings and the lack of a visible staircase match the Sanborn map detail.
4. The location of Tower 9 with respect to milepost 71.25 is consistent with its appearance in the background of this photo.

9/10/2008: Richard Mousner confirms by email that this was, indeed, Tower 9...
I found the exact location of the 1946 photograph. The photo looks south and was taken as the engine crossed Stoneham Street northbound. I found the concrete pad and burned off I-beam of the signal mast in the photo (see photo below). Also, the Schumacher Oil Works can be seen in the background so I can verify 100% that is Tower 9. I walked to 9's location, I lined up with the old IGN roadbed and the SP tracks and got pretty close but found nothing, however it was further from the creek than I first thought. My T&NO map shows Tower 9 in the south right of way of Chase Street, a platted street but never built. ...I have a couple of good recollections... My good friend Roy Goodwin, who passed away at the tender age of 93 a couple of years ago related this one to me. IGN Tower...had a trestle that carried the Madisonville Branch and line to the Navasota Creosoting Plant (burned 1980's). The main line to College Station (bridge remains) and the T&NO main, this was a bad place for a derailment. The building just south of the tower that later became Goodwin's Realty had the wall smashed in a derailment. One hot summer night, the operator that manned the tower (Goodwin knew his name) looked up in horror to see a line of derailed boxcars bearing down on him, the only thing that saved him was that it was hot, the door was open, and he took a flying dive out of the tower just as it was destroyed. After the tower was rebuilt, he bid a job on another tower, and refused to work there again.

Richard provides this story about Tower 41...
Another story concerns my uncle Herb Doerge born in Navasota in 1910. When he was about 10 yrs old, his father Albert took him to the H&TC tower to meet a famous man on the H&TC. As he sat and watched, this man, with two telegraph bugs going off at he same time, proceeded to write both messages down at the same time, using his right and left hand and copying both messages not making a single mistake. He said people would come and just sit and watch him work...I doubt H&TC paid him extra.

Richard also raises an interesting question about Tower 41...
Now 41 is going to give you fits because the maps I have state that Interlocker #41 is in the depot building. The photo of old Tower 3 is definitely about where it should be, because of the location of the H&TC Depot in the background. My maps are revised 1928. Do you think 41 was torn down before 1928 and moved to the depot? My maps are the survey maps and are made from actual surveys on the ground. I used them in my 34 yrs as a land surveyor to locate property along the railroad.

It is certainly possible that Tower 41 was removed prior to 1928, with the interlocking system and controls moved to the depot. We have no direct evidence of this -- the DeGolyer Library files will need to be consulted. One possible conjecture would be that the original "Navasota Tower 3" (pictured above) was a tower constructed by SP pre-1900 (before number 41 was assigned in 1904), and if so, it may have required some serious maintenance work by the mid-1920s. Rather than continue to maintain the building or build a new tower, the railroads could have decided to relocate the interlocker. Interlocker 41 was an electric interlocker with 20 functions. This is a relatively small number of functions which tends to indicate that the movements it controlled were neither numerous nor complex. This would imply that an operator may not have needed direct visual observation of the movements to maintain safety. Track sensors (or perhaps the view from the depot) may have been sufficient, making this a good candidate to be an interlocking controlled from the depot. Whatever the case, the precise construction, evolution and disposition of Tower 41 is unknown.

Photos, Tower 41

Above: Views of the former location of Tower 41 and the cabinet that replaced it. Below: Google Street View image from 2012 shows a southbound UP freight nearing the Tower 41 cabinet as it comes off of the ex-H&TC line and switches onto the ex-I-GN line to Spring. The Santa Fe line from Somerville enters the image at far right.

  Left: An engineer's view of the Tower 41 interlocking (R J McKay photo.)  R J writes about Tower 41:
"This crossing, especially in the direction we are going [on the Santa Fe], and with a train going off on the old I&GN like the one in the picture, can be a bit disconcerting at night when you are tired and approaching it. On more than one occasion I have approached this crossing with it having a green aspect on our signal, slowing for the 10 MPH restriction over it. Suddenly I hear a horn blowing repeatedly for the crossing in town, a bright headlight comes around the curve, bearing down on us at 25 MPH. One begins to second guess the green indication we have, then the train suddenly curves off to your right and passes by! Had it proceeded on the old SP, it would have crossed our path, and that is what runs through your mind at the moment."

Location Map, Tower 9 and Tower 41

Above: Towers 9 and 41 were approximately one-half mile apart near downtown Navasota.

Tower 41 Location Satellite View

Above: The three original main lines through Navasota were, east to west, the I-GN, the Santa Fe and the H&TC. MP abandoned the I-GN line between Navasota and College Station in 1965 and began using SP's H&TC line to College Station. Below: Although the I-GN "main" went to Bryan via College Station, it had the appearance of a branch line since the "straight-ahead" track at Tower 9 continued on to Madisonville. The Madisonville line was abandoned in 1944. The Bryan line was abandoned to College Station in 1965. To the south, the H&TC line went to Hempstead and on to Houston while the I-GN line went to Spring. About 4 miles north of Navasota on the H&TC line to Bryan/College Station, SP's Mexia-Nelleva Cutoff branched off due north toward Mexia.

Last Revised: 3/31/2019 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.