Texas Railroad History - Tower 203 - Dublin

A Crossing of the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway and the Missouri - Kansas - Texas Railroad

Above: John W. Barriger III was the head of the railroad division of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) when he snapped this photo in Dublin on October 1, 1940, having reached the southern terminus of his trip inspecting the Wichita Falls & Southern (WF&S) Railway. The photo was taken facing due east from the west edge of Grafton St. (note brick pavement at lower left.) The view is along the WF&S tracks toward the main track of the St. Louis San Francisco Railway which ran north/south a thousand feet in the distance. Barriger is diagonally across from the small, brick WF&S station that sat south of the main track on the east side of Grafton St. The white sign on the utility pole ahead reads "169", presumably a milepost marker for the end of track distance from Wichita Falls. The WF&S yard was small and most of it was within the two street blocks immediately behind Barriger. (all John W Barriger III photos on this webpage provided courtesy John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library)

By the time Tower 203 was commissioned in Dublin by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) in the mid-1950s, neither of the railroads that originally established the junction were around to see it interlocked. The crossing came into existence when the Fort Worth & Rio Grande (FW&RG) Railway crossed the tracks of the Texas Central (TC) Railroad in 1890. The TC had built through the area in 1881, heading for northwest Texas out of Ross. Ross was the northern terminus of the Waco & Northwestern (W&NW) Railway, a subsidiary of the Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) Railway. As early as 1871, while the H&TC was building its main line from Houston to the Red River, investors had wanted to start a branch line into the Texas Panhandle. They acquired the dormant Waco Tap Railroad for that purpose, renaming it to be the W&NW and building it from Bremond to Waco to Ross in 1872. After a delay of several years during which steamship magnate Charles Morgan acquired the H&TC, the investors elected to proceed northwest out of Ross under a new charter, the Texas Central.

The TC's construction commenced from Ross in 1879, went north to cross the Brazos River west of the new town of Whitney (named for H&TC President Charles Whitney), and continued west into the new town of Morgan (named for Charles Whitney's father-in-law, Charles Morgan, recently deceased.) Farther west, the tracks passed near enough to Hico that the community relocated a couple of miles to be trackside. About twenty miles west of Hico, the tracks bypassed the community of Dublin, much to the disappointment of the locals. This was not unusual; like most railroads, the TC preferred to create its own towns where it would own all of the surrounding land rather than convey the benefit of railroad service to an existing community (unless, of course, they were willing to pay handsomely.)

Dublin dated to before the Civil War, and by 1874, it had a post office and stagecoach service. The TC needed a water stop, as they were now more than twenty miles beyond Hico, but they elected to create their own town, passing north of Dublin and stopping a few miles farther west near the county line between Erath and Comanche counties. There, the new town of Mount Airy was surveyed and town lots were sold on December 31, 1880. In addition to the 48 city blocks initially platted, another 72 blocks were surveyed. Mount Airy's plat was atypically large (e.g. only 33 city blocks platted for De Leon, the next town to the west) suggesting that the TC expected Mount Airy to become the premier city of the region. It was about midway between the county seats of Stephenville (Erath County) and Comanche (Comanche County), much to the chagrin of both since neither had a railroad at the time. But railroads can't buy up all the land they pass through, so there was plenty available near the rails. The folks in Dublin created a new townsite along the TC, about four miles east of Mount Airy, and relocated their entire community. (Dublin's former site became known as "Old Dublin", for which a cemetery remains in operation at 32 03 52N, 98 20 07W.) There was one big problem, however: Mount Airy was a railroad stop and Dublin was not. Relocating trackside is of no benefit if the trains don't stop. Perhaps the locals knew something that the TC didn't? The battle between Mount Airy and Dublin had just begun.

