Texas Railroad History - Tower 90 - Victoria

Crossing of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio (GH&SA) Railroad and the St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico (SLB&M) Railway

Victoria is one of the oldest towns in Texas, and it was one of the earliest to see rail service. The first to arrive was the San Antonio and Mexican Gulf (SA&MG) Railroad. Its charter had been issued ten years before the Civil War when citizens of Port Lavaca decided to grapple with the difficulty of moving freight between their port and the population centers farther inland. With an immediate objective of reaching Victoria, the first five miles out of Port Lavaca was completed in either 1857 or 1858. The remaining 23 miles to Victoria was completed in 1861. The SA&MG did not survive the War intact, but it was rebuilt by the Federal government afterward. When the construction debt owed to the government could not be repaid, the line went into bankruptcy and was sold at auction to Charles Morgan in 1870. Morgan renamed it the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific (GWT&P) Railway in 1871. The GWT&P then built a line from Victoria to Cuero in 1873 establishing a 56-mile route from Cuero to Port Lavaca. Southern Pacific (SP) gained control of the GWT&P in 1882 and operated it as a wholly owned subsidiary. In 1889, SP funded a GWT&P extension from Victoria west to Beeville, a distance of 55 miles. In 1905, the GWT&P was formally integrated into the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio (GH&SA) Railroad, SP's principal operating company in south Texas. The GH&SA was subsequently merged into SP's primary operating company for Texas and Louisiana, the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) Railroad, in 1934.

In 1881, the New York, Texas & Mexican (NYT&M) Railway was chartered as part of a grand plan to build a railroad from New York City to Mexico City. The enterprise was organized by Italian financier Count Joseph Telferner. Work began in Texas with construction of a 91-mile line from Rosenberg through Wharton to Victoria. It was completed in 1882, mostly built by laborers brought in from Italy (and thus nicknamed "the Macaroni Line".) The NYT&M's grand plan was curtailed when the railroad was acquired by SP in 1885, although it continued to operate under its own name. In 1905, SP fully merged the NYT&M into the GH&SA.

New York to Mexico City? Grand plan? That wouldn't qualify as a branch line for the next railroad in Victoria! In 1891, Victoria became the home and starting point of the Pan American Railway. The railroad built south from Victoria, managing to lay ten miles of track to the Guadalupe River before they ran out of funds. The city of Victoria refused to pay any of the promised $150,000 bonus unless additional mileage was built. The tracks were abandoned in 1894, undoubtedly disappointing the citizens of Pan American's planned endpoint, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, only six thousand miles (or maybe 5,990 miles) away. (This lunacy cannot be blamed on the water in Victoria as the ideas for these railroads were hatched in Italy and Boston, respectively.)

The next railroad to enter Victoria was the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico (SLB&M) Railway. The SLB&M was the first of the Gulf Coast Lines (GCL), a syndicate managed by the St. Louis Trust Company and backed financially by the St. Louis San Francisco ("Frisco") Railroad. The Frisco's Chairman, B. F. Yoakum, was a native Texan and long time Texas railroader with extensive experience in south Texas. It was his idea to create the GCL to build or buy railroads and weave them into a system to compete directly with SP in Texas and Louisiana. The SLB&M's main line, built in the 1904-1906 timeframe, ran from Brownsville to Algoa with major stations at Harlingen and Bay City. In 1910, the SLB&M built a 38-mile branch off of their main line at Bloomington to Port O'Connor on the Gulf of Mexico. This was the first step in the culmination of an idea proposed in the mid 1890s by T. M. O'Connor, a wealthy Victoria cattle rancher. O'Connor owned 75,000 acres along the coast south of Indianola and wanted to develop a hunting and fishing resort. Two attempts to build rails from Victoria to Port O'Connor had failed, but in 1909, Yoakum accepted an offer of $70,000 for the SLB&M to build it. He began with the branch to Port O'Connor, and the remaining 13 miles from Bloomington to Victoria was built in 1912.

Although Victoria was an endpoint for the SLB&M -- their tracks did not proceed beyond the town -- it was an important population center and Yoakum anticipated significant traffic. Passenger and freight depots were built about two miles west of where the SLB&M crossed the GH&SA line to Beeville. The railroads decided to build a manned interlocking tower at this crossing, and it was commissioned as Tower 90 by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) on January 3, 1913 hosting a 12-function mechanical interlocking plant. A 12-function plant was typically the standard minimum configuration for a crossing with no connecting tracks, having controls for a home signal, a distant signal and a derail in each of the four directions. Whether this was the actual configuration of Tower 90 has not been determined. The 1917 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Victoria shows the tower to be a two-story structure, but no photos of this tower have been located.

Right: An 1870 edition of the American Railroad Journal published an advertisement for the public auction of the SA&MG's assets. Note that the sale includes "1 Worthless lot of Blacksmiths Tools".

Left
: The railroads in Victoria are highlighted on a Sanborn Fire Insurance index map from January, 1928. The map shows that the SLB&M tracks ended less than two miles west of Tower 90.

Though Tower 90 was on the GH&SA line to Beeville, the crossing is not mentioned in the 1919 GH&SA timetable issued by the US Railroad Administration, even though other interlockers are listed. A 1938 GH&SA timetable (which should have been a T&NO timetable since the GH&SA no longer existed as a separate entity) lists Tower 90 as staffed from 7:30a to 4:30p daily except Sunday and legal holidays.

