Texas Railroad History - Tower 75, Tower 153 and Tower 177 - Amarillo

Crossings of the Panhandle & Santa Fe, the Chicago, Rock Island & Gulf, and the Fort Worth & Denver railroads

Amarillo was founded in 1887 by savvy businessmen looking to capitalize on the Fort Worth & Denver (FW&D) Railway's new line being built across the Texas Panhandle. About the same time, the Southern Kansas Railway, owned by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, was building a line into the Texas Panhandle from northern Oklahoma that terminated 24 miles northeast of Amarillo at a new town called Panhandle City. In late 1887, Ft. Worth businessmen chartered the Panhandle Railway to build a 15-mile connection between the Southern Kansas at Panhandle City and the FW&D at Washburn, 14 miles east of Amarillo. The hope was that with a connection to Ft. Worth, Panhandle City would develop into a major shipping point and ultimately become the principal city of the Texas Panhandle. In 1898, the Panhandle Railway was acquired by Santa Fe and soon thereafter, Santa Fe acquired trackage rights from Washburn into Amarillo on the FW&D.

In 1899, the newly chartered Pecos and Northern Texas (P&NT) laid tracks from Amarillo to the state line at Farwell, connecting there with rail lines in eastern New Mexico. This provided a more or less direct route from Amarillo to Pecos, Texas. The P&NT was acquired by Santa Fe in 1901 and was leased by, and eventually merged into, the Panhandle and Santa Fe (P&SF) Railway, Santa Fe's primary operating railroad in west Texas. The P&NT tracks completed a direct route for Santa Fe between New Mexico and Oklahoma via Amarillo, using trackage rights on the FW&D to fill the gap between Amarillo and Panhandle City. In 1908, Santa Fe eliminated this gap by extending the Southern Kansas main line into Amarillo, abandoning the tracks to Washburn.

In 1904, the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf built through Amarillo on an east/west heading. The purpose of this line was to extend Rock Island's Choctaw Route from Oklahoma City west to Tucumcari, New Mexico to connect with their Golden State Route. In 1927, Rock Island built a line north from Amarillo to create another connection to the Golden State Route, this time in Liberal, Kansas.

Above: The major railroads in the Texas Panhandle were centered on Amarillo.

It appears that the 1908 extension of the Southern Kansas line from Panhandle City to Amarillo provided the impetus to establish the first authorized interlocker in Amarillo. Tower 75 was authorized for operation by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) on July 6, 1908 as a 27-function mechanical plant. In RCT's 1909 Annual Report, the Southern Kansas was listed as one of the Tower 75 railroads, but this changed to P&SF beginning with the 1915 report. In 1929, RCT authorized a new interlocker, Tower 153, in the P&SF yards. Although no other railroad was involved with Tower 153, it was authorized pursuant to RCT policy that had evolved in the 1920s requiring that all interlockers be authorized. The P&SF yard interlocker established in Canyon in 1927 had already set this precedent for Santa Fe. RCT files at DeGolyer Library state that Tower 153 was a 12-function electric interlocker with controls located at the "Junior Yard Office", and that there was "no connection with a foreign line".

 In 1931, Santa Fe built a new line north from Amarillo to Boise City, Oklahoma, passing through the town of Dumas, Texas. The connection for this line off the P&SF main in Amarillo became known as "Dumas Junction". The new P&SF tracks crossed Rock Island's line to Liberal that had been built in 1927. Tower 177 was authorized by RCT for this crossing sometime in the early 1930s, perhaps during the initial track construction. It was probably a gate or some similar control system, but it could have been a cabin interlocker. One other interlocker was established in Amarillo, Tower 209, located a few miles east of Tower 75. Today, all of the tracks involved with Towers 75, 153 and 177 have been absorbed into Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

Rail Map of Downtown Amarillo c.1955 (courtesy Jeff Ford)

Above: This is a portion of a larger map detailing the track layout near downtown Amarillo in approximately 1955, with some additional details through 1965. The added color annotations show the interlocker locations. Tower 75, known as East Tower, was the primary interlocker for Amarillo handling a junction of three main lines. The Tower 177 interlocker was at Dumas Junction where the P&SF crossed the Rock Island. The Santa Fe tracks highlighted in blue continue north to Dumas and Boise City, and remain in use today. The Rock Island tracks highlighted in green continued to Liberal, Kansas, a line since abandoned. When the "New Junior Yard Office and Tower" was built in 1965 (probably necessitated by the elevated I-40 freeway bisecting the yard), it is likely that the Tower 153 interlocker was officially retired. By the mid-1960s, automation had rendered RCT's approvals for interlocker designs largely irrelevant from a technical standpoint, and RCT had ceased issuing new numbers for interlockers.

