www.txrrhistory.com - Tower 88 - Sweetwater

A Crossing of the Pecos & Northern Texas Railway and the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient Railway

Sweetwater wasn't much of a town when it was named county seat of the newly organized Nolan County in 1881, but the Texas & Pacific (T&P) Railroad was building east-to-west through the area at the same time, and residents quickly benefited. In 1897, the newly chartered Colorado Valley Railway began building north from Sweetwater -- the purpose of this construction to the north is lost to history since the railroad's stated objective was to build south from Sweetwater to San Angelo. After seven miles, construction stopped until the Panhandle & Gulf (P&G) Railway was formed in 1899 to take over the Colorado Valley charter. In 1900, the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient (KCM&O) Railway acquired the P&G with plans to use the P&G charter to build the Texas portion of Arthur Stilwell's grand plan -- a line from Kansas City to the deepwater Pacific port of Topolobampo, Mexico. By 1905, the P&G had built an additional seven miles north to where the new town of Sylvester was established, and later that year, the P&G officially became the KCM&O of Texas. Sometime prior to 1908, either P&G or KCM&O built tracks in Sweetwater parallel to (and south of) the T&P tracks in downtown and these tracks veered off in a southwesterly direction and did not, apparently, connect with the previous construction north to Sylvester. The date when these tracks were constructed and how far they went is undetermined, but they appear on the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Sweetwater that was published in February, 1908. In 1909, the KCM&O "officially" began building south from Sweetwater toward San Angelo. By 1914, the tracks paralleling the T&P had been removed and new tracks built north/south along a ravine passing under the T&P, thus avoiding the need for an interlocker. Presumably, this served to connect KCM&O's main line with the original P&G construction north to Sylvester. This area north of the T&P became the site of KCM&O's passenger and freight depots. Sanborn maps also show that sometime between 1922 and 1930, KGM&O reinstalled tracks to add a direct interchange with T&P using the pre-1908 alignment.

In late 1911, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway completed a 183-mile track segment between Slaton Junction, near Lubbock, and Coleman in central Texas, passing through the northern outskirts of Sweetwater on a northwest to southeast heading. This line connected Santa Fe's Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe subsidiary operations in central and east Texas with its Panhandle & Santa Fe subsidiary operations in the Texas panhandle. The construction was performed under the charter of Santa Fe's Pecos & Northern Texas (P&NT) Railway subsidiary and it required an interlocker where the P&NT crossed the KCM&O north of town. Once again, however, the T&P crossing was grade separated, this time at a location approximately four miles east of downtown Sweetwater, with the P&NT passing over the T&P. Although this eliminated the need for an interlocker, Santa Fe was interested in interchanging traffic with the T&P. To accomplish this, Santa Fe routed the line east paralleling the T&P tracks for nearly two miles before resuming a southeast heading toward Tuscola and Coleman. Interchange tracks were built and the location became known as "Tecific", a name it retains today. Tecific never had a Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) interlocker designation because the main lines did not cross. Due to various trackage rights agreements, this location is now used to facilitate movement of trains between the two lines operated by successors Union Pacific (UP) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). [...And although the T&P ceased to exist when it was acquired by Missouri Pacific in 1976, the T&P Federal Credit Union remained open in Sweetwater for many years, and may still be operational...]

The P&NT/KCM&O interlocker north of Sweetwater was designated Tower 88 and authorized for service on October 10, 1912. The nature of the structure is unknown, but it presumably was a manned tower. The interlocking plant was electric, incorporating 15 functions, but the number of functions was reduced to 11 in 1926. Sometime prior to 1924, Santa Fe and KCM&O agreed to take Tower 88 out of service. KCM&O was in receivership and it is likely that little or no traffic was operating between Sweetwater and points north. Whatever the case, RCT objected to this arrangement since KCM&O had not been abandoned or sold, and the interlocker was then reestablished.

In late 1928, KCM&O was acquired by Santa Fe, and this led to the final the demise of Tower 88. The KCM&O line was never a major route for Santa Fe. With Sweetwater yard operations effectively consolidated under the Santa Fe corporate umbrella (and with the crossing diamond potentially within the Yard Limits), the need for continued operation of the Tower 88 interlocking plant would have been diminished. It remained listed in the 1931 RCT report, the last report to provide a detailed interlocker list, so the date of its decommissioning is unknown.

Santa Fe Junction Record, Sweetwater (from The Santa Fe Archives website)

Above: This junction record, with north to the right, shows all of the railroads and interchange tracks in Sweetwater, but does not show the Tecific interchange
east of town (off the bottom of the map). The Tower 88 crossing is designated "(P&NT) Xing (KCM&O)" in the upper right corner of the image. The main
Santa Fe yard was east of (below) the crossing. KCM&O's grade separated crossing beneath the T&P is on the left side of the image. Since the KCM&O depot
was located near (and north of) where the T&P passed over the KCM&O, Santa Fe elected to build a long "Depot Spur" into the same area to locate a
passenger depot closer to town. The map shows that Santa Fe also had an interchange track with the T&P near the depot, and interchange tracks for the KCM&O
also nearby. Apparently, there were no interchange tracks between the two railroads at Tower 88.

Below: This letter was sent to W. E. Maxson, Assistant General
Manager of Santa Fe, on April 4, 1924 recommending that Santa Fe
"resume operation" of the interlockers at Sweetwater and San Angelo
that had apparently been taken out of service. The "law" referenced in
the letter probably relates to the legal issue that Santa Fe had raised
regarding RCT's authority to require interlockers at grade crossings of
two or more rail lines owned by the same railroad. This issue continued
to be debated with respect to several other interlockers (see Tower 5,
Tower 121 and Tower 135), but this may have been the earliest explicit
example of a railroad reinstating an interlocker that had been discontinued
without permission. The letter was presumably written by the GC&SF Legal
Department and was found in the Santa Fe Legal Archives kept by the
Houston Metropolitan Research Center. Thanks to Stephen Hesse for
obtaining this document for our use.

 

Historic Maps of Rail Alignment in Sweetwater

Above: The 1908 Sanborn map shows KCM&O tracks paralleling the T&P tracks westward through Sweetwater, then
veering to the southwest. These tracks were removed by 1914, but were reinstalled between 1922 and 1930.

Below: By 1914, the east/west KCM&O tracks had been replaced by a
new main line with a right angle grade-separated crossing of the T&P.
Santa Fe's new spur into town, constructed to serve their depots located
nearby, also provided a T&P connection.

 

Tower 88 Location Map

 

 
Last Revised: 1/16/2010 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.