Texas Railroad History - Tower 72 and Tower 184 - Corsicana

Crossings of the St. Louis - Southwestern Railway with the Trinity & Brazos Valley and Texas & New Orleans railroads

Historic Photos, Tower 72 and Tower 184 Crossings from the John W Barriger III National Railroad Library

Above: Looking west on the Cotton Belt, this image of Tower 72 was captured by John W Barriger III in a photo taken in May, 1931 as he was eastbound on a Cotton Belt train toward Tyler. The Burlington - Rock Island tracks, originally the Trinity & Brazos Valley, cross in the foreground with north to the right. In those days, Tower 72 was a substantially different structure compared to images taken decades later. This is not without precedent -- like other structures, towers were damaged by fire, tornadoes, railroad accidents, etc., plus modifications made for new equipment or operational requirements. Files at DeGolyer Library show that the tower was modified multiple times, but more research is needed to determine if (or more likely, when) a complete rebuild was accomplished.

: Barriger took this photo at the Tower 184 crossing, also eastbound on the Cotton Belt, very shortly before passing Tower 72 above (presumably, but unconfirmed, on the same trip.) The Southern Pacific tracks cross north to south (right to left) in the foreground. As in the photo above, the view shows the Cotton Belt disappearing into the west horizon toward Waco which was likely Barriger's most recent stop. The trackside water tower is also visible in both images.

The Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) Railway began building north from Houston prior to the Civil War, but it was not until a few years after the war that construction resumed. Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) records show the H&TC tracks finally reaching Corsicana, from Groesbeck (38.6 miles), in 1871. The following year, construction continued all the way to Dallas, an additional 58.6 miles. The H&TC became a property of the Southern Pacific (SP) system in 1883, but it continued to operate under its own name.

About the time the H&TC reached Corsicana, the Tyler Tap Railroad was being chartered in Tyler. It's goal was simple: "tap" the nearest rail line to bring service to Tyler, an important east Texas town 70 miles northeast of Corsicana. But the nearest rail line was much closer than 70 miles; a 21-mile narrow gauge line was built from Tyler to Big Sandy to connect with the Texas & Pacific, completed in 1877. In 1879, new investors amended the Tyler Tap's charter with bigger plans: convert to standard gauge and build northeast from Big Sandy to Texarkana, and southwest from Tyler to Waco. They also changed the name to the Texas & St. Louis (T&SL) Railway. The T&SL tracks reached Corsicana (via Athens) in 1881 and crossed the H&TC near the center of town, continuing to Waco that same year. After two foreclosures, the T&SL line became the property of the newly chartered St. Louis Southwestern Railroad (traditionally abbreviated "SSW", but more commonly referenced as the "Cotton Belt") in 1891. With all four directions covered by SP or Cotton Belt service, Corsicana prospered, reaching a population of 5,000 by 1885.

In 1907, another railroad passed through Corsicana as it built north toward Dallas. This was the Trinity & Brazos Valley (T&BV) Railway, which by its original 1902 charter would not have come any closer than 25 miles from Corsicana. The T&BV's plan was to build southeast from Hillsboro toward Beaumont, but its location and charter became a tempting combination for railroad magnate B. F. Yoakum. While Yoakum had substantial experience in Texas railroading, he'd advanced well beyond Texas, reaching the top rung of US railroading. His rail empire in the early 1900s included being Chairman of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific ("Rock Island") railroad, Chairman of the St. Louis San Francisco ("Frisco") railroad, a Director of the Colorado & Southern (C&S) railroad, and owner of a controlling interest in 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 companies in both directions was being lost to SP's route between Houston and Dallas, the one that passed through Corsicana.

Yoakum was interested in the T&BV. Their construction from Hillsboro to the southeast had stopped at the town of Mexia in 1904. Yoakum knew the area well; he was a native Texan born in 1859 in Tehuacana, a small community close to Mexia, only a mile from the T&BV's new tracks. Yoakum wanted to acquire the T&BV and convert it to a north/south railroad serving Houston and Dallas, serving as a connecting railroad for his existing lines in north and south Texas. To execute his plan, Yoakum arranged for the C&S to acquire the T&BV in 1905. He then revised the T&BV's charter to build east from Mexia to the community of Brewer, a distance of 14 miles. From there, he would build south to Houston and north to Dallas on a fairly direct route, creating a lengthy but efficient north/south railroad. The line would prosper carrying overhead traffic between his GCL (south Texas) and Frisco/Rock Island (north Texas) railroads. Construction to Brewer (renamed and incorporated as the city of Teague, his mother's maiden name) was accomplished in 1906, along with substantial construction from Teague south toward Houston. In 1907, the northward construction began, completing 67 miles from Teague through Corsicana to Waxahachie. At Waxahachie, Yoakum negotiated traffic rights into Dallas on the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, and by the end of 1907, he had initiated Dallas - Houston service. While many towns begged for one railroad, Corsicana now had three!

Above Left: Overview map of Corsicana railroads  Above Right: The April 20, 1906 issue of
Railway World contained this verbatim press release from Rock Island.

