Texas Railroad History - Tower 212 - Lockney

A Crossing of the Panhandle & Santa Fe Railway and the Fort Worth & Denver South Plains Railway

Lockney was founded in 1889 by citizens from the community of Della Plain searching for a better source of water. By 1908, Lockney had grown sufficiently to incorporate as a town. A year later, the Llano Estacado Railway was organized by the citizens of Floydada to build a railroad to their town from Plainview. Plainview was the endpoint of a branch line that had been built from Canyon in 1907 by the Pecos & Northern Texas (P&NT) Railway. The P&NT had begun extending that branch south to Lubbock in 1910. Once grading operations to Floydada commenced, the P&NT took over the project and completed construction that same year, routing directly to Lockney before turning slightly to angle toward Floydada a dozen miles farther southeast. This acquisition by the P&NT was part of a strategy by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF) Railway to expand its rail lines into the Texas South Plains, the farming region near Plainview and Lubbock. The P&NT had been organized by well-known railroad attorney James J. Hagerman in 1898 to build from Amarillo to the Pecos River, but in 1901, control of the P&NT had been acquired by the Panhandle & Santa Fe (P&SF) Railway, a subsidiary of the AT&SF. The P&SF used the charter of the P&NT to build numerous lines in the South Plains including the Plainview - Floydada line. In 1914, the P&NT's rail lines were leased to the P&SF, which continued to operate them under lease until 1948 when they were all formally merged into Santa Fe.

In the mid-1920s, the Fort Worth & Denver City Railway ("City" was dropped from the name in 1951, so it is mostly known simply as the "FW&D") began an aggressive push to gain Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) approval for proposed routes onto the South Plains. In 1927, under a new subsidiary charter, the Fort Worth and Denver South Plains (FW&DSP) Railroad started construction on a branch from the FW&D main line at Estelline, 16 miles northwest of their major base at Childress. The line ventured west toward the Caprock Escarpment, requiring two tunnels to get onto the South Plains above it. The tracks eventually reached Plainview in 1928 and continued west to Dimmitt that same year. Also in 1928, the FW&DSP built a new line from Lubbock to Silverton that crossed the Santa Fe at Lockney. This line was unusual because neither end connected to an existing FW&D (or subsidiary) route. It would have been an "orphan line" except that the new FW&DSP Estelline - Dimmit line (under construction at the same time) crossed in the middle.

At this crossing, the tiny community of Sterley arose. Trains from the FW&D main line at Estelline could proceed west to Sterley and turn south, effective creating a rail route between Lubbock and Ft. Worth (which was the southern terminus of that line.) This became the first efficient "single railroad" route between Ft. Worth and Lubbock. To take Santa Fe "all the way" from Ft. Worth to Lubbock would have required transiting far to the south through Temple, although a shortcut existed at Sweetwater using the Texas & Pacific main line west out of Ft. Worth (but whether and when this shortcut might have been used, particularly for passenger traffic, has not been determined.) Suffice to say that the FW&D viewed the new construction as a boon to commerce between north Texas and the South Plains, particularly Lubbock and Plainview. Santa Fe was extremely unhappy with this development (more than you might guess.)

The crossing at Lockney existed by 1928, but it was uncontrolled, at least, not initially controlled by an interlocker. A 1940 FW&D timetable shows a gate at the crossing with "Normal position ... against F. W. D. C. trains." This probably reflects the increase in traffic that occurred in the late 1930s on the Santa Fe branch line through Lockney. The Quanah, Acme & Pacific (QA&P) had completed a line onto the South Plains at Floydada in 1928. To the east, the tracks went to Quanah where a connection to the St. Louis - San Francisco ("Frisco") railroad provided access to St. Louis and Kansas City via Oklahoma City. The QA&P tried to force Santa Fe to interchange transcontinental traffic at Floydada, but Santa Fe resisted, preferring Frisco interchanges to occur at Avard, Oklahoma. When the QA&P finally won its case before the ICC in 1938, the Floydada gateway opened and soon there was substantial traffic running through Floydada and Lockney daily.

Above: Both lines are abandoned, but vague traces of the crossing at Lockney remain visible in this north-facing Google Street View from 2013. The Santa Fe right-of-way runs horizontally right-to-left (toward Plainview) beginning on the white ballast at the middle of the right edge of the image. It immediately crosses the FW&D grade at a right angle, about where the ballast initially diminishes. The FW&D grade exits the image in the bottom right corner toward Lubbock. More prominent is the outline of a connecting track in the northwest quadrant of the junction. Its years of existence caused it to become a boundary for the cultivation of the cotton field visible beyond it. Below Left: rail map of the vicinity of Lockney  Below Right: This 1957 aerial image ((c)historicaerials.com) shows what appear to be multiple connecting tracks in the northwest quadrant of the crossing, one of which has railcars positioned for interchange.

