Texas Railroad History - Tower 178 and Tower 180 - Magnolia

Two Grogan-Cochran Lumber Company Tram Crossings in the Vicinity of Magnolia

Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) records list two interlockers associated with a Grogan-Cochran Lumber Co. tram line in the vicinity of Magnolia, a small town in Montgomery County northeast of Houston. The Tower 178 file in the RCT archives kept at Southern Methodist University's DeGolyer Library identifies that interlocker's location as "Magnolia" where the tram crossed the International & Great Northern (I-GN) Railroad. The interlocker was a "crossing gate" placed in service on 8 July 1932. The I-GN in 1925 had become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Missouri Pacific (MP) Railroad, but at the time it still operated under its own name. This I-GN line had been built in 1901 as part of a lengthy construction project from Spring to Fort Worth via Waco that was completed in 1902. The line remains in use, now owned by Union Pacific (UP).

The Tower 180 file says that a cabin interlocker was placed in service on 23 February 1934 at a location defined as "Milepost 95.2 on the B-RI". The Burlington-Rock Island (B-RI) railroad passed a little less than four miles east of Magnolia, and MP 95.2 was in this area. The B-RI was effectively a joint venture of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad and the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway. The venture was established at the end of a lengthy receivership of the Trinity & Brazos Valley Railway which had been 50/50 owned by the two railroads. The B-RI was essentially just a bridge route carrying traffic between Houston and Dallas to serve the other operating entities of its owners. It had very little "on line" business of its own. The former B-RI remains in use, now owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

The Grogan-Cochran Lumber Company can be traced back to a company formed by the Grogan brothers at Gladstell in Liberty County, Texas in 1912. In those days, lumber companies relocated frequently as areas were cut out and new timber leases were acquired. In 1917, the company was operating near Grand Lake, southwest of Conroe in Montgomery County, and at that time became re-incorporated as the Grogan-Cochran Lumber Company. By the late 1920s, the company had major operations across Montgomery County, including the area that is now occupied by The Woodlands, a large suburban community and commercial center along Interstate-45 north of Houston. [The genesis of The Woodlands was a purchase of 50,000 acres from the Grogan-Cochran Lumber Co. by developer George Mitchell in 1964.] In 1927, the company merged with the Lone Star Lumber Co. in Magnolia, but apparently retained the Grogan-Cochran name. With extensive operations in Montgomery County, the company laid numerous tram lines to move logs from the forest to the mills. And there were plenty of mills; one estimate found 25 Grogan-Cochran mills in Montgomery County alone.

Notes from the DeGolyer Library files for Towers 178 and 180 indicate that they were crossings by the same tram line. Although Missouri Pacific was not the railroad involved in Tower 180, there is a letter in the Tower 180 file from MP to RCT dated 1 February 1934 (three weeks before the Tower 180 "in service" date) that states "The tram line shown is the same one that crosses our Ft. Worth line at Magnolia", referencing MP's Tower 178 tram crossing near Magnolia. A sketch in the file shows the tram and the rail lines near Magnolia. Perhaps RCT was trying to determine an appropriate name for their Tower 180 file since it was not in a populated area? The name they settled on was "Milepost 95.2 on the B-RI", and the file has two references to "MP 95.2" as the cabin location. But it also has two other references to "MP 942" (i.e. 94.2) as the cabin location, including the crossing location on the sketch! (No wonder we can't find it!)

Above: This sketch is an amalgamation of hand written notes of documentation and a sketch found in the
Tower 180 file (library policy prohibited actual reproduction of these documents.) NOTE: Unrelated rail
lines and towers not shown.

Various documents from both files convey information that resulted in the above sketch as the best estimate for the locations of Towers 178 and 180. Tower 178 was almost certainly located 0.9 miles south of Magnolia at a location called "Alethia", but the precise measuring point in Magnolia is unknown (but probably the passenger depot near the town center). "Alethia" was the site of the Lone Star Lumber Co. mill that had been acquired by Grogan-Cochran when they merged in 1927. Abandonment documentation from the Interstate Commerce Commission dated 22 July 1940 states that at "Alethia, in vicinty of Magnolia" the "removal of crossing gate" occurred "on account of removal of crossing." Presumably Tower 178 was abandoned some time during the first half of 1940 because the tram had ceased operations.

