Texas Railroad History - Tower 70 - Dobbin

A Crossing of the Trinity & Brazos Valley Railroad and the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway

Above Left: Comments by Tom Kline from 2005..."On the evening of March 4, 2001, we see Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) conductor Charlie Holson opening the control box marked ATSF for the Tower 70 cabin interlocker at Dobbin. Charlie has walked down from his train (seen stopped in the distance at the absolute signal) which is traveling east on the former Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF) Conroe Subdivision between Somerville and Silsbee. Charlie is pushing a button in the box which will check the track circuits for traffic on the BNSF Houston Subdivision running behind him. If the interlocker finds the Houston Sub clear, Charlie's engineer will see a green signal to proceed through the crossing. The Houston Sub is the section of the former Burlington - Rock Island (B-RI) main line between Teague and Houston. BNSF trains on the Houston Sub do not need to stop at this interlocker unless it is occupied. When they do receive a stop indication, their crews follow the same procedure by pushing buttons in the adjacent box marked BN." Above Right: "While the interlocker is going through it's timing procedure, a southbound BNSF train arrives in the distance just as Charlie gets a permissive white light on the control panel in the box. Even though trains on the Houston Sub normally have the right of way, this one will have to wait since Charlie has already obtained permission for his train to cross the diamond."  The above photos are facing opposite directions along the former B-RI tracks, southeast toward Houston (left) and northwest toward Teague (right). Sometime after Tom took these photos, the Tower 70 interlocker was converted to a fully automatic plant. Below: This image looking north across the diamond was taken by Tom Kline on July 1, 1995, a few weeks before final approval of the merger that created BNSF. The tracks here meet in an X-pattern with an acute angle (visible in the image above left) to the north and south. The wide angle of Tom's camera renders the appearance of a 90 degree crossing. In this view, the AT&SF line crosses northeast-to-southwest (right-to-left) and the former B-RI line goes northwest-to-southeast (top-to-bottom.) The interlocker cabinet sits due west of the diamond. Note the manual interlocker control stand adjacent to the cabin and the "70" stenciled on two sides of the cabin.

The Central & Montgomery (C&M) Railway was chartered in late 1877 by Montgomery interests to build a 25-mile rail line from Montgomery west to Navasota. The tracks into Navasota were completed in 1878, and a connection was made to the Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) Railway. The H&TC was the major north/south line in Texas at the time, and its service to Houston would be handy for citizens of Montgomery County. But if getting to Houston had been the only consideration, it would have been shorter to build 18 miles east from Montgomery to reach tracks of the International & Great Northern (I&GN). The I&GN ran north/south through Montgomery County and provided a shorter route to Houston compared to the Navasota connection. At the time, however, there was no community and little population along the I&GN due east of Montgomery, whereas Navasota was a legitimate town with a population over 1,500 that would help generate the regular commerce on which the C&M would depend.

In 1882, the C&M was sold to the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe (GC&SF) Railway. The GC&SF main line ran from Galveston to Ft. Worth, with construction of a second main line proceeding northwest out of Temple toward the Texas Panhandle. The GC&SF viewed the C&M as a target of opportunity to begin establishing a route into east Texas to capitalize on the vast lumber business conducted there. The GC&SF planned for the line to penetrate farther east to Beaumont to establish an outlet to the Gulf for east Texas timber products. To assemble the line to east Texas, the GC&SF built 29 miles from their main line at Somerville east to Navasota in 1883 to reach the western extent of the C&M's rails. In 1885, they laid 18 miles of track from the C&M's terminus at Montgomery eastward to Conroe where a connection to the I&GN was made. A short distance west of Montgomery, the C&M tracks passed through an area that would become settled as the tiny community of Bobbin.

