Texas Railroad History - Tower 56 - McGregor

A Crossing of the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway and the St. Louis Southwestern Railroad

Above: Tower 56 was a combination tower and depot. (DeGolyer Library, hat tip Myron Malone)

In 1881, the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe (GC&SF) Railway built north out of Temple to Ft. Worth, passing through the western reaches of McLennan County less than 20 miles west of Waco. A year later, the Texas & St. Louis (T&SL) Railroad built from Waco to Gatesville, crossing the Santa Fe tracks at a place that became known as McGregor, named for a doctor who donated land for the right-of-way. The T&SL went bankrupt in 1884, and its assets, including the route through McGregor, ultimately became owned by the St. Louis Southwestern (SSW, "Cotton Belt") Railroad in 1891. As a junction of two major railroads, the McGregor crossing was a prime location for an interlocker. Tower 56 was commissioned for service there on October 22, 1904, with an 18-lever electrical interlocking plant installed by GC&SF. The tower structure was integrated directly into the northeast corner of the Union Depot, which was located in the southwest quadrant of the crossing. McGregor continued to grow, exceeding 2,000 population by 1920. An Army ordnance plant was built southwest of town during WWII and spur tracks were built into the complex from both railroads.

Southern Pacific (SP) acquired full control of the Cotton Belt in the 1930s. Years earlier, the Cotton Belt had acquired tracks west from Gatesville to Hamilton and beyond, and in 1942, SP abandoned the line from Gatesville to Hamilton. In 1972, service to Gatesville ended when the line was abandoned west of Lime City, a few miles west of McGregor.

In 1988, SP abandoned the former Cotton Belt line from Corsicana to Waco. This was the line that connected Waco to SP's rail network, and as a result, SP's tracks throughout Waco, along with the branch to Lime City, were stranded. In 1989, SP service to McGregor and Lime City was terminated and the tracks were mostly abandoned between Atco (on the western outskirts of Waco) and Lime City. Some trackage remained in place near Tower 56 and was sold to Santa Fe so they could serve industries in McGregor that had been served by SP.

Bradley Linda explains how SP sustained their stranded lines in Waco using ex-Missouri Pacific (MoPac) tracks that were owned by Union Pacific (UP):

"After the Waco-Corsicana abandonment, SP built a 'freight connector' between the north end of the SSW yard and the former MoPac tracks near Orchard Lane. They ran the Mopac down to Valley Jct. then over to the SP yard in Hearne, and vice versa. In the 90's there was quite a lot of business on the East Waco-Atco segment, Warren Flour downtown, and a plastic flower pot place and Gulf States Paper between New Road and Valley Mills Dr. next to Franklin. Gross-Yowell Lumber got loads of lumber in on the 'Westview team' next to McCoys. There was a diaper manufacturer, a beer distributor, and several other customers, but the big customer was the Lehigh White Cement Co. at Atco (formerly Atlas-Portland Cement.) Now, the big customers are Lehigh, a plastics manufacturer, and Packaging Corp. of America out near Hewitt Dr."

UP had acquired and integrated Missouri Pacific in 1982, and in the mid-90s, they acquired SP as well, including the former Cotton Belt tracks around Waco and out to Atco which UP still serves. The former Cotton Belt bridge over the Brazos River provided access to SP customers in East Waco and remained in service until 2002. In McGregor, the Santa Fe line remains very active, now operated by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

Photo from the 1950's by J. O. Bledsoe from the collection of John Mann Gardner II.


Above Left: photo by H.D. Conner (collection of Mark Nerren) Above Right: This vintage postcard shows a westbound Cotton Belt train stopped at the McGregor depot. (Steve Goen collection, hat tip Dennis Hogan)

Below: This McGregor passenger depot replaced the earlier Santa Fe styled structure and tower. The depot continues to be used as the Amtrak station for the Waco area. (H. D. Connor, photo, J. D. Connor collection)

Above: The diamond at Tower 56 was removed; crossing the Santa Fe main line was no longer required when the line to Waco was severed. The remaining Cotton Belt tracks were converted to industrial leads accessed by connecting tracks from the main line. The east lead runs approximately 1.5 miles; the west lead runs about 0.5 miles. All tracks are now owned and operated by BNSF.

Last Revised: 8/30/2023 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.