A crossing of the Southern Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads
In 1904, the San Antonio & Aransas Pass (SA&AP) railroad sought to extend its rails to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. The impetus to serve the Valley may have come from previous owner Southern Pacific (SP) wishing to compete with a new rail line to the Valley being built by the St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico (SLB&M) Railway. The SA&AP was divested from SP ownership by court order in 1903, but they proceeded with plans to build to the Valley from their nearest service point, the town of Alice. In 1904, construction began and the first 36 miles was completed from Alice south to Falfurrias. The Valley was less than 80 miles away, but construction stopped and was not restarted until the SA&AP was re-acquired by SP in 1925. Construction was completed in 1927 resulting in an SP main line between Alice and McAllen, and a branch line from Edinburg to Brownsville, providing SP with traffic from an area with vast agricultural production and expanding population.
The Valley was already served by the Missouri Pacific (MP) railroad which had acquired the SLB&M in 1925. MP constructed branch lines into the area around Edinburg in 1926, and a year later, SP's branch line to Brownsville crossed the MP at Edcouch, a new town named for....Ed Couch! Ed was a local banker and landowner who apparently foresaw the advantage of having a town served by two railroads. Unfortunately for Ed, the town never really prospered, remaining a small agricultural community about half way between Edinburg and Harlingen. Tower 146 opened in 1929 as a cabin interlocker protecting the SP/MP crossing.
Historic Photos - Tower 146 (images and captions by Bill Bentsen)
The above photo is a blurry magnification of the photo below, but so far, it's the best image
we have of Tower 146 in Edcouch. Two semaphores are visible which guarded the SP line
just south of the cabin interlocker. The normal position for the semaphores was down for the
MP line and up for the SP line.
Seen in this photo is the depot and tin-covered freight house with the "Edcouch" sign and the
familiar MP brown-and-cream painted doors. Included is the 1958 black and white Ford of the
station agent, Mr. Rufus Milligan. This would date the photo to between 1958 and 1968, when
the MP line was abandoned. The view is from the southwest corner of the freight house looking
along the east side of the main track toward the north.
This is the original, unedited photo showing the cotton gin across the tracks, which was
pretty much the sole reason for the railroad during this era.
An additional photo taken at the time is a view of three boxcars waiting to be loaded with the
revenue of the railroad. Note that the Frisco boxcar is wooden sided and all three have friction
bearings. This was a typical view of an old south Texas town in the 50s, full of dust and grime and
very, very tired. There is a gravel road crossing with a couple of Mexican children seen next to a
packing house. When the train came to pick up these cars, the track would creak and groan under
the weight, and the wheels would crush the gravel and weeds which accumulated over the railheads.
An old Missouri Pacific GP7 with faded blue and white colors would huff and belch smoke, and the
train crew would open the Interlocker to set the way for their return to Monte Alto, Hargill and
This view is of a Gulf Oil Corporation facility of some sort. The boxcar is probably just
spotted there for storage. Note that the track is almost buried in the sand and gravel
which comprised most of these hot little towns in the Valley.
An old, faded switch stands in the heat of the setting sun (shadow shown on the east side
of the marker). The sun has even parched the weeds during this hot, dry summer. My grandfather
had a chemical business in an old railroad building just to the right of this switch stand. It was a
typical tin-covered affair with MP brown-and-cream doors and peeling paint.
Observations by Bill Bentsen:
My grandparents lived in Edcouch, Texas, in the lower Rio Grande Valley, at the crossing of the MP (SLB&M) and the SP (SA&AP), site of Interlocker 146. The SLB&M line was essentially a north-south line, while the SA&AP line was essentially east-west. The lines crossed at right angles, and the crossing was accomplished by a 90-degree diamond. The Interlocker was a cabin-type interlocker (where the train crews operated the interlocking system). The interlocker was located at the northwest corner of the crossing, just north of the SA&AP (SP) line and just west of the SLB&M (MP) line. The building was approximately 15 x 15 feet in size, and it was on short stilts to ensure that any flooding which might have occurred because of tropical hurricanes would not damage the interlocking system or building. The building construction was entirely of wood with clapboard siding. The roof was of asphalt-type shingles, probably black. There were double-hung windows (probably three sets) across the south side (SP side) and across the east side (MP side) to assure a good view of the crossing. The interlocker was painted white at one time, but the effects of time and weather had pretty much rendered the paint job dull gray by the time I was observing it. There were two signs on the interlocker, one on the MP side and one on the SP side. The signs read simply "146". The entry to the interlocker was from the MP side via a short stairway with wood handrails. The stairway was accessed over a very short wood sidewalk/bridge which crossed the ROW drainage ditch alongside the MP track. It led to a wood door which opened into the inside of the building. There were Armstrong-type handles inside which controlled the semaphores and the derails via standard interlocking pipes and rollers. The pipes which controlled the SP line ran along the north side of the SP track, while the pipes which controlled the MP track ran along the west side of the MP track. The interlocker was the most simple type as it was only used to protect the routing by setting the semaphores and derails properly. The SP line (which was used substantially more) had a clear indication with the semaphores in the upright position and the derails closed while the MP line was always set in the stop or semaphore down position with the derails open. I do not recall that the semaphores were lighted; however, they well may have been.
The interlocker was used only by the MP crew. As I recall, when the train arrived from Raymondsville via Hargill and Monte Alto (southward), it would stop at the closed semaphore and wait until the brakeman went to the interlocker. He opened a standard railroad switch lock which protected the building, then he moved the Armstrong levers until the MP line was cleared over the SP line. The mechanism changed the semaphores and derails appropriately. Once this maneuver was accomplished, the MP train would cross the SP line in complete safety as intended. The signal apparatus was left in this position until after the switching was completed and the train crossed back northward. Once it cleared the crossing and the caboose was completely past the north signal, the brakeman reversed the setup and again set the signals for the SP line. He then locked up the interlocker and boarded the caboose and left town.
The location of the original SA&AP Edcouch depot was on the northeast corner of the diamond. I never saw the depot as it was removed long before my knowledge of the area; however, the foundation remained as witness to the depot's existence. Passenger service on the SP ended shortly after WWII according to my mother, and the depot was razed shortly after that. The MP station was southeast of the diamond, and was a wooden building with a freight house attached. It was painted the standard MP brown and cream and it had a bay window facing the track. Interestingly, the MP never offered passenger service on this line, but the freight agent at the station could issue passenger tickets. The MP passenger service was available on the mainline from Harlingen to Houston, and the closest passenger station to Edcouch was at Raymondville. This was where we always boarded the train when we went home to Dallas after visiting my grandparents. The station was severely damaged by a hurricane in the mid-60s, and the railroad elected to abandon it rather than repair it. The agent retired simultaneously.
The MP abandoned the Edcouch to Weslaco 7.56-mile line in 1961, then abandoned the Monte Alto to Edcouch line in 1968. This, of course, was the end of the need for the interlocker, which was abandoned in 1968 also. The SP line continued to operate under SP ownership until the merger with Union Pacific (UP). In 1999, UP filed to abandon the "Santa Rosa Industrial Lead" between Edinburg and Rogerslacy, and the final rails were removed from Edcouch in 2000.