Tower 55 Time Machine

WordPress upgrades dictated that I had to redesign the FL9 website, so this is the new “look”. To mark the occasion here is a trip back 14 years in time to October 23, 2006 from roughly 9:00 am to 3:00 pm at – and in – Fort Worth’s Tower 55. To set the stage let’s jump back 39 years to June 14th, 1981 during my first visit to the Tower as a southbound Missouri Pacific SD40-2 bangs over the diamonds. Yes, in those days you could walk right up to it without fear of retribution.

Back then I worked as a factory representative for Motorola Communications. That day to my good fortune the tower operator saw my “batwing” Motorola windbreaker and motioned for me to come up. He was having problems with one of his base station radios and I was able to quickly diagnose the problem and fix it. Here is a shot looking north from the south end of the room and a close up of the model board.

Now let’s jump back to a clear fall day in 2006. The signal and switch controls for Tower 55 had been moved to a room at the Davidson Yard Hump Tower. The upper floor of Tower 55 had been repurposed to be the office for the local UP Police officers.

By this time I was doing photo work for the railroads and was on good terms with the agents. Knowing I was a dedicated “foamer” my request to spend some time up there was quickly granted. I arrived around 9:00 am and took this view of the office from the north end looking south.

I did not have much time to contemplate the changes that 25 years had brought since my last visit as the first train for my visit was already on deck at 9:05 am. The big windows slide open making for nice unobstructed views including this one of a northbound BNSF train.

An ex-BN F45 with an ex-CBQ SD9 trailing? Yes this was 2006.

At 9:21 am a northbound UP train led by a pair of AC60CW’s rolled through.

Looking north across the diamonds in this telephoto view I could see a southbound led by an SD70ACe and a yard switcher pair were waiting their turn.

The next train lined across was a westbound manifest train out of the morning sun at 9:30 am led by a SD70M.

Tucked in behind the lead unit was a Conrail Dash 8-40C.

Nine minutes later at 9:39 am the two four axle units led by ex-WP GP40-2 #1535 rolled by on the way south between North Yard and ex-MKT Ney Yard.

At 9:42 am a now rare treat in the form of a northbound BNSF train led by an-ex Santa Fe C44-9W.

The units struck the diamonds below with a regular cadence on the way north.

Freshly painted ex-Santa Fe GP50 #3124 brought up the rear of this trio.

Just as the last cars of the northbound BNSF had passed, at 9:50 am a northbound UP showed up with another SD70M on the point.

In the going away view you can see the rear of the BNSF train curving off to the left.

Scanning around I could see through the concrete forest of Interstate highway overpasses that an eastbound train had stopped in the distance.

At 10:05 am one of the best lit photos of the day presented itself as the southbound I had spotted earlier accelerated past my perch with a clean SD70ACe.

I snapped a close up of the K5LLA Horn as it came by.

Continuing to pan to the south I suddenly saw a northbound UP had snuck up on me as it started around the Barnhart Wye towards Davidson Yard.

An SD60M was up front and I followed the train on around as it moved from the south to the west.

I heard a horn coming from the opposite direction and at 10:08 am quickly moved from the west windows to the top of the stairs on the east side where three GP60’s were moving around the wye from the East Yard south towards Ney Yard.

It was quiet now for a few minutes, and at 10:30 am another UP northbound led by a GE AC44CW passed by on the way from south to west on the way to Davidson Yard.

A westbound TRE can be seen at 10:45 on its way from Central Station to the T&P Building.

Five minutes later at 10:50 am the train I had seen holding west of the tower made its move to the south around the Barnhart Wye with a C44-9W leading.

The next move at 11:00 am was a mystery but I had no complaints about the power as a single Cotton Belt GP60 ran light from west to east across the diamonds and then stopped east of the tower.

Next I took the opportunity to record these telephoto views showing the amount of wear the diamonds below are subjected to on a daily basis by the passage of endless trains.

At 11:10 am the first intermodal train of the day showed up heading west with a relatively clean SD70M up front.

