Texas Railroad History - Tower 67 and Tower 187 - Waxahachie

Tower 67: crossing of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad and the Houston & Texas Central Railway
Tower 187: crossing of the Texas & New Orleans Railroad and the Burlington - Rock Island Railroad


Above: The John W Barriger III National Railroad Library supplies this image of Tower 67 taken by Barriger from the rear of his business car sometime in the 1930's or 40's. The view is to the north along the Katy tracks toward Dallas. White cross-bucks are visible for the Grand Ave. crossings of the Katy (near the tower) and the T&NO (far right).

Settlement of the town of Waxahachie dates back to the 1840s. Although it had been the county seat of Ellis County since 1850, Waxahachie was bypassed when the Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) Railway built north through Corsicana into Dallas in the early 1870s. This motivated community leaders to charter the Waxahachie Tap Railroad to "tap" the H&TC line at Garrett, 12 miles east of Waxahachie. Construction was completed in 1879, and within a year, the railroad had been acquired by the H&TC. Soon, Ft. Worth interests sought to connect their town with this line and by 1886, the Ft. Worth & New Orleans Railroad had completed a line between Ft. Worth and Waxahachie, connecting to (and becoming acquired by) the H&TC. The H&TC eventually came under the ownership of Southern Pacific (SP), and was merged into SP's Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) subsidiary in 1934 (hence, post-1934 references to Waxahachie use "T&NO" instead of "H&TC".)

In 1886, the Dallas & Waco (D&W) Railroad was incorporated to build a line for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad, commonly known as the "Katy", between Dallas and Hillsboro, where it would connect to the Katy main line between Ft. Worth and Waco. The route for the D&W passed through Waxahachie in 1888, crossing the H&TC on the outskirts of town. By 1890, the connection to the MKT at Hillsboro had been made, and MKT acquired the D&W shortly thereafter. As traffic increased, the H&TC/MKT junction in Waxahachie became controlled by Tower 67, authorized for operation by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) on December 1, 1906.

In the early 1900s, B. F. Yoakum controlled both the St. Louis - San Francisco Railway ("Frisco") and the Rock Island Lines. He also controlled a collection of other railroad companies in south Texas known as the Gulf Coast Lines. As the Frisco and Rock Island railroads built south into Texas from Indian territory (Oklahoma), Yoakum sought a connection with his Gulf Coast Lines by building a main line between Dallas and Houston. He accomplished this by acquiring the charter of the Trinity and Brazos Valley (T&BV) Railway, a small short line railroad operating between Mexia and Cleburne. In 1907, he built north and south from the town of Teague, reaching Waxahachie to the north and Houston to the south. Yoakum stopped in Waxahachie rather than continuing into Dallas because he was able to make a favorable trackage rights arrangement into Dallas on the MKT line. The T&BV did not connect to the T&NO at Waxahachie, but it did cross a T&NO spur, a crossing that was interlocked many years later as Tower 187.

For several years, the T&BV enjoyed great business carrying overhead traffic between Dallas and Houston via Waxahachie. In 1914, Yoakum lost control of the Frisco and Rock Island companies, and the T&BV went into a long receivership lasting 16 years. When it ended in 1930, a new company, the Burlington - Rock Island (B-RI) Railroad, was created to own and operate the ex-T&BV rail lines. B-RI was owned jointly by Rock Island and by Burlington Northern through its subsidiary Ft. Worth & Denver (FW&D) Railway. B-RI continued the MKT trackage rights arrangement into Dallas that T&BV had used, and their connection to the Katy became known as "BR-I Junction". In the late 1940s, an electrically operated capability was added to control the switch at BR-I junction remotely where BR-I trains got on Katy tracks for the northward trip to Dallas, and to permit southbound trains to proceed from Tate (the first siding north of Waxahachie) to B-RI junction without train order authority. In those days, Tower 67 was commonly known as Waxahachie Tower. Until the demise of Rock Island in 1980, both Rock Island and FW&D shared operations over the line, and the route was commonly known as the "Joint Texas Division" (JTD).  B-RI was always a paper railroad -- it never owned any rolling stock -- and it became absorbed into the Burlington System when Rock Island went bankrupt.

In 1988, the Katy was acquired and merged into Missouri Pacific (MP) by Union Pacific (UP), which had acquired MP in 1982. MP quickly proceeded to pare back its newly acquired Waxahachie - Hillsboro line by abandoning a 10-mile middle segment between Italy and Nena in 1990. The tracks to Nena, 4.5 miles south of Hillsboro, were retained to serve a local customer, while Italy continued to be served by trains out of Hillsboro. The 18-mile Italy - Hillsboro segment was abandoned in 1992, and the Waxahachie - Nena segment was abandoned in 2005. The Katy rails north of Waxahachie to Dallas were sold to Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), successor to the Burlington System. The route into Dallas has been combined with the former B-RI line from Waxahachie to Houston to form a continuous Dallas-Houston BNSF main line.
The T&NO also came under the ownership of UP, a result of UP's merger with Southern Pacific in 1996. UP's ex-T&NO route through Waxahachie remains operational.

  Photos and commentary by Jim Cooper

Above: T&NO local freight No. 74 approaches Tower 67 in May, 1958. The train is returning from Fort Worth to Ennis. Below: Also in May, 1958, Texas Special No. 1 approaches Tower 67 on the Katy line. The purpose of the "75" on the utility pole is unknown.

