Texas Railroad History - Tower 53 (Ney Yard), Tower 124 (Bird's Siding) and Tower 126 (Polk's Tower) - Fort Worth

Three Towers in South Fort Worth


Above: John W. Barriger III took this photo of Tower 53 sometime in the 1930s or 40s from the rear platform of his business car as he headed south out of Fort Worth on the Missouri - Kansas - Texas ("Katy") Railroad main line. The view is to the north where the Southern Pacific (SP) tracks from Garrett crossed the Katy at the tower. By appearance, the tower must have been a Katy design as it lacked the typical paint scheme, trim and other features common to the numerous SP towers built in the 1903-04 timeframe (e.g. Tower 26, Tower 81, etc.) The small sign hanging from the roofline above the upper floor landing is not legible (any guesses?) but it doesn't appear to be the tower number, nor is the number apparent elsewhere on the structure. There are several people visible in the photo. How many can you count? (John W. Barriger National Railroad Library)

Left: This image is taken from a larger aerial photo looking south from just south of downtown Fort Worth in 1952. Tower 126, commonly known as Polk's Tower, is visible immediately east and barely north of a crossing of the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe (GC&SF) Railway and the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) Railway. The train is heading south on the Santa Fe tracks and is about to cross the bridge over Rosedale St., just as its last car is clearing the diamond at Polk's Tower. The Katy's main line is visible at far left with its bridge over Rosedale. The T&NO bridge is visible between the Katy and Santa Fe bridges. Magnification of the tower (below) does not convey enough detail to provide conclusive evidence of which railroad built it. (W. D. Smith c.1952, courtesy UT Arlington Libraries, hat tip Doug Sutherland and Jim Gibson)

            

On December 1, 1880, railroad magnate Jay Gould leased one of his properties, the Missouri - Kansas - Texas ("Katy") Railroad, to another of his properties, the Missouri Pacific (MP) Railroad, giving MP its first operations in Texas. The Katy had reached Ft. Worth earlier in the year using rights from Whitesboro on a line it shared with the Texas & Pacific (T&P), another Gould railroad. The Katy's base was at Denison where it had crossed the Red River in 1873. A Denison - Gainesville line built in 1879 gave the Katy tracks through Whitesboro, and in 1880, the T&P intentionally routed its Sherman - Fort Worth construction via Whitesboro so the new tracks to Ft. Worth could be shared. The Katy built a yard in south Ft. Worth that (at least by 1917) was called "Ney Yard". The Katy continued construction south from Ft. Worth, reaching Taylor by 1882. Gould (and MP) subsequently lost control of the Katy during a receivership in 1888. It eventually emerged from bankruptcy as an independent railroad, and it remained that way for the next hundred years.

By the time the Katy began building south into the heart of Texas, the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe (GC&SF) Railway was already four years into building north from Galveston. By 1880, it had made only limited progress to Brenham, but a flurry of construction the following year resulted in tracks from Brenham to Temple and from Temple to Fort Worth. Santa Fe's tracks coming into Fort Worth were west of the Katy's, but both railroads passed parallel through a major junction with the T&P's east/west main line near downtown. In 1886, the GC&SF agreed to be acquired by the much larger Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, but continued to operate as a wholly owned subsidiary.

In 1885, Fort Worth investors chartered the Fort Worth & New Orleans (FW&NO) Railway, ostensibly to build to New Orleans, but in reality to build to Waxahachie. From there, existing tracks of the Waxahachie Tap Railroad provided a connection to the main line of the Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) Railway at Garrett. The FW&NO began construction in September, 1885 at Broadway Street where they established their yard west of the Katy and Santa Fe tracks about 500 yds. south of the T&P junction. At the south end of their yard, the FW&NO built across the Santa Fe main line. For the Polk Brothers, this junction of two railroads seemed to be the ideal spot for their new stockyard.
At a 2017 presentation for the Society of Historical Archeology in Fort Worth, Harding Polk II summarized the history of Polk's Stockyard, which was founded by his grandfather, James Hilliard Polk, a cousin of President James K. Polk.

