A Crossing of the Houston East & West Texas Railway and the Waco, Beaumont, Trinity & Sabine Railroad
In 1877, the Houston East & West Texas (HE&WT) Railway began building a narrow gauge railroad north out of Houston, passing through the town of Livingston in 1880. By then, Livingston had been settled more than 30 years, having obtained postal service in 1847. Despite being the county seat, Livingston had grown slowly, but that changed quickly with the arrival of the railroad. In 1899, five years after the HE&WT was converted to standard gauge, Southern Pacific (SP) bought the HE&WT but continued to operate it under that name. In 1927, the HE&WT was leased to the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) Railroad, SP's principal operating subsidiary in Texas and Louisiana, and in 1934, the HE&WT was finally merged into the T&NO.
The huge growth in commercial timber that occurred in east Texas in the 1890s and beyond motivated the construction of numerous railroads to bring wood products from mills to the main line railroads. One of these was the Livingston & Southeastern Railway, built in 1905 to connect the Knox Lumber Co. mill east of Livingston with the HE&WT. But within eight years, the Knox lumber mill was closed and the rail line abandoned. The next rail line into Livingston was the newly chartered Beaumont & Great Northern (B&GN) which built a line to Livingston from an International & Great Northern connection in the town of Trinity during 1907-08. A few years later, the B&GN was sold in several successive transactions and ultimately became owned by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT, "Katy") Railroad. The sale to the Katy was fought in court by the State and eventually annulled in a 1914 settlement wherein the Katy then leased the B&GN for 99 years. But Katy's lease did not last long; they went into receivership and the B&GN reverted to its owners as part of Katy's emergence from bankruptcy in 1923. The B&GN's owners then changed the name to the Waco, Beaumont, Trinity & Sabine (WBT&S) Railroad.
The B&GN most likely crossed the HE&WT in Livingston during its initial 1908 construction. The HE&WT had built north/south mostly along the west side of Livingston, hence just reaching the main population of Livingston from the west would require the B&GN to cross the HE&WT. But it was not until 1931 that this crossing was interlocked. In the last interlocker list published by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) dated 31 December 1930, Tower 168 is listed as "Under Construction" at "West Livingston" to serve the HE&WT / WBT&S crossing. A drawing obtained from SP's Houston office by Carl Codney states that this was a "ground lever plant" interlocker placed in service on 15 October 1931. The lever controlled two home signals for the HE&WT, one in each direction, and two derails on the WBT&S, one in each direction. Approaching WBT&S trains were required to stop before they reached the derail near the crossing. A WBT&S crew member would exit the train and throw the ground lever. This would signal a stop condition on the HE&WT and clear the derails on the WBT&S. Once the WBT&S train had crossed the diamond and cleared the derail, the crew member would return the lever to its normal position. This signaled HE&WT traffic to proceed through the crossing without delay.
Ironically, the Tower 168 interlocker was installed after the WBT&S had gone into receivership in February, 1930. During three decades of receivership, parts of the railroad were gradually abandoned until there was literally nothing left, in 1961, when it ceased to exist. The SP drawing states that Tower 168 was taken out of service on 22 March 1947. Presumably the crossing was removed at that time, but RCT records show that the WBT&S tracks into Livingston weren't formally abandoned until 1949. The former HE&WT line remains in service as a major route for Union Pacific.
Above Left: The HE&WT and WBT&S crossed southwest of Livingston, a location not shown on this Sanborn Fire Insurance index map of Livingston from 1927.
Above Right: This SP drawing shows the functions controlled the interlocker. Both railroads had a total of 2 units, so the expenses were split 50/50. (Carl Codney collection)
Below: Some portions of the WBT&S grade are clearly visible on satellite imagery, but the right-of-way near the Tower 168 crossing is not distinct. Sanborn maps show the
WBT&S running parallel to and south of Ogletree (upper right corner). The Ogletree Lumber Co. sawmill was served by the WBT&S about where W. Matthews and Ogletree
intersected. That intersection no longer exists; the sawmill is long gone, replaced by a city park. The crossing appears to have been very close to where S. Marsh Drive reaches
the existing rail line, now operated by Union Pacific. Although S. Marsh is a dirt road at this location, it was captured by Google Street View in 2008 (second below).
Above: This crossing appears to be some kind of construction entrance for a project along the UP line. The view is to the northeast and the camera
is on S. Marsh St. The Tower 168 crossing was in this vicinity, but more likely a few dozen yards in the distance, out of view.
Below: West of Livingston, 1.25 miles of the WBT&S grade is preserved as a rural road called Wobbly Bobbly Tram Road. This is a reference to
the local nickname for the WBT&S, "Wobbly Bobbly Turnover and Stop", an apt description of operations for much of their existence. Another 1.4
miles of the right-of-way is preserved as Pridgen Road, also west of Livingston.