Historic Photo, Tower 63
Above: Albert D. "Dean" Hale took this photo of Tower 63 on October 24, 1961. The photo negative was acquired by Everett DeGolyer Jr., who added technical and subject details on a notecard stored with it. The view is south down the Southern Pacific tracks with the Burlington - Rock Island tracks crossing at an acute angle on a southeast (left)/northwest (right) heading. (DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University; hat tip Dennis Hogan and Stephen Taylor)
Above: Tom Kline describes his photo..."It's a shot of the Mexia Turn headed back to Teague after crossing the SP. I do not know who the photographer was but he was the engineer on the local powered by an FW&D SD7 who took it while waiting for his brakeman to board the wooden, outside-braced Rock Island caboose. You can see him waving a highball as he steps aboard. This photo came from engineer Bob James, a longtime employee of the B-RI who believes the date to be in the early '60's, perhaps 1962."
The town of Mexia, named for the owner of a local
1833 land grant, was founded in 1870 by the Houston & Texas Central (H&TC)
Railway as it built north from Hearne toward the
Red River. Within fifteen years, economic growth stimulated by the railroad had
increased the town's population to 2,000 residents as it became an important farming supply center. In 1904, the Trinity &
Brazos Valley (T&BV) Railroad, building southeast from
Hillsboro entered Mexia from the northwest and
stopped, remaining west of the H&TC. The following year, the T&BV was
acquired by the Colorado & Southern (C&S) Railway as part of a plan conceived by
a member of the C&S Board of Directors,
B. F. Yoakum.
Yoakum was a native Texan with vast experience in Texas railroading. He was born in 1859 in Tehuacana, a small community close to Mexia (and only a mile from the new T&BV tracks.) Yoakum was currently the Chairman of the St. Louis San Francisco ("Frisco") Railroad and the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific (CRI&P) Railroad. He also controlled several railroad properties in south Texas collectively known as the Gulf Coast Lines (GCL). His Frisco and Rock Island railroads operated into Dallas but lacked a favorable connection from there to his GCL railroads in south Texas. Instead, Yoakum's north/south traffic was being handed over to Southern Pacific (SP), owner of the H&TC. The H&TC tracks through Mexia were the only semi-direct route that existed between Houston and Dallas. Yoakum plotted to rectify the situation and the T&BV owned a valuable component of his plan: a charter granted by the State of Texas. It was much easier to modify an existing charter than to ask the state to pass a law to grant a new one, especially since a charter for the railroad that Yoakum envisioned would surely be opposed by SP and its allies in the Legislature. Arranging for the C&S to acquire the T&BV solved the charter problem. Yoakum then personally contracted with C&S to complete the T&BV in accordance with his plan. He quickly revised its charter to build east from Mexia to the community of Brewer. From there, he would build north to Dallas and south to Houston, creating a north/south railroad to connect overhead traffic between his GCL railroads and his Frisco and Rock Island lines.
Remaining west of H&TC's tracks and paralleling them for two miles south through Mexia, the T&BV crossed over at a location called Springfield, named for the original county seat of Limestone County, a ghost town about five miles southwest. On April 26, 1906, the Tower 63 interlocker was authorized for operation at Springfield by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT). T&BV's construction then continued east from Springfield to Brewer. Yoakum incorporated Brewer as the city of Teague (his mother's maiden name) and built a yard and maintenance shops there. From Teague, the T&BV built south to Houston and north to Waxahachie. Yoakum was able to obtain favorable rights on the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad from Waxahachie into Dallas, eliminating the need to build all the way to Dallas.
The T&BV route was designed to be faster between Houston and Dallas than SP's route via Hearne and Mexia, creating a major problem for SP and its chairman, E. H. Harriman. Harriman already blamed Yoakum for RCT's investigation into south Texas railroads that had yielded a 1903 court decision forcing SP to relinquish control of the San Antonio & Aransas Pass railroad (where Yoakum had once been the General Manager and later, its bankruptcy Receiver.) The court decision irritated Harriman, and out of spite, he had threatened to parallel any new lines Yoakum built in Texas. Yoakum's plan for a direct Houston - Dallas route motivated Harriman to build a competing line. Called the Mexia - Nelleva Cutoff, it would shorten H&TC's route between Houston and Mexia by branching off from H&TC's main line near Nelleva, a settlement a few miles northwest of Navasota, and continuing on a direct route north to Mexia. SP completed the 94-mile Cutoff in 1907 and began operations competing with Yoakum's new T&BV line. The Cutoff paralleled T&BV's tracks for much of the route, and between Iola and Jewett, the railroads literally ran side by side for 42 miles! The north end of the Cutoff reconnected to the H&TC main line a mile and a half south of Tower 63.
Unfortunately for both Harriman and Yoakum, the lack of towns of any size on their new routes doomed both rail lines to fail. Harriman's Cutoff was abandoned in 1933; it lacked the local traffic of SP's main line through Mexia and it was unable to capture independent Houston - Dallas overhead traffic due to T&BV's better north/south route. The T&BV didn't fare any better; a lengthy receivership ensued in 1914 but it was able to remain operational during bankruptcy proceedings. The T&BV's assets were acquired in 1930 by the Burlington-Rock Island (B-RI) Railroad, a newly formed joint venture of the Rock Island and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, which had acquired the C&S in 1908. Burlington assigned its Fort Worth & Denver (FW&D) subsidiary to operate its half of the B-RI. The FW&D and Rock Island alternated managing the B-RI in five-year intervals beginning with the Rock Island in 1930.
Above: In May, 2018, a Google Street View camera caught this remnant of the B-RI on the side of the BNSF rail bridge over US 190/TX-21. The bridge in the background (or, more likely, its 1907 predecessor) carried SP's Mexia-Nelleva Cutoff but now carries FM 39.
In 1932, B-RI abandoned
the original T&BV tracks between Cleburne and
Hillsboro; they were unprofitable and served no purpose for Rock Island or the
FW&D. In 1935, the tracks between Hillsboro and Hubbard
were abandoned. And the final segment of pre-Yoakum T&BV trackage, Hubbard -
Mexia, was abandoned in 1942. In 1976, the tracks between Mexia and Teague were abandoned,
eliminating the need for Tower 63 which was decommissioned.
H&TC's original line through Mexia remains active as a major Union Pacific (UP) route. The T&BV tracks between Houston and Waxahachie are now a main line of Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), the successor of both FW&D and Rock Island (from the Burlington heritage of BNSF.) These days, instead of trains, it's cars and trucks that roam the Mexia - Nelleva Cutoff. Approximately 71 miles of the Cutoff was acquired by the Texas Highway Department as a right-of-way for Farm Road 39 between Mexia and Iola.