Brothers James Hilliard Polk and Lucius Junius Polk banded together to form the Polk Brothers Livestock stockyards of Fort Worth. Established in 1885 they were the first stockyard in Fort Worth. They were located south of the present Fort Worth Union stockyards and situated conveniently at the intersection of two rail lines. One notable contract they received was to supply the British Army with horses and mules during the Boer Wars in South Africa at the turn of the twentieth century. Around 1914 the stockyards burned, ending the enterprise.

To head for Waxahachie, the FW&NO needed to build southeast out of Fort Worth, but the presence of Ney Yard prevented the FW&NO from crossing over the Katy near Broadway Yard. Instead, they built south for a mile before curving southeast to cross the Katy beyond the south end of Ney. This crossing was probably built in the fall of 1885 because, according to Fort Worth lore, locals had already nicknamed it "Buttermilk Junction" by the time a famous railroad gun battle broke out in April, 1886. The following year, the FW&NO was acquired by the H&TC, which by then was owned by Southern Pacific (SP). In 1901, the Legislature authorized H&TC to merge both the FW&NO and the former Waxahachie Tap railroad (which had been renamed in the interim) into a single H&TC branch. The H&TC continued operating as a wholly-owned subsidiary until it was leased by (1927) and merged into (1934) the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) Railroad, SP's primary operating company in Texas and Louisiana.

Shortly after the FW&NO's construction to Waxahachie got started, the newly chartered Fort Worth & Rio Grande (FW&RG) Railway began building southwest out of Ft. Worth. Financing was largely provided by the Vanderbilt syndicate which had dreams of extending it to the Pacific Ocean harbor at Topolobampo, Mexico. Construction began in 1886 near the T&P tracks at Hemphill St. and (what is now) Vickery Blvd. The FW&RG line finally reached Brownwood in 1891, and that same year, the FW&RG built a spur in Fort Worth for interchange with the Katy and the H&TC. It departed the main line at a location later called Belt Junction and ran due east to the Katy tracks before turning north to the Katy/H&TC crossing. About midway between Belt Junction and the Katy tracks, the spur crossed the Santa Fe main line to Temple at a location known as "Bird's Siding".

By 1888, Santa Fe had expanded west from Temple through Brownwood to San Angelo to pursue livestock shipping from a vast, sparsely populated area of cattle and sheep ranches. This put Santa Fe in direct competition with the FW&RG which was in the midst of building from Fort Worth to Brownwood. Although they competed, the two companies also cooperated in livestock shipments. It was not uncommon for Santa Fe livestock cars to be handed over to the FW&RG in Brownwood for transport to Bird's Siding where they would be handed back to Santa Fe. The FW&RG route was 117 miles shorter from Brownwood to Fort Worth than Santa Fe's route through Temple. Time and distance were important for livestock shipments because the law required railroads to perform feeding and watering at specific intervals. Ultimately, it made sense for Santa Fe to own the Fort Worth - Brownwood line, so they purchased the FW&RG in 1937. The seller was the St. Louis San Francisco ("Frisco") Railway which had acquired the FW&RG in 1901. The sale did not include tracks north of Belt Junction as these led to Frisco's yard, but the sale may have included the spur. Santa Fe needed the spur tracks between Bird's Siding and Belt Junction to connect the Brownwood line to their Fort Worth track network, but the Frisco needed the entire spur so they could continue to interchange with the Katy and the H&TC. Which railroad owned the spur and which had rights on it has not been determined.

Left: This excerpt from court records of a 1902 damages lawsuit against the FW&RG and Santa Fe shows how a cattle shipment from San Angelo to Corsicana involved interchanges at both Brownwood and Bird's Siding.

Right
: Facing south toward the Santa Fe crossing at W. Biddison St., this 2002 photo shows an older style equipment cabinet. The word below "West End" on the side is "Bird's". The cabinet was most likely associated with the siding switch. (Jim King photo)