Another railroad eventually arrived at Bobbin due to the efforts of Benjamin Franklin Yoakum, a native Texan who had begun his railroad career working on a track gang for the I&GN. By 1903, he had become Chairman of the Board of Directors of the St. Louis San Francisco ("Frisco") Railway. He was also named Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific ("Rock Island") Railroad, another major Midwest railroad that had been operating into Fort Worth since 1893. As if those jobs weren't enough, Yoakum was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Colorado & Southern (C&S) Railroad which had been formed in 1899 by the merger of two former subsidiaries of Union Pacific. The C&S controlled the Fort Worth & Denver City (FW&DC) Railway which operated a main line between Fort Worth and the New Mexico border at Texline, where it connected with C&S rails to Denver.

The C&S had Denver - Fort Worth service, but it wanted to be able to offer single-train service from Denver to the Texas Gulf coast. Such service was also of critical interest to Yoakum; for a decade, Rock Island had been handing off southbound freight to Southern Pacific (SP)  to be carried from Fort Worth to Houston. More recently, Yoakum had built Frisco rails to the outskirts of Dallas in 1902 where, again, SP was the primary option for handling southbound freight to Houston. SP was Yoakum's primary option because the other two railroads with service from Dallas and Fort Worth to Houston/Galveston -- the GC&SF and the Missouri , Kansas & Texas ("Katy") -- were major competitors of both the Frisco and Rock Island in the Central Plains and Midwest. The I&GN had inaugurated a new Fort Worth - Houston line in 1902 and had begun to carry some of Rock Island's loads, but it did not serve Dallas.

Above: routes from north Texas to Galveston for the T&BV and GC&SF
Yoakum's new line to Houston would depart from Dallas rather than Fort Worth. Although the Frisco had rights on the St. Louis Southwestern Railway from Carrollton to Fort Worth, a Rock Island line to Dallas continuing to Houston became the preferred plan as it would also facilitate Rock Island passenger service into Dallas, a growing metropolis of 50,000 (almost twice the size of Fort Worth.) Rock Island had surveyed a direct route from Dallas to Houston that had few curves and low gradients, making it potentially much faster than the competing SP route. To begin executing Yoakum's plan, Rock Island laid tracks from Fort Worth to Dallas in 1903. SP perceived a true threat to its north/south main line should Rock Island build on their surveyed route. They countered by making a very attractive offer to create a joint operating structure that would not only operate between north Texas and Houston/Galveston, it would include a shared route between Dallas and Beaumont. Rock Island accepted SP's proposal; the contract was submitted to the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) in May, 1903, but RCT would not approve it.

Yoakum began executing Plan B. Rock Island's charter included permission to continue the Fort Worth - Dallas line south to Houston and Galveston, but Yoakum was looking for a faster solution. In 1905, Yoakum had the C&S acquire the Trinity & Brazos Valley (T&BV) Railroad which had been chartered in 1902 to build a line between Cleburne and Beaumont. At the time, T&BV rails were complete from Cleburne to Mexia (and ran within a mile of Yoakum's birthplace, Tehuacana.) Yoakum was able to revise the T&BV charter to build east from Mexia to the community of Brewer (which he renamed Teague, his mother's maiden name.) From there, he would build north to Dallas and south to Houston. Yoakum personally contracted with C&S to complete the T&BV construction in accordance with his plan. He also arranged for C&S to sell half of the T&BV to Rock Island. Yoakum was able to negotiate rights on the GC&SF between Cleburne and Fort Worth, and between Houston and Galveston. He also obtained rights on the Katy between Waxahachie and Dallas, eliminating the need to find a suitable right-of-way into Dallas from the south. By 1908, the C&S was advertising single-train service from Denver to Galveston using the T&BV route from Fort Worth through Cleburne, Teague and Houston.

Trains began running from Cleburne to Teague on March 16, 1906. Building north and south from there, the tracks arrived in Houston in late 1906, but service to Houston from Ft. Worth via Teague did not commence until January 28, 1907. The Houston - Dallas service via Waxahachie began July 1, 1907.