By 1947, the hours had shifted slightly to be 8:00a to 5:00p. according to a T&NO timetable, which also noted that when the operator was not on duty, the signals would be set to allow movements on the T&NO tracks. A 1949 T&NO timetable lists the Tower 90 interlocker as "automatic", and the tower was no longer staffed.

The other SLB&M/GH&SA crossing (black circle) was not interlocked and was within Yard Limits, handled by special rules.

The SLB&M was acquired by Missouri Pacific (MP) in 1925 when MP purchased all of the GCL railroads. It was eventually merged into MP and ceased to exist as a separate railroad. MP was acquired by Union Pacific (UP) in 1982. The SLB&M line from Bloomington in 1912 had the distinction of being the last railroad into Victoria ... until it wasn't! In the early 1990s, SP decided that it no longer needed the line between Victoria and Rosenberg. Decomposition of the line began when the tracks between Victoria and Wharton were abandoned in 1993. An additional 23 miles beyond Wharton was formally abandoned in 1995, and the remainder of the line to Rosenberg was out of service. As a result of SP's merger with UP in 1996, Kansas City Southern (KCS) Railway was allowed to purchase the dormant right-of-way (ROW) between Rosenberg and Victoria. KCS executed this purchase using its subsidiary, the Texas Mexican (TM) Railway. The TM had tracks from Laredo to Robstown, and KCS had rights on UP's lines between Robstown and Beaumont, where KCS has a main line that goes north to Kansas City. Although landowners along the former SP ROW filed suit, KCS eventually won and was allowed to rebuild the line between Victoria and Rosenberg, thus becoming yet another railroad to build into Victoria, albeit on an existing, abandoned ROW. The new line shortened KCS' route between Beaumont and Robstown by 70 miles and reduced by 160 miles the UP trackage over which KCS needed to operate. KCS commenced service on their new line in 2009.

In 1979, SP abandoned 38 miles of the Victoria - Beeville line, between Fannin and Beeville. The segment between Victoria and Fannin remains in service, supporting coal deliveries to the Coleto Creek Power Plant. The other SP lines out of Victoria, north to Cuero and south to Port Lavaca, remain in service. The line to Port Lavaca primarily serves the large Dow Chemical facility near Placedo and Bloomington but is also used by KCS for its Robstown trains via Placedo. The former SLB&M line to Bloomington remains intact now owned by UP, but the SLB&M tracks to their freight and passenger depots that crossed at Tower 90 no longer exist.

Below: The January, 1928 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Victoria shows Tower 90 ("R R Signal Tower") as a two-story structure located on East South 3rd St. between S. Navarro St. and S. Depot St. The drawing shows the tower sitting parallel to the GH&SA tracks with the door on the north corner of the east side of the tower. (magnification at right)
   


Above: This is a view looking east at the site of Tower 90 along the unpaved 3rd St. Comparing this view to the Sanborn map, Tower 90 should have been located at the mound of dirt to the left of and just beyond the SP tracks. (Carl Codney photo, 2003) Below: The swale of the former SLB&M right-of-way is easily spotted where the branch intersected the main line southeast of Tower 90. (Jim King photo, Dec. 2006)

Personal Observations of Roy Ekstrum (8/26/2005)
I've lived in Victoria all my 52 years and my home is about 6 blocks from where Tower 90 was. My grandfather worked the Victoria to Alice train up til the day he died in 1943. I've visited the actual location of 90 many times looking for leftovers but they are pretty slim. Bases of the distance signals are still in place on the south end on the SP and on the west end on the ROW of the MP. The MP track was pulled up in the mid 80s I think, I really don't remember when it was but do remember the track crossing Moody St. by the river bridge, and I do remember the tracks in the MP yard in the early 70s. I've never seen a photo of tower 90...  I have no idea what it looked like, I think either the Frisco or the SLB&M built it and maintained it... There was a second interlocker in Victoria but it was just a blockhouse, was removed several years ago... It was where the main crossed the line running from Port Lavaca going to Cuero. Another crossing was about 0.1 mi toward Port Lavaca from the Houston/CC line. That is where the MP crossed going to the cotton compress. Both of these were controlled by the station about 6 blocks down the street, I think. That MP crossing I don't think even had a signal with it. And at one time another interlocker was planned for the line that ran to Port O Connor and was to cross near the old compress. That line was to run to Yoakum but was never built out to Yoakum. The POC to Victoria part was built but was relined to come in to Victoria and crossed the SP at Tower 90.

Personal Observations of Leonard Ruback (8/31/2005)

I did not frequent that part of town in the timeframe given (too young plus the area is a bit ...uh... rough).  The GH&SA line is still there and hosts coal trains to Fannin (Coleto Creek). The MP line is long gone.  I do remember the MP line crossing the highway just before the Guadalupe River bridge. I never saw a train on it though. Today the old MP roadbed is a street. Back when I explored the area, the old grade was a gravel street. I do not think you could find any evidence of a rail line ever being there today. The MP also crossed the river down by the power plant. The line served numerous aggregate pits south of town. Today the area is a city park / lake. There is some evidence of this left if you know where to look. There used to be a horrendous curve on the MP line right at the Water St. crossing. The MP also served a large cotton compress which was located right next to the SP yard and north of North St. I do remember this line crossing North St and running through people's back yards. Never saw a train on it though and it was probably abandoned from north of Port Lavaca Drive when I was young.


Above: annotated satellite image of Victoria in the vicinity of Tower 90

 
Last Revised: 4/19/2021 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.