Unfortunately for Yoakum, his rail empire crashed, and a lengthy receivership for the T&BV began in 1914. The tracks remained intact, however, and continued to operate under the court's direction through the appointed Receiver. The final bankruptcy plan issued in 1930 involved creation of the Burlington-Rock Island (B-RI) Railroad, a joint venture of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad and the Rock Island railroad, to acquire and operate the T&BV's lines. The Burlington involvement stemmed from their ownership of the C&S. The B-RI operated using assets of the two parent railroads to conduct operations. The B-RI quickly 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. The Mexia - Teague segment was abandoned in 1976, but the north/south line from Houston to Waxahachie via Teague and Corsicana is now a major line of B-RI 's eventual successor, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF.)

The T&BV's path through Corsicana crossed both existing railroads, but only the Cotton Belt crossing was at grade. It was immediately interlocked, controlled by newly constructed Tower 72 which was authorized for operation on November 21, 1907. Tower 72 was a 2-story manned tower in the southwest quadrant of the diamond with a mechanical interlocking plant that supported 23 functions. The files of DeGolyer Library show that this interlocker was not static over the years, and indeed, there is photographic proof of a substantial change to the design of Tower 72. Modifications to the tower were initiated in letters to RCT dated April 14, 1932, September 30, 1940, September 30, 1952, and April 21, 1954, but the nature and extent of these modifications remains to be determined. Tower 72 was active for many years, but was retired and razed, reportedly in 1984. Farther north, the T&BV crossing of the H&TC was grade separated. Oddly, although it was the T&BV's task to cross the existing H&TC, they did so by going under the H&TC's bridge over Post Oak Creek (and presumably it's always been that way.)

The H&TC/Cotton Belt crossing 1,500 ft. west of Tower 72 was not originally interlocked. By law, all trains were required to stop, but this was not a significant issue because the Union Passenger Depot was located on the northwest corner of the crossing. All trains on the Cotton Belt and H&TC would stop anyway, or else be traveling slow enough that a full stop was not a significant time impact. In the 1930s, railroads began submitting interlocking plans to RCT to cover their own crossings which had been exempt from RCT approval until that policy began to change in the late 1920s. The Cotton Belt had come under SP's control in 1932, and the H&TC had been merged into SP's operating railroad for Texas, the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) Railroad, since 1927. An interlocker was installed for the Cotton Belt/T&NO crossing, and on December 21, 1937, interim authority to begin operating the newly designated Tower 184 was granted with the interlocking controls located in the Union Depot. On February 19, 1945, T&NO requested "permission to install an additional color light dwarf signal" for this interlocker, but otherwise, this interlocker appears to have had few changes over the years. The crossing at Tower 184 was retired in 1988 when the Cotton Belt line west of the junction was abandoned. Now, the former Cotton Belt line curves to the south and joins the main line heading toward Hearne, both owned and operated by Union Pacific (UP).

Historic Photos of Tower 72

Above Left: Looking north past Tower 72 along the ex-T&BV main line through Corsicana, the Cotton Belt crossing is just past the tower. On the left in the distance is the turret of T&BV depot, still utilized by the BNSF Railroad. (photo courtesy of Gary Morris) Above Right: a close-up of the tower and its order hoop. (photo courtesy of Gary Morris) Below Left: A May, 2013 Google Street View looks north toward the site of where Tower 72 once stood. Compare this view with the photo above. Below Right: This Google Earth satellite view shows the ex-T&BV tracks crossing under the ex-H&TC tracks north of town. Either the T&BV always went under an existing H&TC bridge, or this grade-separated crossing was restructured, then or perhaps later.

Below: John Carr took this photo on December 15, 1977 and describes it as "...Extra 9344 East (the Merchandise - train symbol LAEST) has set out the cars for Dallas, made its air test, and is now crossing the B-RI mainline..." (used with permission)

Above left: When a young Myron Malone (Webmaster Emeritus of this website) was photographed at Tower 72, he was looking south down the B-RI while standing on the Cotton Belt tracks. The side of the tower ahead and to the right of Myron showing two windows on the bottom floor is the tower's east face.  (Robert W. Courtney photo) Above Right: Compare Barriger's east face view with that of the east face in the photo above left to see the substantial difference in the tower design. It certainly looks like a completely new tower, but details are lacking.

Tower 184

Above: Everett DeGolyer, Jr. took this photo in September, 1960. Note the '184' tower indicator hanging below the 'Corsicana' sign on the side of the Union Depot. (photo courtesy of DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University)

Photos of Corsicana rail activities from the Tom Kline collection (click to enlarge)



Historic Map, Tower 72
Above: The 1910 Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. map of Corsicana shows the location of Tower 72 in the southwest quadrant of the crossing. Under magnification (right), the map reveals a two-story "Switch Tower". Below: The Sanborn map shows the location of the Union Passenger Station in the northwest quadrant of the Tower 184 crossing.

Satellite Image, Corsicana Interlockers

Above: This Google Earth view of Corsicana shows the ex-T&NO line (left) and ex-T&BV line (right) running north, angling together toward an eventual grade-separated crossing on the north side of town. The former Cotton Belt line crosses east-to-west (right-to-left) in the center, but it no longer continues west of the T&NO line since the segment to Waco was abandoned in 1988. Instead, it curves to join what is now the Union Pacific main line to the south toward Hearne. The depot and tower structures are long gone, although the T&BV depot survives (see Google Street View below), barely visible at the top edge of the above image along the T&BV line.

Last Revised: 8/6/2020 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.