Texas Railroad History - Tower A - Galveston (36th Street)

Crossing of the Galveston, Houston & Henderson (GH&H) Railroad and the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe (GCSF) Railway

Tower A controlled a junction of the Galveston Houston & Henderson (GH&H) Railroad and the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe (GC&SF) Railway at 36th Street, not far from Galveston Union Station. Though it eventually appeared at the top of the list of numbered interlockers published by the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT), Tower A was not included on the list until 1927 by which time more than 100 interlocking numbers had been assigned.

Historic Photo, Tower A - Galveston

photo courtesy of Kansas State Historical Society, from the William Osborn collection

As a late addition to the list, the authorization date for Tower A was noted as "Prior to 1902". It was probably constructed during the rebuilding of Galveston after the Great Hurricane of 1900. Most likely, the "Tower A" name was assigned by Santa Fe, identifying it as the first interlocking tower on Galveston Island. Apparently, Tower A's design was not submitted to RCT for approval until after more than 20 years of operation, and this likely motivated RCT to retain the common name (instead of assigning a new number) when adding it to the list of authorized interlockers. Tower A stood close to (or perhaps on) the current parking lot of Farmer's Marine and Copper Works. The controls were in the middle of the room and were aligned parallel with the outside steps.

Frank Perez, retired tower operator for Santa Fe, began his career for the railroad in this tower in 1950. Frank tells of his first day on the job having engineers whistling at him from all directions. He was so rattled he bolted from the tower and was headed home when the phone rang. He went back upstairs to answer it. It was his supervisor wanting to know why all those trains were whistling for signals. When Frank told him he did not know what to do, the supervisor said to let one through at a time. That worked and Frank worked in the tower for several years after that. At the time Frank signed on as a relief operator (he worked from 1950 to 1958), Arthur Wade was first trick operator, H.E. Smith was second trick (and Frank is sure it is H. E. Smith standing on the tower porch in the photo), and a Mr. Clifford was third trick operator. A Mr. Schrieber was first trick operator before Frank went to work. Frank recalls that a signal maintainer named Boyd was killed when a train derailed and crushed him against a corner of the tower. The other signal maintainer Frank knew was named Rebsch. Thanks to Frank for helping us positively identify this structure and understand some of its operations.

Frank Perez is a retired railroad employee who began his career with Santa Fe as an operator in Galveston's Tower A.  Many Thanks to Frank for providing much of the information on this web page.  Frank has been an electronics technician at the Galveston Railroad Museum.

Location Map Tower A
Above: The 1912 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Galveston shows the location of Tower A where 36th St. intersected Mechanic(Avenue C). Magnification of the map (right) reveals a two-story structure.

Below: A scan from the GH&H Office of Resident Engineer "Station Map - Track and Structures" drawing (dated June 30, 1918, revised Oct 1, 1933) for this part of Galveston shows the location of Tower A ("Interlocking Tower", just above and to the right of the center of the image). The Santa Fe roundhouse appears along the left edge of the map. Thanks to Don Harper and the Galveston Railroad Museum for providing this drawing.

Modern Photos Tower A Site c.2001

Above: Former Tower A operator Frank Perez is standing at approximately the location of the bottom of the steps for Tower A. This view is looking northeast. The Galveston wharves grain elevators are in the background (elevator B to the left, the decommissioned elevator A to the right). The Union Pacific yard to wharves interchange track is to Frank's right. Farmer's Marine and Copper Works is the red brick building at the left edge of the photo. The original interchange tracks ran to Frank's left between the tower and Farmer's. The concrete wall just across the tracks was a large cotton warehouse in days gone by. Union Depot, now the Galveston Railroad Museum, can be seen just to the right of the warehouse.

Above: This view is looking southwest. Again, Frank Perez is standing at approximately the bottom of Tower A's steps. The Farmer's Marine and Copper Works building is to Frank's left. Compare the architecture of the windows in this building to the building behind Tower A in the historic photo above. The original interchange track ran between Farmers and Tower A. The current UP to Galveston wharves interchange track is seen at left and curving off to the left. The former GCSF yard track ran straight ahead and is partly torn up - note the pile of old ties sitting atop the rails. Covered hoppers seen in the far background are in the UP (ex-GH&H) yard.

Historic Images, Tower A Vicinity (scanned by Don Harper)
All three images that appear below are cropped and magnified from a single large aerial photo of the east end of Galveston Island.

Above: Having studied the historic maps above, can you spot the interlocking tower in this image? The Santa Fe roundhouse is near the center. Below: The tower is adjacent to the far right corner [SE corner] along the slanted wall of the large building near the roundhouse. The proximity of the building restricted the tower operator's visibility and contributed to the need for whistle codes used by engineers to signal movements to the tower operator.

Below: Don Harper points out that all three Galveston roundhouses are visible in the master scanned image. In the image below, the Santa Fe roundhouse is at the top edge, just right of center. The GH&H roundhouse is in the lower right corner, facing the opposite direction as the Santa Fe roundhouse. The Texas & New Orleans (Southern Pacific) roundhouse is along the middle of the left edge of the image. What a great shot!

Whistle Codes, Tower A - Galveston

These whistle codes illustrate the complex series of movements possible through this interlocker. During the steam era, trains could whistle these codes on approach to Tower A and the operator would line up the movement requested (thanks to Don Harper and the Galveston Railroad Museum)

Satellite Image, Tower A Vicinity

Above: The Sanborn map shows Tower A at the intersection of 36th St. and Mechanic St. (Ave. C). It's apparent from this satellite image that 36th St. no longer extends to Mechanic St. (if it ever did). Below: In this bird's eye close up view of the same area, a remnant of the Santa Fe roundhouse is visible at left. Tower A was beside the oblique angle of the building.

Last Revised: 5/1/2017 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.