Texas Railroad History - Tower 99 - Galveston

Crossing of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railway and the Galveston Terminal Railway

The precise function and location of Tower 99 is unknown. It's brief existence is documented in Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) annual reports. Tower 99 appears in the RCT's List of Interlocking Devices for the first time on October 31, 1914 where it is described as a 40-function electrical interlocker in Galveston at a crossing of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway and the Galveston Terminal (GT) Railway. It was authorized for operation on April 29, 1914, but according to documents at DeGolyer Library, it was "approved for operations in advance of inspection" on April 22, 1914. In 1915, the Tower 99 listing changes only slightly, showing 27 functions instead of 40. In the 1916 report, Tower 99 is removed from the active list and included in a separate list of interlockers "abandoned on account of removal of crossing". However, files examined by Michael Lowe at the Texas State Archives indicate that Tower 99 was actually taken out of service on September 22, 1914, less than five months after its initial authorization date.

What could account for such a brief existence? The Handbook of Texas provides clues...

"The Galveston Terminal was initially owned by the Trinity and Brazos Valley Railway Company, which supplied the equipment required. However, as a result of its 1914 receivership, the Trinity and Brazos Valley discontinued use of the terminal on July 31, 1914. Between August 1, 1914, and January 31, 1919, the Galveston Terminal was leased by the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway Company to supplement its own terminal facilities."

Thus, the receivership of the GT parent company occurred only three months after the Tower 99 interlocker was established. Since the GT was then leased by the GH&SA, it is likely that the GH&SA decided that the interlocker was no longer required to be formally managed within the numbered tower system of the RCT. In those days, the generally accepted rule was that continued RCT approval was only required for interlockers at junctions of two different railroads. Once the GT was incorporated by lease into the GH&SA, the interlocker could be abandoned in favor of internal operating rules.

The precise location of Tower 99 is unknown, but a review of the Tower 99 file at DeGolyer Library provides a few clues. Although the file is very sparse, it does include an interlocker drawing with the title "Galveston Terminal Railway, Galveston Wharf Co. Crossing with the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railway, 57th Street, Galveston". This is interesting because it clearly shows that the Galveston Wharf Company was involved in the interlocking (and "J. J. Davis" signed the drawing indicating their approval), yet they are not listed as being associated with Tower 99 in the RCT annual reports. A letter dated April 12, 1912 from the GH&SA to the RCT requesting inspection of the interlocker also refers to it as being "near 57th St." in Galveston, matching the title block on the drawing. The drawing only shows track information and does not depict any streets, so we cannot determine the location directly from the drawing, a sketch of which appears below.

Above: As reproduced in this sketch by Jim King, the Tower 99 interlocker drawing at DeGolyer Library shows the tower to be
located where parallel lines of the Galveston Terminal (GT) Railway and Galveston Wharf (GW) Co. cross parallel lines of the GH&SA
approximately 560 feet east of a GH&SA crossover track. There were no other tangible clues on the drawing that would indicate its
location. Also, neither the drawing nor any of the correspondence in the DeGolyer file indicates whether this was a manned tower
structure or a cabin interlocker.

Prior to our examination of the Tower 99 file at DeGolyer Library, Don Harper had speculated on a different location, near 49th Street. In an email dated October 30, 2006, Don explains...

"I have a 1936 map of the railroads east of 50th Street in Galveston. On that map, one of the tracks paralleling the GH&SA is labeled B-RI (GT). On that same map, at the junction of the GH&SA and the Z track leading from GH&SA to GH&H, is a yard office. The B-RI (GT) track runs right past that office. If I were going to place a tower, that is where I would put it." (Editor's Note: "B-RI" references are to the Burlington-Rock Island Railroad which was created to acquire the assets of the Trinity & Brazos Valley Railway when the receivership ended in 1930.)

In addition to the GT line, Don's map shows a GW line parallel to the GT line near the Z track junction. Unfortunately, as highlighted below, for the Z track junction to have been the location of Tower 99, the track diagram would need to be the opposite of the DeGolyer drawing, i.e. the GT and GW lines would be the straight parallel lines and the GH&SA lines would be the ones that cross at an angle and then curve to become parallel, joining the GH&SA main line.

Above: Highlighted on Don's map, the Z track crossing next to the
GH&SA Yard Office was a good potential location for Tower 99's
controls, but one that does not easily reconcile with the interlocker
drawing at DeGolyer Library.

The Galveston Wharf Co. had extensive tracks throughout Galveston, so it is likely that both areas, 49th St. and 57th St., were served by it. According to the Handbook of Texas...

"By 1917 the company operated three miles of main track and nearly forty-one miles of yard tracks and sidings. In that year railroad revenues were $186,730, and the Galveston Wharf Company owned eight locomotives and five freight cars."

If the demise of Tower 99 was in fact due to the leasing of the GT by the GH&SA, this does not account for the continued operation of GW tracks at the crossing. Apparently, some other control arrangement was made (or perhaps the GW was somehow removed from the interlocking prior to operation since its name does not appear associated with Tower 99 in the RCT annual report?) The Tower 99 file at DeGolyer contains nothing to explain what happened to Tower 99. Sanborn Fire Insurance index maps of Galveston show tracks in the vicinity of 57th Street, but nothing that matches the interlocker drawing. If anyone has information that pertains to the location or operation of Tower 99, please contact us.

Last Revised: 1/20/2007JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.