Texas Railroad History - Tower 73 - Texas City

A Crossing of the Texas City Terminal, the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio, and the Galveston, Houston & Henderson railroads

Tower 73 (photo MKT144 in the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library)

John W Barriger III took this photo from the rear of his business car in the late 1930's or early 1940's. The photo is MKT144 in a series of photos in the John W Barriger III National Railroad Library. The next earlier photo in the series is MKT142, and it shows Tower 96 on Galveston Island. Since the photos are taken from the rear of the train, MKT142 indicates that the train was northbound, leaving the island. Though it is not posted in the Library, it seems likely that if photo MKT143 exists, it was a shot of either Tower 97 on the Galveston Island causeway, or Tower 98 at Virginia Point, the next two significant railroad structures north of Tower 96. The above photo is neither of these towers (for which several photos exist.) The next tower north of Tower 98 was Tower 73 at Texas City Junction. There are no known photos of Tower 73 nor is there extant information that describes the nature of the structure that was built there. However, there is much that points to the above photo as an image of Tower 73. First, as explained above, it fits with the numbered MKT photo that came before it. It also fits with the next photo, MKT145, which appears to show Tower 30 (although this has not been established conclusively) which is the next tower north of Tower 73. The photos after MKT145 show Houston, hence these photos were taken by Barriger on a trip from Galveston to Houston on the GH&H Railroad (owned in part by the Katy, hence the "MKT" photo series designator), a trip that would have required him to pass Tower 73. Second, the tower is undoubtedly an SP tower. It clearly matches the basic design of other SP towers that were built in the early 1900s. From this angle, it is virtually identical to Tower 21. It sits along side the GH&SA (SP) tracks as would be expected for an SP tower. The camera is facing southeast toward Virginia Point and the train is on the GH&H tracks. It is likely that SP would have built the tower because among the three railroads at Texas City Junction, SP was clearly the last railroad to become associated with the junction, even if the future SP track had existed when the TCT was first built. By the time the need for a tower was established, SP certainly would not have wanted a small port terminal railway to be responsible for the design and staffing of a modern interlocking tower. The GH&H had existed for more than 40 years before SP became involved with the junction, so the tower design and staffing would have been SP's responsibility. As there were no other SP towers on the mainland in the vicinity of Galveston, the MKT photo sequence and the tower's SP heritage are sufficient to make the case that this was Tower 73, especially since the existence of two parallel main lines makes it even more difficult to match to any other known SP tower. But there's more... Tower 73 had the only right angle crossing track in the vicinity of Galveston. This track is visible in the image -- note the crossbuck on the road at right. The tower location astride the SP tracks and the visible track geometry match the track chart below. The semaphores on the GH&SA tracks at left center beyond the tower match the expected locations of the TCT connecting track and sidings shown on the track chart. And last but not least, the road at right matches the location of the road near Tower 73 today, west of and parallel to the main tracks. No roadway is visible east of the tower, and that remains the situation at Texas City Junction today. We can't read the number on the tower, but everything else points to Tower 73.

One of the earliest railroads constructed in Texas was known as the Galveston, Houston & Henderson (GH&H) Railroad. It was chartered in 1853 and began service between Galveston and Houston when the first railroad bridge onto Galveston Island was completed in 1860. After several takeovers, bankruptcies, corporate restructurings and numerous court cases, ownership of the GH&H became evenly split between the Missouri - Kansas - Texas (MKT, "Katy") Railroad and the International & Great Northern (I-GN) Railroad in 1895. Its bridge onto Galveston Island was destroyed by the great hurricane of 1900 and not rebuilt, replaced instead by rights to use the Santa Fe bridge (built c.1876) that had survived the hurricane. Neither bankruptcies, Civil War, nor hurricanes could defeat the GH&H, which continued to operate as a legal entity until it was finally merged into the Missouri Pacific (MP) Railroad in 1989, the longest period of time that a railroad operated under the same name and charter in Texas history.

