Texas Railroad History - Tower 142 - Plainview

A Crossing of the Pecos & Northern Texas Railway and the Ft. Worth & Denver South Plains Railway

Above: This overhead view of Plainview has been annotated to show the rail lines and the location of Tower 142. (Google Earth image)

James J. Hagerman was a noted a railroad investor who founded the Pecos & Northern Texas (P&NT) Railway in 1898. The P&NT was to be the Texas portion of Hagerman's planned line from Roswell, New Mexico to Washburn, Texas, a railroad town southeast of Amarillo. At Washburn, Hagerman would connect to the Southern Kansas Railway, a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF) Railway with tracks into Oklahoma and Kansas, ultimately reaching Kansas City. The plan was revised to move the Santa Fe connection to Amarillo, and the line was built in 1898 and early 1899. Operations commenced in February, 1899. In 1901, Hagerman sold the P&NT and his New Mexico railroads to Santa Fe, a move that surprised no one.

Santa Fe elected to use the P&NT charter as the basis for building a substantial rail network in the Panhandle of Texas. Santa Fe already owned the Southern Kansas Railway which had built from Kansas through Oklahoma into Texas, terminating first at the town of Panhandle, Texas and then later at Washburn where a connection to the Ft. Worth & Denver City (FW&DC) Railway was made. In 1908, the Southern Kansas built a direct route into Amarillo from Panhandle and connected with the P&NT, giving Santa Fe improved connections between the midwest and the west coast. By this time, Santa Fe had used the P&NT charter to build south from Canyon to Plainview, a line that was extended farther south to Lubbock in 1910. They also built 200 miles southeast to Coleman in 1911. Several additional branch lines were built, increasing the P&NT's rail network to 570 miles. In 1914, the Texas operating component of the Southern Kansas Railway was renamed Panhandle & Santa Fe (P&SF), and this became the railroad under which Santa Fe's operations in west Texas would be consolidated. Most of the P&NT was immediately leased to the P&SF, with the remaining 84 miles between Sweetwater and Coleman leased to the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe (GC&SF) Railway, another Santa Fe subsidiary. The P&NT ceased to operate trains but it continued to exist on paper until it was formally merged into the P&SF in 1948.

In 1925, the Fort Worth and Denver South Plains (FW&DSP) Railway was chartered to build branch lines in the Panhandle, primarily to serve the cotton business for its parent railroad, the FW&DC. The town of Estelline on the FW&DC was chosen as the initial connecting point, and the new line was built west from there, eventually passing through Plainview and reaching Dimmit in 1928. In Plainview, the FW&DSP crossed the P&NT (P&SF) at grade. In addition to an interlocker in Plainview, the FW&DSP also needed an interlocker in Lubbock at another branch line crossing of the P&SF. FW&DSP's application to the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) proposed that the interlockers at Plainview and Lubbock be jointly authorized as the first automatic interlockers in Texas, and the first interlockers that would not have derails. RCT held a hearing in Austin on March 31, 1930 to discuss the proposal and then issued an order granting the request on May 1, 1930. The order was conditioned on RCT's final approval of some specific revisions to the signal plan, and it mandated a speed limit across the interlockers of 20 miles per hour. The order cites American Railway Association research in favor of eliminating derails from all interlockers, and notes that 121 automatic interlockers were in operation across the U.S. without any reported accident attributable to interlocker automation. The Lubbock interlocker, Tower 141, was installed on February 12, 1931. Tower 142 began operation in Plainview on March 16, 1931.

RCT records show that there was a substantial delay in the approval process for Plainview and Lubbock interlockers. There are 19 interlockers with numbers higher than 142 that have precise commissioning dates in 1930 or earlier, months or years before 141 and 142 were installed. Generally, interlocker numbers were assigned by RCT at the time the application was received; this provided a convenient reference for design and approval documentation and correspondence. Since Tower 144 (to cite one example) was commissioned on May 29, 1928, its application had to be much earlier, perhaps in 1927. This implies a 1927 or earlier date for the initial application for the Lubbock and Plainview interlockers. Yet, the hearing to discuss the automatic interlocker proposal did not occur until at least two and half years later. It's certainly possible that the railroads began with a proposal for traditional interlockers and then revised the proposal for automatic interlockers. It is also possible that the railroads' decision to propose automatic interlockers was motivated by a suggestion from the RCT engineering staff wanting to advance the state of the art for interlockers in Texas. We do not have additional documentation of these deliberations, but we do have the RCT order authorizing the automatic interlockers for Plainview and Lubbock (below).