The Tower 180 crossing presents a much bigger challenge. It was identified as being "1,247 ft. from PS Mostyn" (PS presumably means Passing Siding), but the location of PS Mostyn is unknown. The tower location is either MP 95.2 or MP 94.2, depending on which contrary references in the file are ignored. The file has no information on the termination date for Tower 180 but it was presumably around the same time as Tower 178.

Tom Kline of Houston researched the B-RI milepost numberings in 2002:

I did some looking and here's what I found. MP 95.2 is between the stations of Karen and Ventura on the old B-RI. It is just south of a crossroads called Mostyn. If you get out the Roads of Texas and look on pg26 at grid intersection A & b, you'll see the junction of FMs 149 and 1488. Just south of there, right at the bottom of the FM 149 box, is MP 95.2. Next time I'm up there I'll have to take a closer look and check it with the odometer. There isn't a visible grade anywhere to be seen, and I've taken a number photos in that area over the years. I've never heard of this crossing from any of the old heads I worked with on that line, and my timetables don't go back that far. The curious thing is that the railroad runs through a ten to twelve foot cut along that stretch. Now you've piqued my curiosity!

South is to the right in this track chart image supplied by Tom Kline. Both MP942 and MP952 would have been in the vicinity of the Mostyn passing siding.

Interestingly, the junction of farm road FM149 and farm road FM1488 that Tom references is the "Mostyn" community mentioned in the file. The former B-RI rail line runs parallel to FM149 north and south of this intersection. Thus, while the precise location of "PS Mostyn" is not known, Tower 180 can be inferred as being located somewhere along the B-RI in the general vicinity of the intersection of FM149 and FM1488. The location of MP 95.2 being between Karen and Ventura doesn't narrow it down much since Ventura is about 3 miles south of Mostyn while Karen is about 2 miles north of Mostyn. Tom states clearly that 95.2 was south of Mostyn, but he did not provide the data that gave him this conclusion. This is of interest because, under BNSF ownership, the milepost at the former B-RI crossing of FM1488 at Mostyn is now 95.06. If this reflects the numbering that was used in the 1930s, then 94.2 might be the correct milepost for Tower 180, i.e. south toward a smaller numbered milepost rather than north towards the larger 95.2 milepost. Under that scenario, Tower 180 would be located (95.06 - 94.2) = 0.86 miles south of this cabin, approximately 4,541 ft. south of the Mostyn crossroads. This could still be 1,247 ft. south of PS Mostyn since we don't know precisely where it was located. Alternatively, the 95.2 notation could be correct, and the crossing was located 0.14 miles (739 ft.) north of the Mostyn intersection. This conflicts with Tom's assertion that 95.2 was south. Another consideration is the spur drawn on the map above. The original sketch was difficult to interpret but there was at least some possibility that the notation "Xing 1,247 ft. from PS Mostyn" was implying that PS Mostyn was the spur shown on the sketch, i.e. a siding not a spur. If so, it is unlikely that it was actually that close to the (grade-separated) crossing of the I-GN and B-RI which is well south of Ventura. It's also possible that PS Mostyn was right at Mostyn, i.e. the tram line crossing of the B-RI is now FM1488. This isn't far fetched -- the sketch showed the tram splitting with one leg going into Magnolia and the other going to Alethia 0.9 miles south of Magnolia along the I-GN where the mill was located. FM1488 could be built atop the tram leg that went into Magnolia.

Unfortunately, Google Earth satellite views don't convey any likely rights-of-way for the tram line between any point near Mostyn (for Tower 180) and any likely crossing points near the former "Alethia" (for Tower 178). This is not surprising given the forest growth in this area since 1940, not to mention significant suburban development. Ideally, a 1940s USGS Topo map of the area would show the tram line crossings, but the oldest we've been able to locate is 1962, and there's no notation of an abandoned tram.

Above: This annotated Google Earth image shows Magnolia at left and Mostyn at upper center. The range of locations for Tower 180 is
shown in pink. The thick forest between the two hides any obvious tram locations, but there does appear to be some access into the area.
Perhaps a hiker will find an old railroad tie? If you have any information to add concerning the locations of these two towers, please let us know!
Below: Under BNSF ownership, the milepost at the former B-RI crossing of FM1488 at Mostyn is now
95.06. Was it always 95.06?

Last Revised: 2/24/2018 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.