Historic Photo, Tower 63 (Tom Kline collection)
Tom Kline: "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."
Mexia was founded in 1870 by the Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) Railway building north from Hearne, and was named for the original owner of an 1833 land grant. Within 15 years, prosperity brought by the railroad had caused the town to grow to 2,000 residents, becoming an important farming supply center. In 1904, the Trinity & Brazos Valley (T&BV) Railroad, building southeast from Cleburne and Hillsboro, entered Mexia from the northwest and stopped. Soon, the T&BV was taken over by B. F. Yoakum, a native Texan born in 1859 in Tehuacana, a small community close to Mexia and only a mile from the new T&BV tracks. Yoakum had vast experience in Texas railroading and his rail empire already included the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific (CRI&P) railroad, the St. Louis San Francisco (Frisco) railroad, and various railroad properties in south Texas collectively known as the Gulf Coast Lines (GCL). Yoakum's Frisco and Rock Island railroads operated in north Texas, but lacked a connecting line to his GCL roads in south Texas. Significant north/south traffic originated by Yoakum's railroads was being lost to Southern Pacific (SP), the owner of the H&TC, which had a route between Houston and Dallas. Yoakum plotted to rectify the situation; his acquisition of the T&BV was the first step. He quickly revised its charter to describe a plan of construction east from Mexia to the community of Brewer. From there, he would build north to Dallas and south to Houston, creating a lengthy north/south railroad to connect overhead traffic between his GCL and Frisco/Rock Island lines.
The T&BV tracks in Mexia paralleled the H&TC rails on the west side. In 1906, the T&BV proceeded east across the H&TC at what became Tower 63. The crossing was a short distance south of Mexia and was named Springfield by the T&BV, presumably in honor of the original county seat of Limestone County that had become a ghost town about 5 miles southwest of Tower 63. The T&BV continued construction east to Brewer, which Yoakum incorporated as the city of Teague (his mother's maiden name). He established T&BV shops at Teague and from there, built south to Houston and north to Waxahachie, where rights on the Missouri Kansas Texas (Katy) Railroad could be used to enter Dallas. In implementing his plan, Yoakum surveyed a route that would be much faster between Houston and Dallas via Teague than SP's line via Hearne and Mexia. SP was set to lose a substantial volume of connecting traffic as Yoakum succeeded in building a faster, better line between Houston and Dallas. By the end of 1907, construction was complete; the T&BV began serving Houston and Dallas.
Yoakum's moves created a major problem for SP and its chairman, E. H. Harriman. Harriman already blamed Yoakum for the Texas Railroad Commission investigation into south Texas railroads that 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, bankruptcy Receiver.) The court decision had irritated Harriman, and out of spite, he had threatened to parallel any new lines Yoakum built in Texas. With Yoakum now building a new and better Houston/Dallas route, one that would severely impact SP's traffic, Harriman decided to build a competing line. Called the Mexia - Nelleva Cutoff, it would shorten H&TC's route distance between Mexia and the small community of Nelleva, a settlement 8 miles northwest of Navasota on H&TC's Houston/Dallas main line. The 94-mile Cutoff was constructed in 1907 and began operation directly competing with the new T&BV line. The route of the Mexia - Nelleva Cutoff generally 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 Mexia - Nelleva Cutoff re-connected to the H&TC main line 1.5 miles south of Tower 63.
By 1933, the Cutoff was abandoned, a failure caused mostly by a lack of population and traffic along the route compared to the existing H&TC line, plus the competition from T&BV's better north/south route. The T&BV didn't fare much better. Yoakum's rail empire crashed, and a lengthy receivership for the T&BV began in 1914 due to mounting losses. The T&BV line remained intact, however, and was taken over by the Burlington-Rock Island (B-RI) Railroad, a joint venture of two railroads, the Rock Island and the Burlington, created to acquire and operate the T&BV when its bankruptcy ended in 1930. The B-RI abandoned the original segment of the T&BV from Cleburne to Mexia, but Yoakum's new construction from Mexia to Teague and points north and south remained intact. In 1976, the Mexia - Teague segment was abandoned and the interlocker at Tower 63 decommissioned. H&TC's original line through Mexia is still active as a major Union Pacific route, and the T&BV tracks between Houston and Waxahachie have survived as a Burlington Northern Santa Fe main line. 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.