Evan Werkema describes Tower 75...
"This three-story concrete interlocking tower once controlled Santa Fe's crossing of the Fort Worth and Denver (Burlington) and Rock Island main lines, and the junction with Santa Fe's Dumas District to Las Animas, CO. The 15x30 tower was built in 1927 to a plan similar to the concrete interlocking tower standard plans shown on pages 218-221 of Santa Fe System Standards, Volume 2. The stairway, door, and window placement and other details deviated from the plan. Each tower in Texas had a unique number assigned to it, and East Tower was tower 75. The number was displayed on the faded plaques below the East Tower signs. The railroad always referred to the tower as East Tower, however. The tower's duties diminished with the demise of the Rock Island. It was closed in April 1986 and demolished in mid-1990."

Above: From Evan's description, Tower 75 was built in 1927. Since the interlocker was authorized in 1908, the concrete tower must have replaced an earlier structure.

On April 8, 1953, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a ruling in a case involving the Panhandle & Santa Fe (P&SF) Railway at Amarillo. The P&SF was the defendant accused of operating several train movements in violation of the Safety Appliance Act. The ruling includes this interesting description of the tracks and operations associated with East Tower.

"As shown by a map of the yards, the defendant's classification yard, referred to as the West Yard, is located to the left, or west, of the major portion of the Amarillo Yards and the tracks of Fort Worth [and Denver] and those of Rock Island. The points where these lines converge and cross is protected by an interlocking plant, controlled from what is denominated East Tower. Beyond the interlocking plant, and some five miles from the classification yards of defendant on its Dumas Branch, is located the Amarillo Stock Yards. It is served by an industry track. Southwesterly of East Tower, and the point of convergence and crossing of the lines of the three carriers, is located the Western Stock Yard Corporation, some two miles from the West Yard, or classification tracks, of the defendant. East of the point of convergence and crossing of the three main lines are the interchange tracks of the defendant and the Rock Island. These tracks are some two miles from the defendant's West Yard. Each of the movements here in question moved within the interlocking plant. The briefs tell us that an interlocking plant is a system or arrangement of levers, switches, lights and derails so interconnected that they must be arranged in a predetermined order for the selected movements of the plant. In the case of this plant, the movements are controlled by an operator in the East Tower who determines the priority of movement as between trains on the different railroads that attempt to use at the same time the area defined by the limits of the interlocking, and by manipulating levers indicates that fact by a system of lights. Rails which do not have priority are broken at points about 400 feet in advance of the crossings by means of what is called a "split-rail" derail."

Additional Tower 75 Photos
Above left and right: Tower 75 photos by Doyle Davis
Below left: Santa Fe Train #9,
The Navajo, passes Tower 75 on July 22, 1936. Below right: an eastbound Santa Fe freight passes Tower 75 on April 4, 1936
(Otto Perry photographs, courtesy Denver Public Library)

Below: Tower 75 in the 1970s (Walter Simms photo)

Below left: The Tower 177 interlocker would have been located very close to the equipment cabinet that's visible north of and adjacent to NE 3rd Ave. just east of where the line to Dumas departs the former P&SF main line and crosses NE 3rd Ave. Some of the Rock Island tracks have been removed and others have been rerouted for BNSF use, but traces of the abandoned Rock Island grade are visible parallel to and immediately north of NE 3rd Ave.
Above right: The old Junior Yard Office sits beside Canyon Dr. just south of the I-40 overpass. The new yard office and tower built in 1965 is visible immediately north of I-40. Tower 153 was probably located in the old office, but how the construction of the new office and tower affected the interlocker has not been determined.

Last Revised: 1/22/2019 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.