Comanche was about twenty miles southwest of Mount Airy. It had been the main town in the area since before the Civil War, with a post office, daily stage service and a newspaper. But in 1880, Comanche didn't have a railroad, and there was concern among its citizens that Mount Airy would become the new trade center for the region. Comanche had tried to induce the TC to build farther south, to no avail. The Comanche Chief newspaper had little good to say about Mount Airy, although these two articles published on March 19, 1881 are fairly objective. Dublin, already with several stores and a newspaper, had relocated trackside to compete with Mount Airy, hoping to become a rail stop. Somehow, within ten years, Dublin had won, and Mount Airy was little more than "a sheep pasture" (Ft. Worth Gazette, July 29, 1891.) Despite the TC's grand plans, Mount Airy never developed beyond a tiny residential outpost. Yes, Dublin was slightly closer to Stephenville than Mount Airy, but that hardly seems a difference maker. One reported theory holds water: water was hard to reach in Mount Airy with the hand-dug wells of the time. The sign below, four miles west of Dublin on State Highway 6, shows you how to get to Mount Airy, but there's not really any "there" when you get there! (Google Street View, December, 2021)

In early 1881, the TC resumed construction from Mount Airy, heading generally northwest and creating the new towns of De Leon (that's a long "Dee" for you outsiders) and Gorman. Gorman was just over the line into Eastland County, about fifteen miles from the town of Eastland, the county seat. But...following the pattern...the TC skipped Eastland and created the new town of Cisco instead. Tracks continued north and reached Albany by the end of 1881.

Dublin soon got its railroad depot and Mount Airy's eventually closed. With the presence of the TC, Dublin's population boomed from 264 to 2,025 residents by 1890. While Dublin fared well, the TC did not, entering receivership in 1885. After Court supervision for six years, the TC was sold to a committee of bondholders who then deeded the TC main line and associated assets to a new Texas Central Railroad Company in January, 1893. The new company added tracks from Albany to Stamford (1900), Stamford to Rotan (1907), and De Leon to Cross Plains (1911.) In 1910, the Missouri - Kansas - Texas (MKT, "Katy") Railroad acquired 90% of the stock of the TC. They did not, however, take control of the company until May 1, 1914 when the TC was leased to the Katy's Texas-based subsidiary. This enabled the Katy to comply with state law regarding railroad ownership since it was not a Texas corporation. The Texas Central name continued to be used, but "MKT" and "the Katy" came into common parlance as TC operations continued for several decades. In 1967, the Katy abandoned most of the line between Ross and Albany. The tracks between Dublin and Gorman were retained because they served a substantial peanut growing and processing area that had evolved after 1906 when farmers, tired of fighting the boll weevil, had switched from cotton to peanuts. Another new Texas Central Railroad company (a.k.a "the Peanut Line") was formed to own and operate the route.

Of course, the Peanut Line needed a connection to the national rail network, and that connection was supplied at Dublin. Despite gaining a second railroad in 1890, Dublin had not overtaken the nearby county seats of Stephenville and Comanche, but only because the new railroad also went to those towns (which had previously lacked rail service.) The new line was the Fort Worth & Rio Grande (FW&RG) Railway, chartered in 1885 by Ft. Worth interests to build southwest to Brownwood. The objective was to tap a vast area of livestock production to capture shipments to Ft. Worth where four rail-based stockyards would open in 1886, and the Union Stock Yards would open north of the Trinity River in 1889. Ft. Worth was becoming a meatpacking center and cattle were needed to keep the production lines running. The FW&RG construction was slow and had only reached Granbury, forty miles from Ft. Worth, by the end of 1887. Another 46 miles to Harbin was completed over the next two years, and Dublin (five miles from Harbin) was entered on March 1, 1890. There, the FW&RG made a junction with the TC and continued southwest, reaching Comanche by the end of 1890. The final thirty miles into Brownwood was built in 1891.

The FW&RG charter had been amended in 1887 to permit an extension from Brownwood to Kerrville, farther into livestock territory, but this construction did not begin until 1901. By then, the FW&RG had been acquired by the St. Louis San Francisco (SLSF, "Frisco") Railway, a large midwest railroad that was rapidly expanding into Texas under the auspices of its Chairman, native Texan Benjamin Franklin Yoakum. In his reference tome, A History of the Texas Railroads (St. Clair Publishing, 1941), the dean of Texas railroad historians, S. G. Reed, asserts that the FW&RG was "built by the Frisco", presumably by direct involvement with the investor group, but Reed does not specify. If so, it was well before Yoakum's tenure as he did not become General Manager of the Frisco until 1897. (There was, however, a precedent for this approach with the Paris & Great Northern.) As a Frisco subsidiary, the FW&RG extension to Kerrville reached Brady by the end of 1903 and stopped. Several years later, an extension south from Brady to Menard was built, but the line never went any further.

