Texas Railroad History - Tower 51 - Wallis

A Crossing of the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway and the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway

The town of Wallis was named for J. E. Wallis, a director of the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe (GC&SF) Railway, although the community had existed under the name "Bovine Bend" for several years prior to the railroad's arrival. Santa Fe was building its initial route from Galveston to Temple when it passed through this area in 1880. A few years later, the San Antonio & Aransas Pass (SA&AP) Railway was charted to build a railroad between its namesake cities, and by 1887, this construction was complete. Desiring to serve the growing Galveston-Houston area, the SA&AP built a branch line from Kenedy to Wallis in 1887, continuing to Houston in 1888. Tower 51 was commissioned to control the SA&AP/GC&SF crossing in Wallis and began operations on July 20, 1904. The next day, another SA&AP/GC&SF crossing, Tower 52 in Cameron, was commissioned for operations.

SA&AP was eventually acquired by Southern Pacific (SP), and ultimately, the former SA&AP route into Houston was retired. The former GC&SF route through Wallis remains in active use by successor Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

Historic Photo - Tower 51 (courtesy Ken Stavinoha)

Ken Stavinoha provides this 1910 photo (above) of the crossing in Wallis and describes it as...
"...left to right – Union Depot (1st edition, built by the SA&AP – this building survives
today but away from the tracks), then the Wells Fargo & Co Express Building, and finally
Tower 51. This view is looking west along the SA&AP toward Eagle Lake. Modern day Highway
36, which parallels the former GC&SF through Wallis, would be just beyond Union Depot
and the Wells Fargo building."



Above: 1951 photo by K. B. King of the Wallis crossing, annotated by Chris Zurek. Chris explains...
"Due to the Jim Crow laws, the depot had separate waiting rooms for whites and coloreds.
The whites had indoor restrooms, the coloreds had outhouses east of the depot. Later the
depot was remodeled and there was only one waiting room. When I was a kid in the early 70s,
the holes in the ground were still there from the outhouses."

(Russell Crump's Santa Fe Photo Archive)

Ken Stavinoha comments on a better print he has seen of the K. B. King photo...
"Upon close inspection, the image clearly shows a rectangular number board with 51 above the bay window. This second Union Depot was built by the GC&SF in 1922 or possibly 1923 (blueprints are dated May 1922). The use of the large bay window indicates that train order signal levers would be housed in the depot – this is per Santa Fe standard plans – so it appears the plan was to retire Tower 51 and relocate the signal function to the depot sometime after completion. Former SP Agent Mary Meyer started clerking in Wallis in 1945 and said there were four levers in the operator’s desk at the bay window. These would have been labeled North and South for the Santa Fe pair of levers – East and West for the SP (former SA&AP) levers."

Chris Zurek adds...
"I interviewed Mary Meyer in 1988 (at Tower 17) and she drew a diagram of the Wallis Union Depot for me. Over the years I lost the diagram so I'm going by memory here. It did have a four function plant, electrical pistol grip like in Tower 17. The console was behind the operator at the bay window, she told me that you had to turn completely around to line a train through the crossing. The Santa Fe train order signal was across the tracks from the depot, the rods went under the track through a pipe (this pipe was still visible until 1991 when the Santa Fe installed new rail). The handles were in front of the operator in the bay window. The SA&AP/T&NO train order signal was on the north side of the building, the handles were to the right of the operator. I think the depot was torn down in 1967 (I was only three so I don't remember it)."

Bird's Eye View, Tower 51 Site, annotated by Chris Zurek

This north-looking bird's eye view of the Tower 51 site shows the BNSF tracks paralleling Highway 36 with the remnants of the SA&AP right-of-way crossing at approximately
a right angle in the center of the image. The annotations provided by Chris Zurek are:

Yellow:    GCSF/ATSF/BNSF
Red:       SA&AP/T&NO/SP
Blue:      old interchange tracks
Green:     connecting track, Southern Pacific Santa Fe (SPSF), 1986
1:         SA&AP Depot
2:         Wells Fargo Express building
3:         Tower 51
4:         Union Depot (Santa Fe construction)
5:         Chris' grandmother's house
6:         location where SA&AP depot was moved when the Union Depot was built

Chris Zurek explains the relocation of the SA&AP depot...
"When GCSF built the Union Depot, the interlocker functions and train order functions for both railroads were moved into it. The SA&AP depot was moved to a lot on Columbus Road (between Railroad St and Guyler) and used as a residence, at first for the SA&AP/T&NO agent. In the 1970s, my friend's aunt lived there and I was in the building. At the time I thought it was strange that it was not built to a 90 degree angle (it was 73 degrees to match the diamond). In 1986, when the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific were trying to merge into SPSF, a connecting track was built in the NE quadrant. Most of the buildings in that block were torn down but the old SA&AP was moved to a field east of town." 

And according to the image below which Chris provided, the depot is still there!

 

Below: Roger Mitchell supplies this image of the relocated Wallis Union Depot.

 
Last Revised: 5/6/2017 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.