Texas Railroad History - Tower 179 - Shamrock
A Crossing of the Fort Worth & Denver Northern Railroad and the Chicago, Rock Island & Gulf Railway
Above: Out of service for more than fifty years, and with its last tracks gone for forty, the Tower 179 equipment cabin continues its lonely vigil on the outskirts of Shamrock, controlling signals for the ghost trains that roam the abandoned rights-of-way at night. (left, Google Earth, 2020; right, Jim King, 2008)
Shamrock, located in the
eastern Panhandle of Texas along the famed Route 66 highway, was named by an Irish immigrant rancher, George
Nickel, who moved into the area in 1890. Settlement accelerated when
the Chicago, Rock Island & Gulf (CRI&G) Railway built through the vicinity
in 1902 as they constructed a rail line from Oklahoma City through
Tucumcari, New Mexico. Although the Shamrock post office had closed by then and
locals were using competing names for the area,
Rock Island chose to name the stop Shamrock; this was likely the name already
used on Rock Island's survey documentation. The Shamrock post office re-opened and
the new town quickly grew up around the rail line. Oil was discovered in the eastern Panhandle
in 1926, and in the 1930 census, Shamrock reached its peak population, a little
under 4,000, the largest town in Wheeler County though not the county seat.
The presence of oil attracted the interest of the Fort Worth & Denver City (FW&DC) Railroad, owned by the Burlington rail system. The FW&DC had built the first rail line through the Texas Panhandle, but the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF) Railway had become the leading railroad serving Panhandle business. Seeking to compete more effectively but not wanting to revise the FW&DC charter to do so, Burlington chartered a new railroad, the Ft. Worth & Denver Northern (FW&DN), on May 20, 1929. The plan Burlington filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) was for the FW&DN to start from the FW&DC main line at Childress and build north through Wellington to Shamrock, cross the Rock Island, and continue north and west to Pampa, a major town on Santa Fe's main line. The FW&DN would pass through the heart of the new oil and gas fields east of Pampa. Rock Island formally opposed Burlington's plan and filed an application of their own. They proposed to build south from Shamrock to Wellington and then east to Quanah to a connection with the St. Louis San Francisco Railroad. The ICC eventually granted Burlington's application, but they incorporated a provision giving Rock Island four months to exercise an option to buy 50% of the track segment between Shamrock and Wellington once construction was finished. The FW&DN proceeded to build from Childress all the way to Pampa in 1932, but Rock Island did not exercise its option.
The FW&DN, 110 miles on a completely new right-of-way, became the last major rail construction project completed in Texas until Santa Fe built 49 miles between Sanger and Dallas in 1955. An automatic interlocker, Tower 179, was established in 1932 to control the Rock Island / FW&DN crossing in Shamrock. In 1979, the FW&DN line from Wellington through Shamrock to Pampa was abandoned and the interlocker was taken out of service. Following Rock Island's bankruptcy in 1980, their line through Shamrock was abandoned in 1982. Since that time, there has been no rail service in Shamrock. The primary transportation artery is Interstate 40 which crosses east/west along the north edge of Shamrock, following the original path of Route 66.
Above: As the map indicates, the FW&DN route through Shamrock skirted the west side of town. By 1932, the town was well established, hence a right-of-way directly through town would have been prohibitively expensive and its acquisition subject to lengthy delay. Below Left: Looking southeast from Railroad Ave., the Tower 179 cabin is visible on Google Street View. It sat in the northwest corner of the diamond. With the rails pulled up, a 40-year forest has grown up at the former crossing. (Google Street View, 2016) Below Right: Table D in the January, 1934 edition of Railway Signaling identifies Shamrock as the location of a 9-signal automatic interlocker installed by the CRI&G in 1932.
Above: To reach the proper elevation to cross the Rock Island at grade, the FW&DN needed to enter the south side of Shamrock on a large fill. This required a trestle over Opal St. for which remnants of the bridge pilings remain visible behind the utility pole.
Below Left: Gone but not forgotten, the path of the FW&DN is remembered by a white crossbuck on W. 7th St. Below Right: The FW&DN crossed Arizona St. at an angle; the grade has been re-used as a utility right-of-way. (Google Street Views)
Above: The FW&DN passed through an undeveloped area on the west side of Shamrock that has become residential, so it makes sense that its depot appears to have survived as someone's house! Below: This 2019 Google Street View shows the station still standing at 601 N. Arkansas St.
Above and Below: On the east side of town, the Rock Island depot sits along the abandoned right-of-way. The intent of its repurposing has not been determined. Though not particularly legible, the signs on the front and side say "Rock Island". (Google Street View)