www.txrrhistory.com - Tower 93 - Denison

Text by Harry Brown.  Additional text below by Joe Pike.

Tower 93 was a M-K-T manned tower and was located where the T&NO (SP) main line crossed the MKT Dallas Subdivision main line in downtown Denison, Texas. If you were standing at the south end of the passenger platform at the MKT Denison Depot, you could have seen the now-gone tower several hundred feet south of Main Street.

The tower controlled two crossings, the junction of the freight cutoff and the Dallas Sub main (known as Lamar Switch), and the connection between the T&NO (SP) and Katy used by T&NO (SP) and Frisco passenger trains going to/from the Katy Depot. One of the crossings was adjacent to the tower where the SP crossed the MKT Dallas Subdivision. The other crossing was about a mile SE of the tower where the T&NO (SP, and tenant Frisco) crossed the Katy's freight cutoff near the south end of the Austin Avenue/US Hwy 69 viaduct. As a kid, times without number I heard in the middle of the night Frisco's Tulsa-bound Black Gold coming in on the T&NO (SP) from Sherman whistling for the connection: one long, one short, one long, one short.

A while back, my pal Joe Pike mentioned his and our visiting and watching the operator many times. I also visited the tower when my cousin substituted for a regular operator. Joe also mentioned carrying orders down the track to the freight cutoff junction switch to hand up to outbound freights. This junction, which was right in front of the Eisenhower house at Day Street and Lamar Avenue, was called Lamar, hence the tower was called Lamar on the Katy (Tower 93 on the T&NO) even though the switch was a few hundred feet away.

Photo by Mike O'Brien; April 1995.

Lamar (Tower 93) was an electro-pneumatic plant; i.e., the turnout motors were powered by compressed air rather than electricity or armstrong push/pull rods. There was a large air compressor and air storage tank downstairs in the tower. Compressed air lines ran from there to the turnouts. These air lines were encased in wooden conduits atop concrete posts. I wish I had a dime for every time I managed to walk atop the full length of one of the conduits, and $1000 for every time I slipped and fell astride one. Oooooooh!!!

The interlocking machine was equipped with enough handles to control all the switches and signals in the plant. To move a handle, you twisted a knob at the end of the handle and moved it right or left. The top of the machine was covered with very heavy glass through which you could see the ingenious design of sliding bars arranged to make it physically impossible to clear conflicting routes at the same time.

All those trees that line the BNSF (former SP) tracks in the vicinity are the result of years of neglect. No trees grew along the tracks in the old days. Katy once had a huge oil storage tank in the triangle surrounded by the Dallas Sub, freight
cutoff, and T&NO (SP).

Photo by Mike O'Brien; April 1995.

From Lamar Switch, the freight cutoff ran along the south side of Katy's car shops complex, then curved to join the double-track Ft. Worth Sub main from downtown at a turnout called Daley (later, McCune) a few feet east of the Armstrong Avenue grade crossing. Most of this r-o-w still can be seen. Just west of Armstrong Ave., a crossover let incoming freights get to the right hand track.

In the old' days, Armstrong Ave. was the route of US75 south of Main St. In addition to all-day traffic of freights, varnish, and transfer runs, the heavy motor traffic at the grade crossing kept the rails well polished. This resulted in the frequent spectacle of a Katy Mike coming off the cutoff losing its grip in the middle of the grade crossing. Picture this: An inbound freight from the Dallas Sub would have to slow to a crawl while the head-end brakeman made his way from the cab along the running board and down to the pilot footboard, then hop off and run ahead, unlock and open the Daley/McCune switch, dash across the Avenue while hoping that motorists would obey the single wig-wag, unlock and open both crossover switches, and, finally, get back aboard. The rear-end brakeman would have to put all the switches back to normal and lock them, keep from getting hit by a motorist, and run to catch the caboose. It was slightly upgrade approaching Daley on the cutoff, so between that and having to drop down slow enough to let the head brakeman off the engineer's skills were put to the test to keep forward motion over the slick rails.


Text by Joe Pike:

One little incident which comes to mind regarding Armstrong Ave. (old US-75) crossing: Once upon a time, in the late 1920's or early 1930's, a southbound freight engineer got just a little ahead of himself when he hit the leg around the car-shops to the Dallas main. As a result two cars derailed at the intersection, separated from the rest of the train and turned over on their sides. They were gondolas that were full of raw cane-sugar. Sugar was scattered everywhere, followed by local "looters" followed by a plague of ants. This grade crossing forever afterward --maybe even today-- is known locally as SUGAR BOTTOM.

Another strong memory and bright mental pictures of when, as a teenager, I would walk (or ride my bike) down to Lamar Tower in Denison at eight or nine o'clock at night and spend two to three hours there with the operator, Mr. Thurmond. He was an older man who had lost a leg in "railroad service," and instead of pensioning him off, the Katy found a job for him. This was, I suppose, common to all railroads of the era, as you saw disabled veterans manning crossing shacks and fulfilling other duties when they could no longer be employed in "active" service.

Anyway, I can still see the Prince Albert tobacco can behind the sounder for the telegraph key; the pad of order-forms, the single bright light over the desk, the lighted green/red dots on the display board above the levers, and all the rest.

Often, when a set of orders was to be handed off to a train at the tail of the wye a quarter mile a way, he'd give me the Y-hoops and I would trot down to wait and hand them up (very "unofficial" naturally). Of the two dozen or so times I did this I
NEVER missed the cab or caboose ... Then the railroad installed the stick-holder racks that replaced manually passing the orders.

You've got to stand two feet from a thundering steam locomotive (going 20mph) to appreciate teeth-grinding fear, knowing that you had to remain absolutely still until the fireman or engineer had swept the string onto his arm.

Then back to the tower; the clicking of the sounder, and listening to Mr. Thurmond yelling at the dispatcher over the phone. I suggested that Mr. Thurmond could stick his head out the window and with the same volume, be heard by the DS a scant mile away on the second floor of the Denison depot!

Location Map, Tower 93

Last Revised: 08/01/2005 - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.