In 1903, the International & Great Northern (I&GN) Railroad finished a main line from Waco to Fort Worth that passed over the H&TC on a bridge a mile southeast of the Katy/H&TC crossing. From just south of the bridge, the I&GN built an interchange track that paralleled the H&TC tracks all the way to the crossing. Like the FW&RG, the I&GN made connections and perhaps maintained sidings at the junction, but they did not cross any other railroad; only the H&TC and Katy actually crossed. This was significant because in July, 1901, a new state law mandated interlockers for busy railroad crossings. On July 23, 1904, the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) authorized Tower 53 to begin operations at this crossing which RCT officially listed as "South of Ft. Worth". The interlocking plant was built by Union Switch & Signal Co. and was configured for twelve active functions. For most towers, twelve was the minimum, usually a home signal in each direction, a distant signal in each direction, and a mechanical derail in each direction. In 1923, RCT's published list of interlockers added the FW&RG and I&GN as official participants at Tower 53 (and the function count rose to 25), but the associated track and signal changes have not been determined. In RCT's list dated December 31, 1926, Tower 53's location was revised to "Ft. Worth, Ney Yards" but all other information remained unchanged. One year later, the location changed again, to "South Ft. Worth (Ney)", and this was RCT's final revision. In 1931, RCT stopped publishing an annual list of active interlockers.

North of Tower 53, the Katy and Santa Fe junction with the T&P near downtown was also interlocked in 1904 with Tower 55. It then took more than twenty years for the crossings at Polk's Stockyard and Bird's Siding to become interlocked. The first of the two was Tower 126 at Polk's on June 15, 1926. Commonly known to railroaders as Polk's Tower, it was a two-story manned tower that housed an electric interlocker with 33 functions. RCT's annual list of active interlockers published December 31, 1926 cites Tower 126 as being located at "Fort Worth, Polk's Stock Yard". The following year, the report started calling the location "Ft. Worth (Violet St.)", a street that no longer exists. (Perhaps the change resulted from RCT realizing that Polk's Stockyard had been out of business for thirteen years due to the fire in 1914!) Documents in the RCT interlocker archives at DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University indicate that Polk's Tower was approximately 14 ft. by 20 ft. in size. The image of Polk's Tower at the top of this page is the only image of it that has ever been found.

For the FW&RG/Santa Fe crossing, RCT commissioned a cabin interlocker, Tower 124, at "Fort Worth, Bird's Siding" on November 2, 1926. Cabin interlockers were unmanned huts operated by train crews, typically used where a busy line (e.g., the Santa Fe) crossed a less active line (e.g., the FW&RG spur.) The interlocker was normally set to allow unrestricted movements on the busier track. When a train on the less active line needed to cross, it would stop short of the diamond and a crewmember would enter the cabin and the set the controls to allow his train to pass. During that brief period, trains on the busier line would see a signal to stop if they approached the crossing. Once the crewmember's train had crossed, he would reset the signals to allow unrestricted movements on the busier track. RCT's published list of current interlockers dated December 31, 1926 shows Tower 124 having six active functions. This was half the normal minimum because signals and derails were only needed on the busier line. Train crews on the lightly used line always stopped, hence fixed signs along that right-of-way were sufficient. RCT's interlocker list dated December 21, 1928 changed Tower 124's function count to seven, but the details of that change have not been determined. When the Frisco merged with Burlington Northern (BN) in 1980, Frisco's operations shifted to BN's primary Fort Worth & Denver yard on the north side of town. The former FW&RG spur east of Bird's Siding was no longer needed and was removed in 1983, but the western part between Bird's Siding and Belt Junction remained intact for Santa Fe access to the Brownwood line. In 1994, Santa Fe sold the Brownwood line and it eventually became owned by the Fort Worth & Western Railroad (FW&WR).



Right
: This index for the 1927 Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. Fort Worth map set has been annotated to show the tracks of the railroads near Tower 53, Tower 124 (Bird's Siding) and Belt Junction (Polk's Tower is off the top of the map.) Katy Lake and I&GN Lake have also been highlighted in green, examples of the common practice of steam era railroads building their own reservoirs. Katy Lake was built in 1907-08 and survived until 1959 when it was drained as part of the construction of a large shopping center. I&GN Lake was probably built in 1903 when the I&GN began serving Ft. Worth. It survives today as Echo Lake.

MP acquired the I&GN (1925) and gained controlling interest in the T&P (1930); the two railroads became fully merged into MP in 1956 and 1976, respectively. By 1952, the I&GN interchange track to Tower 53 had been removed; the right-of-way was repurposed as Cole St. along the south side of Echo Lake (formerly I&GN Lake) in the 1970s. In 1967-68, MP abandoned the I&GN route between Waco and Fort Worth, but the former I&GN tracks in Fort Worth are still intact north of Everman, a community in southeast Fort Worth.