: Houston Post, January 28, 1907

Waxahachie Light, July 1, 1907

As the T&BV was building south from Teague toward Houston in the summer of 1906, they crossed Santa Fe's tracks between Conroe and Navasota a mile northeast of the small community of Bobbin; the crossing formed an X-pattern with acute north and south angles. In its correspondence with RCT, T&BV used Bobbin as the location of the crossing, even though it was not particularly close to the actual community. Santa Fe's depot was at Bobbin whereas T&BV opened their depot near the crossing, but they still called it Bobbin. Whether Santa Fe objected is undetermined, but having two Bobbin depots a mile apart in a rural area with no ground transportation options could be confusing to travelers expecting to change trains conveniently. Since Santa Fe already stopped at their depot, they were not interested in making a second stop at the crossing for passenger and express freight interchange. A community sprang up near the crossing, and it quickly grew to be larger than Bobbin. By the end of 1908, the new community had grown large enough for the postmaster at Bobbin to decide to relocate his post office to the crossing.

Left and Right: (Austin Statesman, April 18, 1906) The T&BV had laid tracks a few miles north and south of the Bobbin crossing months before the main track arrived from Teague. This apparently convinced RCT to proceed with an order to protect the crossing well before service started. RCT's order required that the T&BV / Santa Fe grade crossing at Bobbin be "protected by a standard interlocking device." The other interlocker ordered by RCT at the same time was for Tower 69 at Celeste; the Bobbin interlocker became Tower 70. It commenced operations on April 25, 1907 as a 12-function mechanical plant. This was a standard configuration for simple crossings consisting of a home signal, a distant signal and a derail in each of the four directions.

At some point in early 1909, the name Dobbin became associated with the crossing and the new post office located there. The similarity between Bobbin and Dobbin suggests that this was not an accident. Yet, by coincidence, there happened to be a Santa Fe executive, Garrett Dobbin, who functioned as the railroad's "colonization agent" during this period. His activities to promote industrial and residential immigration to Santa Fe communities in Texas were frequently tracked in Galveston and Houston newspapers. One newspaper made the assertion that the Dobbin community was indeed named for Garrett Dobbin, but it does not say how, by whom or when the decision was made. Making the claim even less authoritative, the news item was only one sentence long and it was in the Palestine newspaper, a town a hundred miles away having no association with either of the Bobbin railroads. No other contemporary sources have been found to substantiate this claim. (These sorts of odd news tidbits typically came from wire services, so they tended to appear in multiple small town newspapers trying to fill space, but apparently, not this story.) Stranger still, despite newspapers published in nearby Conroe, Montgomery and Navasota, no local news stories at all have been found discussing the new name of Dobbin. And since the name change affected T&BV's Bobbin station and timetable, a story might be expected from the newspaper at Teague (where the T&BV had a yard, major offices and shops) but research has turned up nothing.

Perhaps Santa Fe having an executive named Dobbin tended to point to them as the instigators of the name change. They certainly had an incentive to create a different name for the crossing to eliminate confusion with their Bobbin station. Yet, Santa Fe's Form 598 Official List of Stations published in early 1910 (hat tip, Ken Stavinoha) does not list Bobbin at all, but does list Dobbin as Station 8649, telegraph call sign 'BN', with an agent assigned. Five years earlier, the 1905 list included Bobbin, although without a telegraph call sign. If Santa Fe had promoted the idea of using the Dobbin name to eliminate confusion, then the name of their Bobbin depot should have remained unchanged in the 1910 list. Instead, it appears they felt compelled to rename their station to Dobbin since the Bobbin name was disappearing, at least officially as recognized by the Post Office. Obviously, some person or group chose the Dobbin name for the crossing and apparently prevailed upon the postmaster to institute the name change for his relocated post office. There are later written histories that assert that Bobbin was simply renamed Dobbin, but that's a bit of oversimplification. Certainly the post office was renamed when it moved to what was effectively a new community, but the locals at Bobbin still identified as such. There are contemporary newspaper articles that reference both Bobbin and Dobbin, and as late as March, 1911, the Conroe Courier was still running an occasional local news column titled Bobbin. Regardless of how it happened, having two depots a mile apart with the same name remained both confusing and inconvenient for travelers. Dobbin residents filed a complaint with RCT requesting an order to require the two railroads to build a union passenger station, but RCT dismissed their case in December, 1910.