At Brownwood, the FW&RG crossed a Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe (GC&SF) line that went as far west as San Angelo from Santa Fe's base at Temple. There was also a 6-mile branch to Coleman that departed the main line 25-miles west of Brownwood. Santa Fe had built the line incrementally, west to Lampasas in 1882, continuing to Brownwood in 1885, on to San Angelo by 1888, all of it through a seemingly boundless area populated by cattle and sheep, not people. By the time the FW&RG reached Brownwood, the GC&SF had, for several years, been a subsidiary of the much larger Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway which was pursuing expansion throughout the southwestern U.S. Santa Fe had vigorously opposed the FW&RG's encroachment on its territory, yet the two railroads also cooperated in surprising ways. Out of Brady, the FW&RG shared Santa Fe's line to Eden as far as Homer Junction, where it split off to proceed south to Menard. The companies also jointly handled many livestock shipments, particularly as Ft. Worth evolved to become a leading meatpacking center. It was not uncommon for Santa Fe livestock cars to be handed over to the FW&RG at Brownwood for transport to Bird's Siding in Ft. Worth where the cars would be handed back to Santa Fe. The FW&RG route from Brownwood to Ft. Worth was 117 miles shorter than Santa Fe's competing route which required going first to Temple and then north to Ft. Worth on their main line. Time and distance were important for livestock shipments because the law required railroads to perform feeding and watering at specific intervals. Ultimately, it made sense for Santa Fe to own the shorter route to Fort Worth, so they purchased the FW&RG from the Frisco in 1937.

Left: This excerpt from court records of a 1902 damages lawsuit against both Santa Fe and the FW&RG shows how a cattle shipment from San Angelo to Corsicana involved interchanges at both Brownwood and Bird's Siding.

Right: This 1918 U. S. Army map of Brownwood and vicinity shows the Santa Fe (east / west) and the FW&RG (north / south) crossing on the southwest side of town. RCT never mandated a numbered interlocker for this junction nor did the railroads seek one. The line branching off of the FW&RG north of town was the Brownwood North & South Railway, an 18-mile track to May that had been acquired by the Frisco in 1910.

By the time Santa Fe acquired the Ft. Worth - Brownwood line from the Frisco, the Katy crossing at Dublin had already been gated, with the normal position allowing unrestricted movement on the Katy. A Santa Fe operations bulletin issued for Dublin on Aug. 25, 1937 states (quotations from notes and transcriptions provided courtesy, William Osborn) "Please see that crossing gate is lined against our line after pulling over", ("Pulling over" as in pulling the train over the diamond, i.e. put the gate back in the normal position after crossing!) Soon thereafter, Santa Fe began preferring Ft. Worth rather than Brownwood for freight originating from intermediate points on the line, which helped minimize movements across the diamond (although there may have been other reasons.) A bulletin dated June 26, 1939 required... "Any freight delivered to our line by WF&S at Dublin or originated at Dublin for Beaumont, Houston, Galveston or intermediate points on or via our line south of Ft. Worth, will be picked up by No. 48 and handled into Ft. Worth, instead of routing via Brownwood." A July 26, 1949 bulletin reminded trainmen that "The crossing gate at Dublin is to be left lined for the MK&T, except when being used by our trains passing over it."... presumably in response to complaints from the Katy.

Santa Fe had lots of water problems along the Brownwood line. A bulletin issued December 31, 1938 says "Do not take water at Dublin and Stephenville, only in case of emergency, and then only enough water to make the next water station." [Bad water at Dublin may explain the "R R Water Treating Plant" that appears in the Katy yard on the 1934 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Dublin.] By January 20, 1940, Stephenville water was still unsatisfactory but Dublin water was acceptable (or at least, it was better than Stephenville's!) A bulletin of that date says "Water Station at Plover (Dublin District) has been discontinued. Due to water at Stephenville being unsatisfactory for boiler use, Southward trains will take full water tank at Granbury and will not take water at Stephenville, except in emergency, and then only in sufficient supply to enable the train to reach Dublin." [Plover was in Tarrant County, southwest of Ft. Worth; in July, 1952, Santa Fe implemented a line change eliminating the Plover station due to the looming impoundment of Benbrook Lake.] A bulletin issued July 26, 1947 says northbound trains "...taking water at Dublin will stop at the Katy crossing, cut off at that point, and handle the engine to the water tank, leaving their train south of the Katy crossing. This to avoid the blocking of street crossings at Dublin." Four months later, a November 7, 1947 bulletin advised "Account shortage of water, only take water at Comanche in case of emergency and then only enough to make the next water station."

