A Tower Controlling Houston Belt & Terminal Railway's New South Yard
Historic Photo, Tower 117 (photo by Ralph Back)
Above: By magnifying and rescanning his original slide (below) of Santa Fe F7 254C at New South Yard in Houston, Ralph Back was able to establish conclusively that when
he took this photo on September 29, 1973, the tower at New South Yard was, in fact, Tower 117. Thanks, Ralph!
Tower 117 was constructed by the Houston Belt & Terminal (HB&T) Railway and authorized for service by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) on March 14, 1924, the same day that its sister tower, Tower 116, was opened at Houston Union Station approximately four miles to the north. The purpose of Tower 117 was to control movements between two HB&T yards - the original "Houston Yard" and the "New South Yard", south of the original yard. Tower 117 was located at the north end of New South Yard where the tracks narrowed to cross the Brays Bayou bridge to enter the original yard. Track drawings in the Tower 117 file at DeGolyer Library place the tower structure 1,913 ft. south of the north edge of the Brays Bayou bridge. Ralph Back reports that HB&T Timetable #6 dated 1/1/75 lists Tower 117 at milepost 8.68 on the North Belt Subdivision. The tower is no longer standing, replaced by cameras and other automation.
Tower 117 was significant in the history of RCT management of interlockers because it was the first "yard tower" to be authorized where only a single railroad was involved. Other yard towers preceded Tower 117 in the RCT numbering system (e.g. Tower 68, Tower 75, Tower 87) but all of them were plausibly related to a junction of two different railroads. Tower 117's inclusion in the RCT approval process was a logical extension of the fact that it was planned, constructed and approved at the same time as Tower 116, which was associated with multiple railroads accessing Houston Union Station. It appears that HB&T never considered the possibility that the tower in New South Yard might not need RCT approval, and this precedent may have influenced RCT policy toward other yard towers and interlockers to come. A year after Tower 117 was approved, Tower 121 was approved in San Antonio, another single-railroad yard tower. Eventually, with Tower 135 in Canyon, the RCT policy requiring approval of all interlockers, regardless of location or number of railroads involved, became clearly established.
Below: A Tom Kline photo of Tower 117 from 1986
Tower 117 Location, Satellite Image
Based on the location relative to the Brays Bayou bridge as described in the DeGolyer Library files and
the presence of two transmission towers in Ralph Back's 1973 photo, our best guess as to the location of
Tower 117 is shown in the satellite image above. The two transmission towers in the image could be the
same ones seen next to the tower in Ralph's photo. US 90A (Old Spanish Trail) passes under the HB&T
Map, Towers of Houston (South and East)