In 1911, residents at "old Bobbin" sought a post office to replace the one they had lost to Dobbin in 1909, and they chose to apply under the name Bobville. It was eventually granted, at least by 1915 though the date is undetermined. On April 30, 1915, Post Office officials sent a form addressed to "Postmaster at Bobville, Montgomery County, Texas" requesting updated topographical data for the location of his post office. Among other details, his response stated that his post office was 150 ft. south of the GC&SF tracks near the Dobbin station. Apparently, Santa Fe had continued using Dobbin as the name of their former Bobbin depot and had not yet adopted Bobville. This is confirmed by Santa Fe's Form 598 station list published in early 1915.

: On November 23, 1908, the Post Office Department mailed a form to the postmaster at Bobbin requesting specific details on the new location being proposed for the Bobbin post office. The response was received back in Washington D. C. at the Division of Postmasters' Appointments on December 1st. (!) It states the new site is "
Northeast 1500 yards" (just under a mile) from the old one. Somewhat illegible are the distance and direction of the nearest railroad ("GC&SF") and station ("T&BV") from the new site. Note that at some later date, the 'B' in Bobbin was crossed out, replaced by a 'D'. This was a record-keeping markup made by clerks at the Post Office Department so that the paperwork could be re-filed under 'D' instead of 'B' (as evidenced by the alphabetic notations in the upper right corner; clerks always wrote the first initial of the town in the upper right corner so they could file stacks of forms more quickly.) Clerks went back and applied the exact same 'D for B' markups on the original Bobbin paperwork from 1883 so that all of the Bobbin/Dobbin paperwork would be filed together. Below: On November 2, 1909, the Division of Topography of the Post Office Department mailed the postmaster at "Dobbin (Late Bobbin)" requesting a geographic location update for his post office. The postmaster's response was signed on November 8th and received back in Washington D. C. on November 11th (!) Among the information provided, the Dobbin post office was in the "center part of new township" and was "132 feet from the track of the GC&SF Railroad, on the north side of the railroad", with the additional comment that it was "400 feet south of the T&BV Ry. depot." This places the T&BV Dobbin depot approximately 500 feet north of the crossing.  (National Archives)

Regardless of the name applied to Santa Fe's former Bobbin depot, it remained a mile away from the T&BV depot at Dobbin. The traveling public had undoubtedly experienced inconvenience attempting to change trains at Dobbin. T&BV decided to file a complaint with RCT requesting that Santa Fe be ordered to stop at the crossing to exchange passengers and express freight. RCT ruled on the complaint with an order issued May 19, 1916 that required Santa Fe to build a depot at the crossing and make regular stops. However, the order did allow Santa Fe to "...treat said station as a flag stop..." Santa Fe completed their depot at the Dobbin crossing on June 10, 1916, but it might have been nothing more than a boarding platform with a boxcar shelter.

Palestine Daily Herald, April 6, 1909

Conroe Courier, March 26, 1920
Left, Top: The only newspaper item found thus far that associates the naming of the town of Dobbin with Santa Fe executive Garrett Dobbin is from the Palestine Daily Herald of April 6, 1909.

Right, Top and Middle: RCT's intent to conduct an August, 1910 hearing on a complaint by the residents of Dobbin requesting the railroads be ordered to build a union passenger depot at their crossing was published in the
Austin Statesman on May 14, 1910.  In December, RCT dismissed the complaint.

Right, Bottom
: This May, 1907 travelogue begins with a trip from Teague to "Bobbin on the Santa Fe" which involved getting in late to Bobbin on the T&BV. As this was barely three months after the T&BV had inaugurated service south of Teague, the Dobbin name had not yet been adopted. The author exhibits some surprise at being told to walk "one mile from the T&BV depot to the Santa Fe in the dark as there was no conveyance..." They managed to find a place to stay and they departed the following morning from the Santa Fe depot.

Left, Bottom: This 1920 article looks back at the railroads' fight over Dobbin and Bobville (apparently, Bobbin had already slipped from the collective memory!)

