Texas Railroad History - Tower 100 - Elgin

A Crossing of the Houston & Texas Central Railway and the Missouri - Kansas - Texas Railroad

Historic Photos, Tower 100

Above: Southern Pacific #894 passes Tower 100 eastbound in this undated photo (Bruce Wilson collection). The Elgin Union Depot is in the background.

Above: John W. Barriger III took this photo of Tower 100 from the rear of his private passenger car sometime in the late 30s or early 40s. The view
is to the north as his train proceeds south on the Katy main line toward Katy's major junction at Smithville. The connecting track would have enabled
westbound trains on the SP tracks to proceed south toward Smithville, and northbound trains on the Katy tracks to turn east toward Houston.
(image from the John W Barriger III National Railroad Library)

Below: Tower 100 and Elgin Union Depot (James E. Hassell collection)

Below: These photos were taken after Tower 100 had been retired and relocated to a spot on Ave. F in Elgin, near Booker T. Washington Elementary
School. No trace remains there; presumably it was razed due to its dilapidated condition.

Bastrop County Times, 1978 (courtesy Ann Helgeson,          The circular pattern between the two stories was indicative of an SP tower. Other examples are
Elgin Historical Assoc. and Elgin Union Depot Museum)     Tower 16, Tower 17 and Tower 81. (both photos, Con Sweet, March 1984)

Elgin was platted in 1872, named for Robert Elgin, the land commissioner and surveyor for the Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) Railway which was building a line from Houston via Hempstead to Austin. In 1886, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT, "Katy") railroad built through Elgin as they constructed a line from Waco to Houston. On February 7, 1914, the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) authorized operation of Tower 100 at the crossing of these two railroads in Elgin (replacing gates, according to a 1978 recollection by Mrs. W. M. Griffin of Elgin, who mentioned seeing them as a young child.)

In the 1920s, the H&TC was absorbed into the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) Railroad, the operating company for Southern Pacific (SP) in Texas and Louisiana. The MKT line became part of the Missouri Pacific system which was later merged into Union Pacific (UP). Elgin remained a major rail junction until the late 1950s when SP traffic began to wane. In 1961, the route between Austin and Houston became severed when a portion of the segment between Hempstead and Brenham was abandoned. This put Elgin on a branch line out of Austin that extended east to Giddings. Eventually, the SP line from Giddings to Austin was sold to the city of Austin to preserve the right-of-way as a potential urban transit corridor. Austin leased operation of the line to various railroads over the years which continued to serve Elgin to varying extents. Meanwhile, UP continues to use the former MKT line as a major north/south route.

Ann Helgeson provides this article about Tower 100 from The Bastrop County Times, May 4, 1978, Section II p1-2:

Starting in 1873 With the H&TC - Rails Run Through Elgin's History, by Lisa Johnson

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 goes by.

Additional Historic Photos, Tower 100
The following series of photos are from the collection of  R. J. McKay, and include photos from J.O.B. "Swede" Johnson who was once a machinist at the Katy Shops at Bellmead and a well-known railfan.

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." 

Below: Ann Helgeson took this photo of Tower 100's foundation, southeast of the diamond.

Above: This Google Street View image dated June 2016 shows the Elgin Union Depot and parking lot. Note the cabin
at the diamond and the post across from it (also visible in R J McKay's photo) remain intact.
Below: Google Earth satellite view of the crossing

Model of Tower 100 built by Jim Zwernemann

These photos are of a model of Tower 100 built by Jim Zwernemann. They were taken at the Katy House B&B in Smithville in August 2006 by Jim King. Special thanks to Bruce Blalock
at the Katy House for making the arrangements.

Last Revised: 3/3/2018 - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.