The railroads crossed at two locations in northeast Plainview. The Tower 142 automatic interlocker controlled FW&DSP's crossing of Santa Fe's Lubbock / Amarillo main line. Research by Stephen Hesse determined that there were approach signals 500 ft. from the diamond in all four directions. The other crossing was two miles farther east where FW&DSP's line crossed the P&NT branch to Floydada. It is unknown whether this crossing was also part of the Tower 142 interlocker. It easily could have been, and there might have been a good reason for it since the Quanah, Acme & Pacific (QA&P) Railway had been marketing itself nationwide as a provider of transcontinental "bridge" service through its endpoint connections, the P&NT in Floydada and the St. Louis San Francisco ("Frisco") Railway in Quanah, respectively. Whether this QA&P overhead traffic actually contributed significantly to Santa Fe's operations in Plainview in the early 1930s is unknown. It is equally possible that despite QA&P's traffic contribution, the P&NT was really little more than a seasonal branch line, active mostly during the cotton harvest with perhaps no more than a daily or weekly train the rest of the year. The FW&DSP's lines in the Panhandle were also focused on cotton shipping and probably generated marginal traffic the rest of the year as there was little population along the route. If this secondary crossing was uncontrolled, all trains would stop, but that would not have been an issue for two lightly used branch lines. Clearly the impetus for Tower 142 was not from the FW&DSP; it was Santa Fe's insistence on not delaying its main line traffic between Amarillo and Lubbock. These were two substantial and growing population centers that generated passenger and freight traffic, and also provided Santa Fe "all the way" connections to Houston (via Lubbock to Coleman to Temple and beyond) and to Denver (via Amarillo to Boise City, Oklahoma to La Junta, Colorado and beyond).

Both crossings remain intact today with all of the associated lines now owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). The ex-P&NT tracks at the primary crossing remain a significant north/south route for BNSF between Amarillo and Lubbock. The ex-FW&DSP tracks at this crossing still provide service west to Dimmit. To the east, they remain in service only about a mile past the secondary crossing, to support a local industry. The ex-P&NT tracks also serve an industry along the former route to Floydada, and are out of service about 2.5 miles past the secondary crossing.

Above Left
: This north-facing Google Earth satellite view of the Tower 142 crossing (lower center of image) shows the Santa Fe main to Lubbock departing the image at bottom center. North of the crossing, the Santa Fe splits in two: the curve to the left is the main line to Amarillo; it goes past the yards and the former passenger station (off image to the left). The right curve is the former branch line to Floydada. The former FW&DSP runs diagonally across the lower part of the image, crossing the Santa Fe 223 ft. north of Santa Fe's E. 9th St. grade crossing. Above Right: This recent Google Street View of the site of Tower 142 from the E. 9th St. grade crossing shows both lines intact. The view is to the north along the former P&NT. The equipment cabinet near the diamond is of old enough vintage that it might have housed the Tower 142 automatic interlocker. Perhaps it still does!

Above: This Google Earth north-facing view of the secondary crossing (lower center of photo) shows the significant industry that is served by the two rail lines. The facility to the left is a receiving center for massive windmill blades that are used extensively for power generation in west Texas. The wavy lines are blades stacked on edge. The facility is primarily served by the former FW&DSP tracks (that pass through the middle of it) along with several additional sidings and a short connection (out of view) to the ex-P&NT tracks that run along the north side of the complex. To the right, an unknown facility with an amazing 45 warehouses is served by the ex-FW&DSP tracks, but appears to be mostly served by an additional spur that comes off the P&NT about 200 ft. past (right of) the diamond. This newer siding allows service to the warehouses using the ex-P&NT, eliminating the need to pass through the middle of the windmill blade facility on the ex-FW&DSP tracks. The ex-P&NT tracks continue off the image at bottom right to serve additional industry.

: This Google Street View looking due north shows the site of the secondary crossing about 80 feet to the left of where the dirt road crosses the tracks. An equipment cabinet is visible adjacent to the diamond. To the right, the ex-P&NT tracks to Floydada are "in front" and the rail cars behind them appear to be on the new spur, which is 0.6 miles in length and connects to the adjacent ex-FW&DSP tracks at that point.

Below: The ex-P&NT tracks terminate at the lower right corner of this image, about 2.5 miles from the secondary crossing diamond, adjacent to a huge White Energy Corp. ethanol plant that includes a vast rail loop for unloading grain shipments and filling tank cars with the end product.

Last Revised: 2/7/2021 - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.