On March 20, 1961, RCT wrote a letter to Santa Fe, T&NO and the Frisco confirming that "Polk's Interlocking" had been officially retired. (The Frisco involvement may have been related to trackage rights; it did not have tracks at Polk's Tower.) T&NO and Santa Fe knew firsthand that they had removed the interlocker as this was the culmination of their plan to solve a switching problem. Kal Silverberg explains why the crossing was removed:

"...a track swap was arranged between SP [T&NO] and Santa Fe, most likely due to SP not being able to switch at their yard because Santa Fe trains were blocking the lead. The diamond at Polk's was removed and the roads swapped tracks. A new diamond was placed underneath the Allen Avenue bridge and the tracks swapped back. This gave SP more room to switch at the south end of Broadway Yard and led to the confusing state where Santa Fe used the SP bridge over Rosedale, and SP used the Santa Fe bridge. There was a hand throw connection to the Katy from the SP just south of the diamond under Allen Avenue. The new diamond was protected by automatic signals, but appears to have never been under control of any tower. Since this diamond and Tower 53 were not interconnected, it was possible for the SP to have a green signal at Tower 53 (once it was automated), a red signal at the new diamond, and, if the train was long enough, still block the Katy main line until they could pull into Broadway Street Yard."

This track topology remained in place into the latter 1990s by which time railroad consolidations had rendered it obsolete. In 1982, MP was acquired by Union Pacific (UP) but remained a subsidiary corporation. In 1988, UP acquired the Katy and consolidated it into MP, reuniting the two railroads a hundred years after MP's lease was dissolved during the Katy's bankruptcy. In the summer of 1996, UP acquired SP and within a couple of years, UP had integrated MP and SP into its national rail operations. In late 1996, Burlington Northern merged with Santa Fe, creating Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). While the BNSF merger had no practical effect on the tracks near Polk's, UP's efforts to combine SP and MP/Katy operations in Fort Worth resulted in the elimination of SP's Broadway Yard. And with no need for the SP tracks to reach Broadway, there was no reason to retain the Tower 53 crossing which served no other purpose (since the I&GN and FW&RG were no longer there.) Instead, the former SP track coming in from the southeast was routed northward into the south end of Ney Yard. No longer called "Buttermilk Junction" (if it ever was by the railroads - no railroad sources using that name have been found), "Midlothian Junction" is the current name for the switch that leads to Waxahachie and beyond.

The elimination of Tower 53 isolated the SP track west of the Katy -- the north end couldn't terminate at Broadway Yard (abandoned), and the south end no longer crossed at Tower 53 (removed). To make productive use of this track, UP routed both ends back onto the main line in their respective directions, effectively creating a "Ney Bypass" around the west side of Ney Yard. Accomplishing this, however, presented a problem -- north of Allen Ave. the Santa Fe tracks were east of the SP track, i.e. between the SP and the Katy. To merge the north end of the SP track onto the Katy toward Tower 55, the SP track needed to cross back over to be east of the Santa Fe. A simple solution was available -- eliminate the crossing beneath Allen Ave. and swap tracks. An agreement to do so was arranged between UP and BNSF, and now there is no crossing at all. The track alignments have become consistent with their pre-1961 heritage except that north of the location of Polk's Tower, Santa Fe has the west track and UP the east track.


Above: These three diagrams depict the track changes associated with Polk's Tower, Allen Ave. and Tower 53. In the original configuration (left), the SP tracks crossed the Santa Fe at Polk's Tower at the south end of SP's Broadway Yard. This is the track arrangement visible in the tower image at the top of the page (but note that the tower image has south "up" while the graphic above has north "up".) In 1961 (center), Polk's Tower was eliminated and the crossing was moved to beneath the Allen Ave. bridge where an automatic interlocker was installed. This allowed SP to switch cars at their Broadway Yard without being blocked by Santa Fe trains. Around 1997 (right), the Allen Ave. crossing was eliminated and the tracks were swapped north of there. This is now UP's Ney Bypass. Trains on UP's main line to or from the south that do not need to go into Ney Yard can take the bypass around the west side of the yard. The Katy "hand throw connection" (orange) referenced above by Kal serves a business adjacent to the Ney Bypass but does not connect to the Bypass track.

