Two Junctions of the San Antonio & Aransas Pass and St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico railroads
In 1904, the San Antonio & Aransas Pass (SA&AP)
railroad sought to extend its rails south to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. The
idea began with SA&AP's previous owner, Southern Pacific (SP), which wanted
to compete with a rail line to the Valley being built by the St. Louis,
Brownsville & Mexico (SLB&M) Railway. SA&AP was
divested from SP ownership by
court order in 1903, and the order included a requirement that SP guarantee
any construction bonds already issued by SA&AP. SA&AP continued with their
existing construction plan to build south from their closest service point to
the Valley, the town of Alice. In 1904, construction began and the first 36
completed to Falfurrias. The Valley town of Edinburg was only 67 miles farther
construction stopped and was not restarted until SA&AP was
re-acquired by SP in 1925.
By 1925, the SLB&M had been serving the Valley for two decades. Their routes consisted of a north/south main line from Algoa (near Houston) to Harlingen and Brownsville, and a lengthy branch line from Harlingen west to Rio Grande City. Another railroad, the San Benito & Rio Grande Valley (SB&RGV) Railway, operated 65 miles of track in the Valley that were essentially branch lines for the SLB&M. Both railroads had been funded by B. F. Yoakum's Gulf Coast Lines syndicate and both were owned by the New Orleans, Texas & Mexico (NOT&M) Railroad. Missouri Pacific (MP), looking to expand operations in Texas, acquired the SLB&M and SB&RGV when it purchased the NOT&M on January 1, 1925. MP's immediate response to the threat of competition from SP's new construction was to build branch lines into the area north of Edinburg. The primary branch departed west from the SLB&M main line at Raymondville and reached Monte Christo via Lasara, Hargill and Faysville. Secondary branches ran from Hargill south to Edcouch and from Faysville south to Edinburg. In Edinburg, the line from Faysville connected to a 10-mile branch that ran north from San Juan, a community on SLB&M's east/west line between Harlingen and McAllen. This north/south line through Edinburg gave SLB&M additional flexibility by creating an alternate route for McAllen traffic to access the main line via Raymondville instead of Harlingen.
In 1927, the SP line from Falfurrias arrived in the western Valley, reaching Edinburg and continuing south to McAllen. SP's main line crossed the new SLB&M branch near Faysville at a location 1.8 miles south of a planned stop called Alsonia. A cabin interlocker was authorized by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) to control this crossing and it was commissioned as Tower 149 on December 5, 1928. To compete with MP in the eastern Valley, SP built a 63-mile branch line from Edinburg to Brownsville. It departed the SP main at a location that became known as Edinburg Junction and proceeded east, crossing SLB&M's Faysville - San Juan branch within the first mile. A cabin interlocker was commissioned as Tower 145 by RCT on January 3, 1929 to control this crossing. A second crossing of the SLB&M 12 miles farther east at Edcouch was interlocked as Tower 146. RCT generally assigned tower numbers in numerical order based on when railroads first notified them of planned construction. Since Edinburg, Edcouch and Lantana all have lower tower numbers than Faysville/Alsonia, SP presumably began planning for the lengthy branch line to Brownsville before they realized that a tower would be needed at the Alsonia/Faysville crossing, which became the first crossing they encountered as they built south.
Valley competition between MP and SP continued essentially unchanged for the next thirty years. In 1957, MP abandoned the 9 miles from Faysville west to Monte Christo. The 8 miles from Faysville to Edinburg was abandoned in 1964, eliminating the need for Tower 149, but MP continued to serve Edinburg via the short connection north from San Juan. These tracks were abandoned in 1971, eliminating the need for Tower 145. In 1979, SP abandoned their main line into Edinburg from the north, retaining their branch lines in the Valley to be served via MP's main line. Much of this trackage was later abandoned, but SP's 12-mile line from McAllen north to Edinburg remains in service by Rio Valley Switching Company (RVSC.)
Overview Map, Edinburg Area Interlockers
Above: The only rail line in the Edinburg area that remains in service is a portion of the former SP main line that runs north from McAllen to Edinburg, along with a short segment of SP's former branch east from Edinburg Jct.