On or about December 20, 1954, an automatic interlocker designated Tower 203 by RCT was commissioned at Dublin. A bulletin of that date was issued stating "An automatic interlocking has been placed in service at the M-K-T crossing, MP 86.2, Dublin District. Maximum authorized speed for trains thru the interlocking is passenger 20, freight and mixed 20 miles per hour. Rule 606(c) Operating Department 1953, governs. Control box locked with standard switch padlock containing instructions is attached to side of concrete relay house next to the Santa Fe track. The instructions therein are as follows: Governing signal ordinarily clears if conflicting routes are unoccupied. When such signal indicates "stop", a member of crew must precede movement to crossing; open the control box; and punch the control button and hold for not less than ten seconds. If signal cannot be cleared after the expiration of five minutes, train may proceed protecting against conflicting movements."

In addition to the original FW&RG/Santa Fe junction at Brownwood, the FW&RG and Santa Fe also crossed at Cresson, on the north end of the line near Plover. Santa Fe had passed through Cresson when they built 42 miles from Cleburne to Weatherford in 1887. Acquiring the FW&RG gave Santa Fe a shortcut from Brownwood to Dallas via Cleburne. In 1959, Santa Fe abandoned the tracks between Weatherford and Cresson, keeping the Cresson - Cleburne segment intact. They also abandoned the former FW&RG tracks south of Brownwood that year. Service south of Brownwood to Brady (and Menard) was still in place because Santa Fe had their own track to Brady out of Lometa (about midway between Temple and Brownwood) that had been built to compete with the FW&RG. The tracks from Lometa to Brady remain intact today, but the extensions from Brady to Eden and Menard were abandoned in 1972.

By the late 1970s, Santa Fe had begun to question the value of continuing to operate the Ft. Worth - Brownwood line. One unverified report says that in 1983, service was suspended through Comanche (implying the Dublin - Brownwood segment, since the Peanut Line was still operating into Dublin.) Santa Fe's situation with the Brownwood line was not uncommon in Texas. There were plenty of rail segments that were losing money or, at best, break-even, for which maintenance and capital expenditures were hard to justify. This was particularly true in rural areas, which describes much of Texas' geography despite its large population. In 1981, the Legislature responded. This excerpt from a 2002 report by the Texas Transportation Institute explains how:

The 67th Texas Legislature first authorized formation of Rural Rail Transportation Districts (RRTDs) in 1981. The U.S. Congress had passed the Staggers Rail Act in 1980, greatly reducing the economic regulation of the railroad industry and some of the barriers to abandonment of many unprofitable railroad lines held by large, Class I railroad companies. Foreseeing a period during which the railroad companies would greatly increase the number of abandonment requests for light traffic density branch lines in rural areas, the legislature sought to create a mechanism that would allow local governments to save rail as a rural transportation option.

The RRTD concept worked well, and a change in state law in 1997 allowed individual counties to set up their own RRTD, primarily for rail-oriented economic development as opposed to rail corridor preservation. This greatly expanded the number of districts; there were 42 RRTDs as of June, 2013, two-thirds of the which were single-county districts.

In the early 1990s, the Cen-Tex RRTD was formed by the counties of  Brown, Comanche, Erath, Hood and Johnson, the counties through which the FW&RG tracks had built southwest of Ft. Worth. The objective was simple: find a way to acquire the Brownwood line to ensure its preservation. The Cen-Tex RRTD in conjunction with a new entity, Cen-Tex Limited Partnership, was able to acquire the line from Santa Fe in 1990. Cen-Tex RRTD owned the land and right-of-way (which, as a government entity, made it exempt from property taxes) while the Partnership owned the operating rights and the infrastructure. In December, 1998, the Fort Worth & Western (FW&W) Railroad leased the infrastructure and operating rights from the Partnership and began operating the Brownwood line. They also operate the Gorman branch, hence, the FW&W now uses most of the rails that ever passed through Dublin.