Below: This Google Maps simulated 3-D view is to the south, approximating the view in the 1952 aerial photo of Polk's Tower at the top of the page. There are now five bridges over Rosedale St. The double tracking of the BNSF line required an additional bridge, and there is now a service road bridge adjacent to the Katy bridge at left. Google Maps' 3-D algorithm, which combines satellite imagery with terrestrial elevation data, imparts a visible base to what appears to be a concrete slab adjacent to the tracks. Whether this is the foundation of Polk's Tower has not been confirmed, but the location is plausible.


Above Left: This recent Google Earth satellite image of the crossing at Bird's Siding shows that the connector in the northwest quadrant is still in use. The FW&RG spur to Tower 53 ran along the north side of W. Biddison St., so the actual diamond would have been barely north of Biddison and east of Ryan Ave. From this view, it is easy to envision the (unconfirmed!) possibility that livestock pens were located in the open area on the east side of the Santa Fe tracks. When livestock was exchanged here, it may have been appropriate to perform feeding and watering since some delay was likely to occur anyway to effect the transfer. Above Right: This recent Google Earth satellite image of the Tower 53 crossing shows that the tracks no longer cross. Instead of crossing, the SP lines reach both sides of the Katy tracks and merge in opposite directions. The tracks on the east side merge north. The tracks on the west side merge south, and in the other direction, they proceed northwest away from the Katy tracks, eventually becoming adjacent and parallel to the BNSF main line as they continue north to the site of the former Polk's Tower and beyond to Tower 55.

Below Left: ((c) historicaerials.com) This 1956 image of the Bird's Siding crossing does not show any evidence of how the vacant area east of the Santa Fe tracks was used. It's evident from the image that the location of the equipment cabinet at "West End, Bird's" is too far north of the diamond to have been the site of the interlocker cabin. A 1964 GC&SF timetable implies that Bird's Siding had become an automatic interlocker by then. Below Right: About 1957, Tower 53's interlocking plant was automated, but this 1963 aerial image ((c) historicaerials.com) shows that the tower remained standing, casting a shadow to the north. The tower could have remained manned for some other purpose, or perhaps it was merely used as storage or to host electronic equipment. Later imagery shows the tower was gone by 1968; its fate has not been determined.
     

 


Above Left: Facing northwest at the Tower 53 crossing, the former SP line comes in from the southeast and joins the main track into Ney Yard. (Jim King, c.2005) Above Right: The switch at Tower 53 is now known as Midlothian Jct. In this view, Tower 53 would have been visible across the Katy tracks. (Jim King, c.2005) Below Left: Looking southeast from the W. Morningside Dr. grade crossing, the former SP tracks now curve to the south instead of crossing the Katy main line. (Google Street View) Below Right: Looking northwest, the former grade of the I&GN spur now carries Cole St. along side Echo Lake, the former I&GN reservoir. (Google Street View)

    
Above: The 1951 update to the 1910 Sanborn Insurance Co. map of Fort Worth shows a two-story signal tower at the Polk's Tower crossing. The tower was part of the update since it did not exist until 1926. Below Left: This trackside concrete equipment cabinet is labeled "West End, Polk's". Since the lines no longer crossed, there may not have been any continuing purpose for the cabin and the control box when this photo was taken in 2002. (Jim King photo) Below Right: The cabinet is still standing in this December, 2019 satellite view.
 

Below Left: Facing east, this c.2002 bird's eye view of the vicinity of Polk's Tower shows the equipment cabin (above) sitting at the edge of the brush, adjacent to the utility pole that is also visible in the above photo. Of greater interest is the potential remnant of the tower's foundation sitting trackside. Note that the path of the utility poles traces the original route of the Santa Fe right-of-way, undeterred by the swapping of main lines. (Microsoft Visual Earth) Below Right: This satellite image from 2019 shows that the Santa Fe line is now double track. The concrete foundation, possibly of Tower 126, is visible beside the UP track, about 80 yards south of where the cabinet (above) sits.

 
Last Revised: 3/24/2021 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.