Over many years, railroads were organized to try to compete with the GH&H for the Houston / Galveston market, none of them particularly successful. In 1896, the latest incarnation of these various combined construction projects, the Galveston, LaPorte and Houston Railway, completed a bridge across Galveston Bay. Unfortunately, they were already in bankruptcy by the time the bridge was finished! The Galveston, Houston & Northern (GH&N) Railway was organized to acquire the property and soon began operating to Houston, only to have their bridge destroyed by the hurricane in 1900! Finally, in 1905, the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway, which was the first railroad chartered in Texas (under its original name Buffalo Bayou, Brazos & Colorado), acquired the GH&N's assets and began providing legitimate competition for the GH&H. GH&SA was owned by Southern Pacific (SP) and was later merged into SP's primary operating railroad in Texas, the Texas & New Orleans Railroad.

The bridges over Galveston Bay came ashore on the mainland at Virginia Point. About five miles north of there, investors from Duluth, Minnesota, seeing an opportunity to develop a deep water port on the mainland, created the Texas City Improvement Company to acquire land and develop the area. In 1893, as the development expanded, they constructed a 4-mile railroad, the Texas City Terminal (TCT) Railway, to connect the port facilities at Texas City with the GH&H. The TCT's junction was approximately four miles northwest of Virginia Point, and the junction included a crossing of, and connection to, the second main track which was owned at the time by the North Galveston, Houston and Kansas City Railroad. The TCT was extended two miles further west in 1907 to a connection with the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe (GC&SF) main line that ran west-northwest from Galveston. This TCT extension required crossing the GH&H and the GH&SA, so an 11-function mechanical interlocker was installed, commissioned as Tower 73 by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) on February 18, 1908...or at least that was the first date reported for Tower 73. In the 1924 RCT Annual Report, a table dated December 31, 1923 revises the Tower 73 date to be February 18, 1907 instead of 1908. This 1907 date persists through the 1931 Annual Report, the last RCT report that listed all active interlockers.

Could Tower 73 have been a cabin interlocker? The first official cabin interlocker was not commissioned until 1915 (Tower 102). A cabin interlocker might have made sense under the assumption that TCT's activities were relatively infrequent compared to the two main lines it crossed. However, the size of the Texas City port and the lack of highways and trucks to move freight in 1907 would imply that there were most likely significant operations at the junction on a daily basis that would have motivated construction of a manned tower. At some point, Tower 73 became the cabin interlocker that remains at the site today, and the fate of the Tower 73 structure in the Barriger photo (assuming it is Tower 73) is unknown. The GH&H and GH&SA lines are now owned by Union Pacific (UP), while the TCT is still in operation under that name, jointly owned by UP and Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

Tower 73  (photo by Stephen Hesse)

Above: This undated photo of the cabin interlocker identifies it as the site of Tower 73. Note the control stand with "UP" and "TCT" labels.
The camera is facing east- northeast toward the port of Texas City.
Below: A Google Street View image of the cabin, dated July, 2013. The view has changed considerably from the one above due to the
construction of a large oil storage plant owned by Enterprise Crude Pipeline (according to a nearby sign.)


1926 T&NO Track Chart of Texas City Junction (courtesy Carl Codney); the location shown for the "Tower"
matches the location of the cabin interlocker in the above photo as well as the location of the tower in the Barriger
photo at the top of this page.


Map, Tower 73 Vicinity

 

Bird's Eye View of Texas City Junction

Above: Facing north, the parallel tracks diagonally across the image are the former GH&SA (upper) and GH&H (lower), heading toward
Virginia Point and Galveston off the lower right corner. The TCT crosses both lines at right angles adjacent to the Tower 73 cabin interlocker,
which is barely visible as a white structure with a dark shadow above it. A short distance off the left of the image, the TCT crosses the former
right-of-way of the Galveston - Houston Electric Railway.
Below: Just off the lower right corner of the above image, UP has installed flood gates to attempt to prevent storm surge from Galveston
Bay from reaching the TCT interchange. This adds a whole new dimension to the concept of a railroad gate!

 
Last Revised: 3/11/2018 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.