Jim Cooper explains Tower 67's operation...
Southward trains activated a light on the panel and rang a bell in the tower upon passing the south end of the passing track at Sterrett (the second passing track north of Waxahachie); northward Katy trains announced themselves in the same way at the north end of the passing track at Nelson (the first passing track South of Waxahachie on the Katy), and northward BR-I trains at the north end of the passing track at Bardwell (the first passing track south of Waxahachie on the BR-I). T&NO trains activated the light and bell about 2 miles east and west of the tower.

The crossing was protected by derails on the main tracks in all four directions and from the transfer track onto the main lines. In order to give a clear signal for any movement, the derails appropriate for the movement permitted by the clear signal must be closed and locked in place and derails for conflicting movements must be open. When a clear signal was displayed for a movement on a particular route, a clear signal could not be given for any other movement. That conflicting routes could not be cleared at the same time was insured by a system of rods moving with the levers operating the derails, locks, and signals that functioned much like a lock and key in that parts would not fit mechanically to permit improper or conflicting routes.

The tower was a 24-hour train order office on both the MKT and the T&NO. Although there were also three tricks (shifts) of train order operators at the BR-I depot in Waxahachie that copied most of the orders for BR-I trains, occasionally BR-I trains would be given orders at Waxahachie Tower. Both the tower and the BR-I depot handled Western Union messages at nights and on weekends when the downtown Western Union office was closed. Intra-company messages for both the Katy and the T&NO depots passed through the tower. In the late 1940s and early 1950s between 20 and 30 trains, including 14 passenger trains, were handled daily. During the wheat rush in early summer the traffic was heavier. The tower was replaced by an automatic system in 1958 at which time the train order office was moved to the Katy depot just south of downtown Waxahachie. (From The Clearance Card, December 1994, Southwest Railroad Historical Society, used with permission)

Above left: Operator Davis is lining up a route for an oncoming train. The view is south down the Katy. The pendulum for the office clock can be seen above the time-release clock (upon which a coat is hung). If a proceed signal was improperly displayed, a new route could not be aligned until 45 seconds elapsed after starting the time release. This seemed like a long time when an engine is sitting at the home signal blowing its whistle. Above right: Tower 67 operator F. J. Davis entertains Richard Cooper, son of Jim Cooper, in December, 1957.

Tower 67 Site (Jim King, January 2008)

Above: View to the northwest along the T&NO. The switch beside the block signal is for the connecting track to the Katy. The equipment hut to the left appears to be the same one as in the second Jim Cooper photo above. Compare the small black hole at the top center of the side of the hut. Below: View to the north along the Katy. The tower was near the utility pole at right.

Sometime in the 1890s, National Compress Co. built a cotton compress in downtown Waxahachie near the Katy depot. The compress is visible on the 1898 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Waxahachie, served by spur tracks from both the Katy and the H&TC. The Katy spur was relatively short since the main line was close by, but the H&TC spur needed nearly a mile of track to reach the compress. When the T&BV built into Waxahachie in 1907, it crossed the H&TC spur at grade. As an uncontrolled crossing of two different railroads, all trains would have been required to come to a complete stop. However, since virtually all B-RI trains would have stopped at the depot less than a half mile from the crossing, this may not have created much additional delay. It is also possible that the crossing was within the "yard limits" of the B-RI, and other operational procedures applied. Whatever the case, the crossing was not interlocked for three decades.

Sometime after H&TC was merged into the T&NO in 1934, Tower 187 was established to control the B-RI crossing of the T&NO spur to National Compress. It was most likely a remote-controlled interlocker, with controls perhaps located at the B-RI passenger depot. The specific impetus for establishing an interlocker at this crossing after 30+ years of operation is unknown. However, beginning with Tower 182 at Prosser in 1936, several interlockers involving the T&NO were established at "minor" crossings, including Tower 186, a similar situation in Sherman where a T&NO spur crossed a Frisco main line. Perhaps T&NO had embarked on a project to improve operations and safety throughout their system.

Satellite Map, Waxahachie Area

Above: This Sanborn Fire Insurance Index Map of Waxahachie has been annotated to show the railroads, towers and junctions in Waxahachie as of the 1940s. Below: This 1925 Sanborn Map shows National Compress Co. served by two rail spurs. To the left (south) of the Compress along Matthews St., the H&TC spur is visible ending short of S. Flat St. To the right (north) of the Compress, the Katy spur crosses S. Flat St. heading toward the Katy main line. The T&BV main line is located to the right of the Katy spur, passing along side the City Water Works and the J. T. Andrews & Sons Gin Co.

Images of Waxahachie from 2008, Click to Enlarge (Jim King photos)

Rails are visible where the T&NO spur to National Compress crossed Jefferson at the Getzendaner St. intersection. With the abandonment of the Katy, there's no longer a junction at BRI Jct. The Katy depot is visible in the distance. The Katy passenger depot sits abandoned.
The B-RI passenger depot is used as an office by The Nay Co., a construction firm focused on grain receiving, handling and processing facilities. A BNSF freight idles next to the abandoned Katy spur on the north side of the former National Compress site. On Mathews St., the T&NO spur was along the south side of the National Compress facility, now a warehouse site.

Google Street View images, May 2018

Above: Much has changed at the Katy depot since 2008. The depot restoration project was completed in November, 2010 and a caboose was acquired in 2011 for display in front. When the caboose restoration was completed, a Grand Opening celebration was held on May 26, 2018. Below: The corporate headquarters for The Nay Company is in the former B-RI depot. The company has used this facility since 1963. A major renovation was performed in 2008.

Last Revised: 1/29/2020 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.