There was one other rail line into Dublin besides the TC/Katy and the FW&RG/Frisco/Santa Fe. As noted in the photo caption at the top of the page, the Wichita Falls & Southern (WF&S) owned tracks into Dublin. They had been built by the Wichita Falls, Ranger and Ft. Worth (WFR&FW) Railroad which had been founded shortly after the Ranger oil boom in 1917. The WFR&FW charter was granted in September, 1919, and 67 miles of track between Dublin and Breckenridge via Ranger was built soon thereafter. In 1921, the WFR&FW built nine miles farther north from Breckenridge to a junction known as Jimkurn. There, it connected to the WF&S which was building south that same year from Newcastle (where its tracks continued north to Wichita Falls.) The WF&S had rights on the WFR&FW from Jimkurn into Breckenridge, and it subsequently bought the WFR&FW in the mid-1920s. The WF&S continued operating the line, including the tracks into Dublin, which entered on the northwest side of town and curved due east parallel to (and a block north of) the Katy's tracks into a connection with the Frisco. The entire route was abandoned by the WF&S in 1954.

Above Left: area map centered on Dublin (not all railroads shown)  Above Right: This snippet from the 1921 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Dublin has been highlighted to show the relative locations of the three railroads in the vicinity of the SLSF (Frisco) passenger depot, with the future Tower 203 crossing at lower right.

Above: As noted in the photo at top of page, John W. Barriger III visited Dublin on October 1, 1940 during an inspection trip on the WF&S. These photos show the RFC inspection party and their special WF&S train during the stop at Dublin.

Right: Image processing reveals that the light pixels inside the blue rectangle above are the white shirt of a man wearing overalls. He is standing beneath an awning in the doorway of the building behind the reservoir, approximately at the far end of the green pipe in the 2021 Street View image.
This 1934 Sanborn Fire Insurance map (left) and a photo Barriger took during his 1940 trip (bottom left) correlate nicely. The camera is on the west side of Patrick St. facing west along the WF&S main track. Directly in front is the switch (purple) for a spur that went to the Frisco tracks 1,400 feet behind Barriger. The back edge of a "Filling Sta." (green rectangle) is visible, but more prominent is the reservoir for the City Water Works (pink rectangle.) To the right, the cartographer shows an "Ice Cream Fact'y" (orange rectangle), but in the photo, its "n Creamery Company, Inc." -- the full name is occulted by other objects. Note from the map that the back side of the Katy depot was behind and to the left of Barriger. Below: Some 81 years after Barriger's visit, this December, 2021 Google Street View shows that the water reservoir and the building behind it remain intact.

Above Left: Standing on Patrick St. one block south of the WF&S tracks, Barriger captured this image of the western part of the Katy yard. The depot is behind him, to the right. The cylindrical tower is identified on a 1934 Sanborn Fire Insurance map as a "W. T." (water tank) associated with the building in front of it, identified as "R R Water Treating Plant". The building behind the cylindrical water tank did not exist in 1934. The derrick, and the small building beneath it, are identified on the map as "City Deep Well and Pump". Below Left: the Katy depot at Dublin (Don Ross, 2002) Below Right: This Katy depot image was captured by Google Street View in December, 2021. The former Katy track in the distance curves north to join the line to Ft. Worth.

Above Left: This December, 2021 Google Street View looks south from the Black Jack St. grade crossing down the former Santa Fe tracks showing an FW&W locomotive on the west connector in the distance. The equipment cabin in the center of the image is midway between Black Jack and Elm Streets, placing it near the middle of the former Frisco passenger depot. Frisco's delay in building a decent passenger depot caused enough public outcry that RCT issued an order on January 13, 1909 requiring the Frisco to build one. Above Right: This 1915 track chart of Dublin from the Office of the Chief Engineer of the Katy railroad shows the location of the Katy depot, and that there was a turntable off the connecting track. No evidence has been found of connectors in any of the other three quadrants. Below Left: One block farther south than above, this September, 2013 Google Street View looks south from the Elm St. grade crossing. FW&W locomotive #2012 "Chaparral" is on the connecting track that leads west onto the former Katy tracks to De Leon and Gorman. The railcars visible in the distance are on an industry siding. The FW&RG crossing of the TC would have been visible in this view. Below Right: This image ((c)historicaerials.com) was taken in 1964, three years before the Tower 203 crossing was removed. The Elm St. grade crossing is visible top center. The faint rights-of-way visible in the upper left corner are remnants of the WF&S spurs and connecting track that went behind the Frisco passenger depot north of Elm St.


Last Revised: 1/5/2022 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.