A Crossing of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway and the Abilene and Southern Railway
In 1885, as the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe (GC&SF) Railway was constructing a new line west from Temple toward an eventual goal of New Mexico, a decision was made to build via San Angelo to capture the huge potential livestock shipping business located there. In 1886, construction proceeded toward San Angelo from Brownwood, where the rails had stopped in 1882. A six-mile branch off the new line was built northwest to Coleman, a major cattle shipping point on the Western Trail. This junction became known as "Coleman Junction", but the name has not persisted. Santa Fe historian William Osborn explains...
...there was debate within the company regarding the best destination for its westward terminus. On June 8, 1885 the charter was amended to provide for a change of route west of Temple, routing through the counties of Bell, Coryell, Lampasas, Brown, Coleman, Runnels, Taylor, Tom Green [San Angelo], Nolan and Mitchell, forming a junction there with the Texas & Pacific Railway. Jay Gould’s Texas & Pacific line between Fort Worth and El Paso had been completed in 1881, linking Texas and California. It would take years, but Santa Fe would ultimately make a junction with that line, at Sweetwater, and then continue to meet its own line westward at Farwell/Texico. ... In later years, when traffic on the line northwestward to New Mexico eclipsed the San Angelo branch traffic, the company began to refer to this as “San Angelo Junction”.
|In the fall of 1885, the GC&SF had been surveying its
route west from Coleman Junction. The right-of-way (ROW) through Runnels County did not
pass through the county seat, Runnels City, and the 250 people living
there were not happy about that! They sent a delegation to Galveston to
appeal directly to GC&SF management, as reported (left
top) by the Galveston
Daily News on January 21, 1886.
Left, Bottom: Having completed construction into Coleman, work commenced on the line west from Coleman Junction soon thereafter. (The Taylor County News, March 5, 1886)
Right: The Runnels City delegation was unsuccessful. The GC&SF preferred to pass five miles to the south where they founded the new town of Ballinger, named for prominent Galveston attorney and GC&SF stockholder William Ballinger. The Ballinger town site was on the Colorado River, offering a vastly superior water supply compared to Runnels City. The railroad offered free lots to anyone relocating from Runnels City, which everyone did! Runnels City became a ghost town; the Handbook of Texas says..."By 1947 a rock hut and ruined two-story rock building were the only remnants of Runnels City."
Thus, the line that reached the Colorado River in 1886, 36 miles shy of San Angelo, was intended to be the main line to the west. The new town of Ballinger was established on the north bank of the river and quickly became a wild west boomtown. The river was bridged and construction was completed to San Angelo in 1888. A 43-mile westward extension to Sterling City was built in 1911 by the Concho, San Saba & Llano Valley Railroad (financed and acquired by Santa Fe), but the planned main line never proceeded west to a connection with the Texas & Pacific (T&P). Instead, in 1912, Santa Fe extended the Coleman branch to Slaton, connecting with the T&P near Sweetwater. This became the main line, and Coleman Junction eventually became known as San Angelo Junction.
In 1910, the Abilene & Southern (A&S) Railway entered Ballinger, completing a line from Abilene, a major station on the T&P. Ballinger proved to be the end of the line for the A&S which never went further south. Both railroads bridged Elm Creek to enter Ballinger on the north side of town, and the two lines then crossed south of the creek. As the end of the line for the A&S, this was hardly a major junction, and the diamond was only 400 yards from the Santa Fe passenger depot. In April, 1927, a cabin interlocker, Tower 128, was established at the crossing, but the specific impetus for waiting 17 years to build it is unknown. The delay appears related to some kind of larger agreement between the two railroads since their only other junction, at Tower 129 in Tuscola, was interlocked at about the same time.
The A&S became part of the Missouri Pacific system, and the rails from Winters to Ballinger were abandoned in 1972. The Santa Fe tracks remain intact, today operated by Texas Pacifico.
Site Photos, Tower 128
Above Left: The original stone bridge supports for the A&S crossing of Elm Creek remain intact. Above Right: Facing southeast, the A&S right-of-way is
visible as a dirt road through this mesquite patch between Elm Creek and the Tower 128 crossing. The former Santa Fe tracks cross this image horizontally
between the trees and the industrial buildings in the background, with the actual junction being near the utility tower at upper right.
Below Left: This jumble of tracks, weeds and industrial refuse marks the location of Tower 128. The former Santa Fe main tracks are barely visible next to
the utility tower at upper left. The path of the wooden power poles approximates the A&S right-of-way. The tracks in the foreground are remnants of a Santa
Fe siding that also crossed the A&S east of Tower 128. Below Right: The Santa Fe depot was renovated in 1983 and now houses city offices.
Map, Tower 128 Location