Below: On May 19, 1916, RCT issued a detailed order in response to a complaint from the T&BV requesting that Santa Fe be required to stop for passenger and express freight interchange at the Dobbin crossing. RCT found that while Dobbin was a recognized station on the T&BV, the "junction point" at Dobbin was legally "also such a station on the line of the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway Company..." RCT ordered that within ten days, Santa Fe had to begin stopping at Dobbin and they had to submit plans for "adequate depot facilities" for RCT approval. Within twenty days, Santa Fe was required to commence construction of the depot and complete construction within thirty days.

                                  Above: Conroe Courier, June 1 (left) and June 15 (right), 1916

Austin Statesman, May 14, 1910

Grapevine Sun, December 3, 1910

Teague Chronicle, May 10, 1907

In accordance with RCT's order, Santa Fe began accepting and discharging passengers at their new Dobbin depot, but only as a flag stop (at least for a few years.) This also meant that the Dobbin station located at Bobville needed a new name. Santa Fe's Form 598 issued in early 1917 shows Bobville as the station with the same number and call sign previously assigned to Dobbin. Dobbin is listed below it with no information. Santa Fe was providing the bare minimum to comply with RCT's order: a flag stop depot with nothing else. While passengers could flag Santa Fe trains at Dobbin, there was no agent, so express freight routing through Dobbin for interchange was probably handled between the two railroads using local transportation by road between their Bobville and Dobbin depots.

In its annual interlocker reports, RCT continued to list the location of Tower 70 as Bobbin until it began using Dobbin at the end of 1923. There are no doubt many sordid details of the Bobbin / Dobbin saga that remain to be uncovered, but the Bobbin name did not completely disappear. The Bobbin Independent School District survived as a legal entity under state law until it was incorporated into the Montgomery ISD in 1961.

Left: Dobbin appears in this October 20, 1913 Santa Fe Public Timetable as a flag stop 49 miles from Somerville, the only stop at all between Plantersville and Montgomery. This was actually the Bobbin/Bobville station.

Right: This February 7, 1926 Santa Fe Public Timetable shows that Bobville had replaced Dobbin as the name of a flag stop 49 miles from Somerville. An additional (non flag) stop at the Dobbin depot was added a mile farther east. The Form 598 published in early 1923 shows that by then, Santa Fe had moved its agent and telegrapher to Dobbin. Bobville remained open as a flag stop with no agent.

Tower 70 opened at Dobbin on April 25, 1907 to control the T&BV/GC&SF crossing, but what kind of tower was it? There is evidence that it was a manned structure, presumably two-stories (one-story manned cabins were rare but they did exist, in particular Tower 71, the next tower authorized by RCT, of which, unfortunately, no photo has been found; MKT Junction is another example.) The last comprehensive table of active interlockers published by RCT on December 31, 1930 listed Tower 70 as type "Mechanical" rather than "M-Cabin", the designation typically used for unmanned cabin interlockers. In a table dated October 31, 1916, RCT reduced the function count for Tower 70 from twelve to eleven. What this affected remains undetermined, but it might not be coincidental that this was the next published report after Santa Fe established the flag stop at their new Dobbin depot four months earlier.

The 1916 table also happened to be the first one RCT published in which the railroad responsible for operating the interlocker was identified; for Tower 70, it was the GC&SF. At first glance, this is surprising. Since the crossing was created after 1901, RCT rules required the second railroad - here, the T&BV - to pay the entire capital outlay for the interlocker and associated structures and signals. Generally, the railroad that built the tower and installed the interlocker would also take the lead on operating and maintaining it. The recurring "O&M" expenses (e.g. labor and materials) were shared between the railroads, usually on a "weighted function" basis (when an interlocker had 12 functions, it was almost inevitably a 50/50 split.)