Tower 145 Location
Above: This annotated satellite image of the Tower 145 crossing shows the historic location of the main lines and nearby support tracks. All of these tracks have been removed except a segment of the former SP branch line toward Harlingen which remains in use by RVSC as a storage track that ends a mile east of the Tower 145 crossing. Below: This annotated close-up view of the same area illustrates that the Tower 145 cabin was located in the northwest corner of the diamond. (both annotations provided by Noe Gutierrez)
Above Left: Noe Gutierrez took this May, 2019 photo of a concrete pedestal with steel inserts that sits at the site of the former Tower 145 cabin. It may have been the support for a control stand that would hold a box with pushbuttons for lining the signals (see example at Tower 103.) Such boxes were often used as a simple electronic control for distant signals when a cabin interlocker was abandoned. Above Right: looking north along the MP right-of-way from the Tower 145 crossing (Noe Gutierrez photo) Below: This 1955 image from historicaerials.com shows the Tower 145 cabin sitting in the northwest quadrant of the MP/SP crossing casting a visible shadow to the north.
When Noe Gutierrez traveled to the Edinburg area in early May 2019, he stopped in the Faysville area to take a look at the site of Tower 149. Noe describes his visit:
"The last place I intended to visit on the way in was the old Tower 149 site
west of Faysville. I couldn't - it turned out the road paralleling the old MP
line to Monte Christo (aka Monte Cristo) is the private main entrance to Lamar
Farms with very large 'No Trespassing' signs all around. I managed to talk to a
worker leaving the farm who directed me to drive on in and talk to the folks in
the office of a produce packing warehouse next to the old tower site. I was
given the name of the landowner, Chris Burns, whom I called and left a voice
mail telling him who I was and what I wanted to do there.
The next morning, not having heard from him, I called again. I spoke with him and he agreed to allow me to conduct my field checking in the area of the old tower but requested I go no further west. I drove out there right afterward and began taking pictures. Mr. Burns himself soon drove up and we had an interesting conversation. ... He knew of the old rail lines that used to cross his property and stated he'd found at least a hundred spikes over the years.
His manager then drove up, a gentleman older than both of us, and he recounted the time when the 'narrow gauge' line ran down where we were standing. He further stated that the main road, unpaved many years ago, ran down the old MP roadbed. I asked if I could possibly venture on down to where the road jogged to the north slightly where parallel fence lines 40 feet apart were located. Mr. Burns again said he'd rather I not go down there and that there was really nothing to see there. His manager stated that the old MP line used to run down the middle of those two fence lines. They then departed down that road to tend to farm business and left me to finish my pictures. Very nice people them.
I already knew the manager must be mistaken about the old MP line being narrow gauge as the San Benito & Rio Grande Valley HAD to be standard gauge to interchange with the St Louis, Brownsville, & Mexico. Further research using old aerial photographs revealed the manager to be partly correct about the location of the old MP line. The main drive was NOT located on top of the old roadbed, at least not for the first 2.25 miles. After that the road continues on, either as a paved road, dirt road, or field access road for another seven miles to where the only evidence of the old line shows up, beyond the north end of Cantu Road, presumably where the failed community of Monte Christo used to be. Here the line turned to the south to head to Alton and Mission. While the rail line may have remained fixed in place until it was abandoned, the road(s) along it did not. They were moved over the years, sometimes parallel to the railroad, and sometimes moved to the old roadbed. Those must have been the instances the manager was recalling.
I found no evidence of old rail infrastructure at the site, and there was construction traffic moving through there in connection with a pipeline being built. Old aerials show the interlocking cabin was located in the NE quadrant of the site, though. Mr. Burns had also stated that the tree line on the east side of the old SP ROW was 'virgin' in that it had not been touched since the abandonment."
Tower 149 Location
Above: Tower 149 is depicted in the northeast quadrant of the MP/SP crossing on this annotated satellite image provided by Noe Gutierrez. All of the tracks in this area were abandoned many decades ago, the most recent being the north/south SP main line in 1979. Below: The cabin that housed the Tower 149 interlocker casts a distinct shadow on the northeast side of the MP/SP diamond in this 1955 aerial photo (from historicaerials.com.)
Above Left: This simulated 3-D satellite view of the SP right-of-way looks north from the Tower 149 crossing. The SP path is obvious, whereas there is no obvious trace of the MP right-of-way, which ran horizontally across the image, apparently on the north side of the road. Above Right: a simulated 3-D satellite view of the SP right-of-way looking south toward Edinburg from the vicinity of Tower 149.