txrrhistory.com - Tower 68 and Tower 87 - Houston (Englewood Yard)
Two Towers at Southern Pacific's Englewood Yard
Southern Pacific (SP) expanded its presence in Texas during the late 1800s by acquiring control or full ownership of several railroads. As it expanded, SP recognized the advantages of consolidating its switching and maintenance operations as much as possible. It's first major yard in the Houston area was at Hardy Street, north of Buffalo Bayou. Early on, Hardy Street Yard was the effective terminus for two of SP's railroads: the Houston & Texas Central to the north and the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) to the east. In 1888, SP moved the yard operations for another railroad, the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway, to Hardy Street from Harrisburg, retaining the facilities at Harrisburg for industry operations along Buffalo Bayou. Even by this early date, the signs were becoming clear -- Houston, not Harrisburg or Galveston, would eventually become the major population center for the Texas Gulf Coast.
The T&NO main line east to Beaumont and points beyond passed through open land northeast of downtown Houston, and in 1895, SP built a new yard there, Englewood Yard, approximately three miles east of Hardy Street Yard. Over time, operations were sorted out between the yards; Englewood took on greater switching duties while Hardy Street took on more maintenance work. The opening of Englewood Yard motivated the need for shorter connections to the industries located along Buffalo Bayou. A short distance south of Englewood, SP already owned tracks along the north bank of Buffalo Bayou that had been built in 1876 by the Texas Transportation Co. In 1896, T&NO built a connection between Englewood Yard and Magers, paralleling the existing tracks for approximately one mile west from Magers before turning due north (at a location known as Baer Junction) to reach the west end of Englewood Yard. Given the layout of Englewood Yard, this routing had the benefit of allowing movements between Hardy Street and tracks serving Buffalo Bayou without having to traverse Englewood Yard.
In 1907, an interlocker was installed at the location where the line from Baer Junction reached the T&NO main line at the west end of Englewood Yard. Arguably, Tower 68 was the first "yard tower" in Texas to receive an interlocker authorized and designated by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT). In its initial listing in the RCT annual reports (1907), the only railroad listed as involved in the crossing is "GH&SA Yards". Obviously, since Englewood was built along the T&NO main line, Tower 68 could presumably have been listed by RCT as a T&NO tower, and in later annual reports, RCT eventually listed this interlocker as supporting "GH&SA Yards, T&NO".
At the east end of Englewood Yard, Tower 87 was opened in 1911 to control a different junction and provide additional yard tower services. The Tower 87 interlocker controlled a crossing of the T&NO that had existed since 1907 when the Houston, Belt & Terminal (HB&T) completed 8 miles of new track between Tower 86 and Tower 80, finishing the Belt Line around northeast Houston. HB&T apparently decided to interlock several crossings to improve operational efficiency, hence four consecutive towers: Tower 84, Tower 85, Tower 86 and Tower 87 all involved the HB&T.
It is interesting to note that RCT listed Tower 68 as located at "Englewood (Houston)" and Tower 87 as located at "Houston (Englewood)". Tower 87 was removed in the 1980s. Tower 68 stood until the summer of 2010, per this email from Tom Kline dated 10 August 2010:
"Just a short
note to let you know the former SP Tower 68 at
Below: Mark St. Aubin took this photo of the site
of Tower 68 in the summer of 2010. The sign remains, but the tower, which
sat along this side of the fence at right, is gone. The tan dirt and sand at lower right marks the precise location.
Tower 68 (Daniel Walford photo)
Tower 87 (Gary Morris photo)
Above: This 1926 side track chart from the T&NO Archives shows the entirety of Englewood Yard as it existed at that time. The towers are not shown.
Tower 68 was beside the Inbound Main Line at the west end of the yard, approximately where the line from Baer Jct. would project to intersect the main.
Tower 87 was beside the Inbound Main Line in the upper right corner where the HB&T crossed the T&NO main line.
Above: Tower 68 (photo by Bill Hale, courtesy of Art Fisher). Given the concrete construction
of the tower and the numerous changes at Englewood since 1907, it is perhaps likely that the
current tower replaced an earlier structure.
Above: Tower 68 sits beside the original T&NO main line; as the interior photo reveals, it was a major control center for
Englewood Yard. (photos courtesy Greg Johnson)
Below: The GH&SA line from the south still enters Englewood Yard at Tower 68, although the yard has many more
tracks than it did originally. The tower is located..................HERE!.........at the top center edge of the image.
Below: Facing west, this bird's eye view of the Tower 87 site shows a
Union Pacific (UP) train crossing the former T&NO
main line. With the UP/SP merger, UP controls both Englewood Yard and Settegast Yard, which is located a short distance
north of Tower 87. The tower site is now covered by an elevated stretch of N. Wayside Dr.
Above: Tower 87 in 1984 (courtesy Greg Johnson);
Below: A large white equipment cabin replaced the Tower 87 structure (Jim King photo).
Location Map, Towers 68 and 87