Photo by Con Sweet
Photo by Con Sweet
Photo from: Bastrop County Times
Contributed by Ann Helgeson
These are the best photos we have been able to obtain of Elgin Interlocking Tower 100. The two photos at top were taken in March, 1984 by Con Sweet. The single photo above was taken in 1978 sometime after the tower was relocated from the crossing of the MKT and SP in Elgin, Texas. Location of this photo is in Elgin, on Ave. F near what is now the Booker T Washington elementary school. There is no trace of the tower at this location and it is assumed the structure was torn down due to its dilapidated condition. Single photo above, contributed by Ann Helgeson of the Elgin Historical Association and the Elgin Union Depot Museum. Original photo from The Bastrop County Times (now defunct); May 4, 1978. See text of article accompanying this photo below.
Elgin was platted in 1872, named for Robert Elgin, the land commissioner and surveyor for the Houston & Texas Central Railway which was building a line from Houston via Hempstead to Austin. In 1886, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) railroad built through Elgin as they constructed a line from Waco to Houston. In the 1920s, the H&TC RR was absorbed into the Texas & New Orleans RR, part of the Southern Pacific system. The MKT line became part of the Missouri Pacific system which was later merged into the Union Pacific system. Elgin remained a major rail junction until the late 1950s when Southern Pacific traffic began to wane. In 1961, SP severed the route between Austin and Houston when a portion of the segment between Hempstead and Brenham was abandoned. This put Elgin on a dead-end branch line out of Austin. Eventually, the SP line from Elgin to Austin was sold to the city of Austin to preserve the right-of-way through Austin as a potential transit corridor. Austin leased operation of the rail line to various railroads over the years which have continued to serve Elgin intermittently. Meanwhile, UP continues to use the former MKT line as a major north/south route.
Mrs. W M Griffin, wife of the telegraph operator Bill Griffin, remembers those early days. ''We moved into town when I was a little girl, in 1908, and I remember the big red depot as being brand new. My father was with the cotton oil mill, and like a lot of families, we moved to Elgin because the railroads made it a center of activity and business."
Mrs. Griffin's late husband operated the semaphore for the Southern Pacific out of the little telegraph tower, which was moved to Avenue F from its original site adjacent to the Union Station. She remembers that before the telegraph came, crossing gates were used to regulate the trains where the KATY and SP lines crossed.
There were always three shifts or "tricks" for the
telegraph operators, so that someone was always looking there
to give signals to the switchmen and avoid a collision. Griffin
was first trick (7 am to 3 pm), H G Davis whose wife, Sadie Bell
still lives in Elgin, was second trick (3-11 pm) and N R Radtke
was third trick, the night shift (11 pm - 7 am). Radtke started
with the SP in 1930 as a telegraph operator and retired in 1963
as a freight agent, a job that he took in 1957. "When I first
came to Elgin we had a switching tower and we worked for both
trains. During the War years, there was a great shortage of men
who could do the job that had to be done, so we trained young
men who hadn't gone to the service as telegraph operators.
"I guess I must've trained 50 or so during that time."
Radtke said that for most of his working years, it was a '24-hour
job, seven days a week. There was not time off, someone always
had to be there." When Radtke started, there were no diesels.
He remembered the changeover. "It was a gradual transition
to diesel about 30 years ago. I remember General Electric, out
of Philadelphia, loaned the Katy two diesels, and they wore them
slap-dab out running them so much."
Asked if he had ever experienced a train wreck in his years with the railroad he indicated there were many collisions for a variety of reasons.
Once a freight train coming south and an empty train coming north from Camp Swift collided. Another particularly bad wreck he remembered occurred between some gravel cars that had rolled three miles out of a side track onto the main track. The engineer of the oncoming train and his son were killed. Radtke estimated he has seen 50 or more wrecks.
The Southern Pacific trains no longer stop at Elgin, and all business is taken care of out of Austin. But the Katy still stops in Elgin as well as Bastrop, and agent Burt Engle says that a lot more goes on that most people realize. Local businesses have stock delivered each day by the MKT freight trains, and lumber comes into Bastrop from all over the United States and Canada. Engle said that once or twice a week, cedar shavings are loaded onto cars at Dunstan, which are shipped to Hartz Mountain in Ontario, Canada. The tons and tons of shavings are used for making cat litter. Bastrop County, it seems has the perfect kind of cedar shavings to fill the need. In the past several years cotton has been sent to Galveston from Elgin, and then shipped on to China and Yugoslavia. Engle said there are no more telegraphs or even teletypes in the Elgin station, and all his communications are now done on special telephone lines. "I'm still railroading the way I have for the past 30 years, but my son, who also works for the railroad, uses all-new IBM computer systems to control the trains."
The passenger trains are almost gone, and the hissing black
steam locomotives are gone, too, but the railroads go on with
their business, and the trains obliviously travel the rails. Part
of those rails go through Elgin, and if you listen each morning,
around 9:30 or 10 am, you can hear the train's greeting as it
R.J. McKay writes: "Well, here's a later day picture
of Elgin from when I worked on the Austin and Northwestern Railroad.
I was the Engineer and Lanny Farley was the Conductor --both known as TranSpecs, or Transportation Specialists on the RailTex properties. Tower 100 was replaced with a signal box and on the opposite side of the track are the time release boxes, one for the AUNW and one for the Katy. Old H&TC Freight depot on the left in the background and the Union Depot on the right."
This print of Tower 100 and Union Depot in Elgin is called "Slow Order Through Elgin" by artist Jan P. Rons, who has been a full-time railroad artist since 1977. The family of Bessie Davis commissioned the artist to do the original painting, which will hang inside the Union Depot when it is completed. The prints are a fund-raising effort, with the sales proceeds for each print going toward the Union Depot Restoration Project.
The photos below are of a model of Tower 100 built by Jim Zwernemann. They were taken at the Katy House B&B in August 2006 by Jim King. Special thanks to Bruce Blalock at the Katy House for making the arrangements.
Model of Tower 100 built by Jim Zwernemann