Financially, the T&BV did not fare well, but it did manage to remain operational during a lengthy receivership that began in 1914. If the T&BV had been assigned as the original O&M railroad for Tower 70, the receivership could explain why the GC&SF was listed as such in 1916. A bankruptcy announcement could trigger staffing problems with employees concerned about paychecks, benefits and job protections. Santa Fe might have wanted to take O&M responsibility to avoid any potential impact on operations at Tower 70. The T&BV bankruptcy ended in 1930 when a new entity, the Burlington - Rock Island (B-RI) Railroad, was established to succeed the T&BV. The B-RI was a paper railroad; it used the rolling stock and motive power of its joint owners, Rock Island and the Burlington system (which had bought the C&S in 1908.) The Houston - Waxahachie main line with rights into Dallas was a valuable asset, as was inheriting T&BV's 25% ownership share of the Houston Belt & Terminal (HB&T) Railway. The Cleburne - Teague segment, however, lacked value as a bridge route and had little local traffic, so the B-RI commenced abandonment proceedings. The 30 miles between Cleburne and Hillsboro was the first to go, in 1932. The final fourteen miles between Mexia and Teague staved off abandonment until 1976.

Left: As the last car of the eastbound clears the diamond we see the southbound on the former B-RI is sitting stopped at the absolute signal. In a few moments, they will get a clear signal to proceed through the plant and on into Houston.

Trans-Communicator, a publication of the Transportation - Communication Employees Union, reported briefly in its 1929 edition that "Distant signals, Santa Fe BN Dobbin, have been electrified making it safer for trains and taking quite a strain off the towermen at that point." BN was the longstanding telegraph call sign for Santa Fe's Dobbin depot, so by then, the telegraph had been moved to the tower. A B-RI timetable from 1946 showed the GC&SF crossing as Interlocked with Continuous office hours, 24/7. These items are both consistent with the assumption that Tower 70 had always been a manned tower. By 1988, an AT&SF timetable shows Dobbin as an automatic interlocker. It had been converted to a cabin interlocker by 2001 when Tom Kline photographed it.

In 1964, B-RI went into foreclosure so its parent railroads, Burlington Northern (BN) and Rock Island could each buy an undivided half-interest in its assets with unrestricted rights to operate over the main line (with Katy trackage rights into Dallas.) When Rock Island went bankrupt in 1980, BN took over full operation of the line. When BN merged with the AT&SF in 1995 to form BNSF, the Dobbin crossing became strictly a BNSF operation.

No photos of Tower 70 have surfaced thus far, nor have photos been found of either of the Dobbin depots or the Bobville depot (although there is one short video!) Tower 70 and the depots nearby remain a substantial mystery.

Right: This Google Earth image has been annotated to show the relative locations of Bobville and Tower 70 at Dobbin. The T&BV depot location is shown approximately 500 ft. north of the crossing, consistent with Post Office records. There are hints from detailed imagery that the depot was on the east side of the tracks, but the true location is undetermined, as is the position of the tower with respect to the crossing diamond.

Bobville is shown a mile distant by rail from Tower 70, the best estimate for its location using the available information. This puts it adjacent to the current Bobville Rd. roughly 300 yards southwest of the Bobville Rd. grade crossing. Historic imagery shows that there was a siding on the southwest side of this crossing, and there might have been a small yard during the early days of Bobbin/Bobville.

Imagery from 1957 shows a connecting track east of the diamond which probably served to expedite Santa Fe trains between east Texas and a connection with the HB&T at Belt Junction in Houston. Santa Fe and the T&BV/B-RI were both 25% owners of the HB&T. Santa Fe's route to Houston from east Texas otherwise required continuing west to Somerville, turning southeast to Alvin, and then going north to New South Yard via Tower 81, a substantially longer route. The connector survived at least to 1983, but was gone by 2004. By then, BNSF had built a south connector to support BNSF movements between the main line at Somerville and Belt Junction. Sometime around 2018, a north connector was built, providing a route for trains operating between Dallas and Beaumont.

Below: This Google Street View from 2021 looks south from the TX 105 overpass above the former T&BV (the overpass is barely visible at the top edge of the map at right.) A BNSF train occupies the Tower 70 diamond in the distance. The north connector switch appears in the immediate foreground. Tower 70 would likely have been visible from this vantage point, along with, presumably, both of the Dobbin depots.


Last Revised: 9/16/2022 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.