Interlocking plants are a method of controlling the movement of trains at busy railroad intersections. At the turn-of-the-century, in an effort to prevent collisions at these intersections during the peak of railroad construction, the state of Texas developed a plan for creating interlockings at busy junctions throughout the state. The interlockings were numbered as they were constructed, totaling over 200 by the late 1930s. Most interlockings had towers, structures that housed machines that controlled the movement of switches on the tracks. These towers were manned by operators or “Towermen” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Originally located at the junction of the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway and Missouri-Kansas-Texas Line in Dallas, the Tower 19 interlocking plant was a busy place for 90 years. Between 1903 and 1993, operators in the prairie-style balloon construction wooden structure controlled the movement of every train south and east of Dallas Union Terminal, and north and south over Santa Fe’s Paris Branch from Cleburne through the line’s East Dallas classification yard.
Tower 19 saw a number of changes and improvements during its life. Significant among them was a dramatic increase in east-west rail traffic through the M-K-T (now Union Pacific) side of the interlocking when the Texas & Pacific’s main line through downtown Dallas was truncated in favor of the new “Belt Line” in 1924.
The tower’s original “armstrong” mechanical interlocker machine was replaced in 1952 in favor of General Railway & Signal’s all-electric “pistol grip” machine. A centralized traffic control (CTC) machine was added during the same period, controlling the movement of trains as far away as Arlington.
The Tower 19 interlocking remained relatively untouched by surrounding growth in Dallas until the advent of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART). The Tower, as well as the entire Santa Fe portion of the Paris Branch through East Dallas and Oak Cliff, became part of DART’s Red Line to Westmoreland. In 1992, Tower 19 was moved from the west side to the east side of the Santa Fe line to make way for light rail construction where it continued to function for another year. In 1993, the tower was officially retired and boarded up, with interlocking functions transferred to Union Pacific’s remote facility in Omaha.
In August, 1996 DART generously conveyed ownership of Tower 19 to the Museum, and it was moved to Fair Park. The Tower’s original location, sometimes referred to by historians and preservationists as the “Railroad District,” remains a busy east-west artery for Union Pacific, Dallas, Garland & Northeastern, Amtrak, and other railroads.
In 2004 the tower was meticulously restored by the Museum, including the application of a reproduction embossed metal tile roof, and a complete stripping and repainting of all exterior wooden surfaces. The upper floor of the tower still boasts its 112-function GRS electric interlocker machine – a marvel of electromechanical devices, along with the original overhead indicator boards. An architectural survey of Tower 19 was prepared in 1992 as part of the Historic American Engineering Record at the Library of Congress – HAER TX-22.
Tower 19 now has the distinction of being the first piece in the Museum’s collection to be moved to the new Frisco location. Arriving in the early morning hours of March 6, 2012, the tower is now situated along the BNSF (ex-Frisco) main line.
The image below shows Tower 19 just prior to DART construction in January, 1991. The view is looking south along Santa Fe’s Paris Branch to Cleburne, showing Tower 19 and two ancillary structures. Further to the south out of view is Santa Fe’s original truss bridge across the Trinity River, the oldest surviving steel-span in Dallas.