As the westbound intermodal continued to clatter over the diamonds I had to take time out to record this northbound UP train coming up from Ney Yard to head east towards Dallas with ex-Conrail then NS 8465 doing the honors as a signal maintainer looks on.

I turned my attention back to the westbound intermodal just as the last car passed over the diamonds.

Now we experienced a lull in activity until 11:40 am when an eastbound rolled by with a UP C40-8 as sole power.

A CSX C40-8 visitor from the eastern seaboard appeared next leading a southbound train past my camera at 11:50 am.

11:59 am turned out to be a very busy minute as I first looked east to see that a westbound train with two units had pulled up to the lone Cotton Belt GP60 and was in the process of adding it as the new leader.

Sudden sound behind me caused me to wheel around 180 degrees where a local switcher with an ex-Cotton Belt GP60 leading was heading north.

At 12 minutes past noon I spotted another TRE, this time eastbound with one of the two F59PHI’s pushing on the rear.

Three minutes later at 12:15 pm, my waiting on the tower stairs was rewarded with a well lit UP C40-8 leading a westbound manifest train towards Davidson Yard.

Continuing to wait on the tower steps, at 12:30 pm I was next rewarded with a southbound BNSF loaded coal train.

To balance out the CSX leader, at 12:58 pm a second westbound UP intermodal showed up with NS C39-8E #8672 doing the honors.

At 1:08 pm the three GP60’s that had earlier brought a cut of cars from the east then south to Ney Yard reversed their route back towards Dallas.

Four minutes later at 1:16 pm an eastbound UP intermodal made an appearance passing the tower steps.

The westbound train with Cotton Belt 9699 now leading was sitting in the distance as the eastbound passed me by.

Now I had a decision to make as I could see a southbound BNSF train sitting north of the tower with another Santa Fe C44-9W leading. The sun at the tower was now on the west side of the north to south tracks so to get the best view of this locomotive I would need to change locations. Since I had already photographed the Cotton Belt 9699 I decided to pass on it and move to a location south of Tower 55 for the Warbonnet. I leave it up to the reader but I think I made the right decision.

Heading back north I spotted a southbound UP train parked north of the tower with two Canadian Pacific SD40-2’s in prime light.

On the radio I heard Amtrak 21 approaching Tower 55 from Dallas to make its move around the wye to the south so it could back up into the station. I quickly relocated to Arizona Street on the shadow side as the train moved from east to south at 2:38 pm.

Train 21 was delayed a few minutes in making its backup move through Tower 55 so I had time to move again for this properly lit scene with the Tower in the background.

The radio now alerted me to my last catch for the day as the Fort Worth & Western called Tower 55 to come off the Everman Branch (old I&GN mainline) with two light engines on their way back to Hodge Yard. I drove over to East Yard to catch them waiting at the signal in perfect light at 2:55 pm.

In a few minutes the Tower 55 operator at Davidson Yard decided to talk them past the red signal and move on up to the Tower to go around the wye in the northeast quadrant. I took my last photo of the day as they started to move.

Depending how you want to count it I photographed up to 28 train movements from and near Tower 55 in just under six hours. One of those truly great days that will now more than likely never be repeated by me. Tower 55 still stands today, but the top floor is occupied at times by the signal department as in the long run the special agents found the sound of trains pounding the diamond made it difficult to talk on the phone.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Great T55 pictures and narrative. I met one of those special agents (first name Darla) in the 1980’s. A tractor driver gave me permission to pick up coal . She came from the Tower and asked what we were doing and told her getting coal for my steam engine and that the tractor driver (who was cleaning up the coal from a derailment) had told me I could have the coal since he was taking it to the dump. She stared at me for a second and said “you know that is OUR coal”. I offered to pay for it. Then she said you should sign a release and I said I would. She was out of them and told me to be careful and left. I got 1300 lbs of coal.

    Tom Stamey

  2. What a trip back in time this was indeed! Thx, Ken.

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