Sometime in the early 1960s, Tower 212 was commissioned for operation at Lockney by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT). Timetables from that era show it as an automatic interlocker. This was undoubtedly for the benefit of Santa Fe which had begun to carry four time-sensitive "through trains" daily (two in each direction) that were exchanged with the QA&P at Floydada. But this only lasted about ten years. In the early 1970s, Santa Fe and the Frisco agreed to move their transcontinental connection to Avard, Oklahoma and close the Floydada gateway for non-local interchange, greatly reducing traffic through Lockney.

But...use of the QA&P/Santa Fe connection at Floydada did not diminish right away. About the same time interchanges were diverted to Avard, a major derail on the FW&D between Sterley and Estelline wiped out one of the two tunnels on that line. The tunnel collapse meant that extensive and lengthy repairs would be required to get the Sterley - Estelline tracks back in service. To bypass the collapsed tunnel, a deal was reached that routed FW&D trains from their main line at Acme (at Tower 171 near Quanah) to Lockney via the QA&P and Santa Fe interchange at Floydada. At Lockney, FW&D trains returned to their own rails to Lubbock. Trains coming out of Lubbock followed the reverse route. Because the only connecting track at Lockney was in the northwest corner, westbound FW&D detours coming into Lockney from Floydada needed to go far enough west to be able to back up onto the connecting track and then resume the trip south to Lubbock. The opposite move was required for eastbound trains.

The FW&D began talks with the Frisco (which owned the QA&P) about acquiring the QA&P between Acme and Floydada rather than rebuild the tunnel. The talks progressed to the point that a deal was within reach. Local officials of the Santa Fe agreed to grant trackage rights on twelve miles of track between Floydada and Lockney that the FW&D had been using for detours, rights they would need before the sale could go through. This track was now lightly used since Santa Fe and Frisco had moved all of their interchange traffic to Avard. Everyone agreed to the deal ... except Santa Fe senior management, not admitting, but apparently still harboring, animosity a half-century later for the FW&D's invasion of the South Plains! The deal fell through and the FW&D repaired their tunnel by "daylighting" what was left of it. The last detour train was in January, 1975.

Ironically, Santa Fe eventually began to ponder selling the entire Floydada branch, having been unwilling to grant a dozen miles of trackage rights on it thirteen years earlier. By this time, the FW&D was no longer interested and in 1989, the FW&D abandoned all of their South Plains lines east of Plainview, retaining only the branch from Plainview to Dimmitt. A year later, Santa Fe sold the Plainview - Floydada line to short-line operator American Railway Corporation, but it has since been abandoned. Although Lockney-ites once saw four "hotshot" trains daily carrying transcontinental traffic, today they have no tracks at all. Only the ghost trains pass through at night.

Above: These snippets from a 1940 FW&D timetable reveal interesting details of how the FW&DSP's two branches operated. The construction of the two lines was reported in 1928 to RCT as being from "Estelline to Dimmitt" and from "Lubbock to Silverton". "Plains Jct." is a proxy for Estelline - the junction was 0.3 miles northwest of the Estelline depot. The timetable identifies the Plains Jct. and Lubbock Subdivision (left) as covering the eastern segment of the Estelline - Dimmitt line and the southern section of the Lubbock - Silverton line. There was a gate at "P&SF Crossing C" in Lockney, noted elsewhere as lined against the FW&DSP. The western part of the Estelline - Dimmitt line and the northern part of the Lubbock - Silverton line were listed as the Silverton & Dimmitt Subdivision (right.)
Below: Sterley was critical to the FW&DSP's whole operation on the South Plains. The connector for Lubbock traffic in the southeast quadrant is no surprise, but the yard also handled Silverton traffic as evidenced by the connector in the northeast quadrant. The lack of an apparent northwest connector suggests that all Silverton traffic went through the yard first.  ((c)historicaerials.com, 1957)

Below: Faint traces of the FW&D remain in Sterley. (Google Earth, 2016)

Above: This Google Earth image (2016) of Lockney has been annotated to show rail locations. The Santa Fe right-of-way (blue arrows) from Plainview (to the left) to Floydada (to the right) crossed at an angle across the south part of the town. The FW&DSP right-of-way (yellow arrows) crossed on a northeast/southwest heading (Sterley to the north, Lubbock to the south), and made a slight bend as it passed through Lockney. The Tower 212 interlocker controlled the crossing (red circle) and perhaps the adjacent connector (green arrow.) It's apparent from the image and from Depot St. being nearby that the Santa Fe depot (pink rectangle) was trackside (below left) near the main highway (now U.S. 70.) What's less apparent is that there was also a FW&D depot (orange rectangle) along Main St. on the north side of town, with its foundation still clearly visible (below right.) Both depots were a mile from the Tower 212 crossing.

Last Revised: 11/3/2021 - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.