Van Buren tower

Discussion in 'Ft. Smith Subdivision' started by arkrail, Dec 20, 2009.

  1. arkrail

    arkrail Member Supporter

    Does anyone have the date when Van Buren tower was opened, or when the plant was automated?


    Bill Pollard
  2. Coonskin

    Coonskin Member

    Hi Bill:

    Van Buren, Arkansas? If so, didn't know it ever had a tower? If VB, AR, what era would that have been?
  3. SteveM

    SteveM Member Supporter

    Bill, I haven't seen a tower on a track chart or anything on Mike Condren's site that I can remember. There was just a little telephone shack in 1988, which I suspect Coonskin is very familiar with.
  4. No foundations exist if it existed. I was crawling all around the railroad yards last week with a couple of my friends. I do know a small wooden shed used to sit near the ditch north of the crossing.:)
    Ship it on the Frisco!!!

    Murphy Millican.
  5. gbmott

    gbmott Member


    I have never really thought about it, but it would be logical that there must have been a tower protecting the MP/SLSF crossing at one point, but there was no trace of it by the late '40's when I first became conscious of such things, nor have I ever heard anyone make reference to such. I'm not even sure when automated interlockings first came into general use -- something I suppose I need to research.

  6. Karl

    Karl 2008 Engineer of the Year Supporter

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 24, 2017
  7. gbmott

    gbmott Member


    Great to see that timetable, but I'm not sure that it answers the mystery as "interlocker" could refer either to a manual interlocking, i.e. tower, or to an automatic interlocking. The same reference to "interlocker" is made next south at "FSSRR Crossing" (the Fort Smith Suburban Railroad, a MoPac subsidiary known in Fort Smith simply as The Suburban) which, as with Van Buren, was an automatic interlocking by the late-40's. The absence of any reference to hours in the 1939 timetable doesn't actually rule out anything since it could either be a 24-hour manned tower or an automatic interlocking which, by definition, is 24-hour.

    One thing that I am pretty sure was not the case was for the VB crossing to have been controlled by the MoPac's CTC operator at Greenwood Junction.

  8. john

    john Supporter

    Here's the interlocker information for Van Buren from the Missouri Pacific, Central Division Special Instructions No. 8 effective Jan 1, 1944 - replacing No. 7 dated Jan 1, 1942.

    Attached Files:

  9. gbmott

    gbmott Member

    Thanks John, that confirms that at least by 1944 it was an automatic interlocking. Does anyone have earlier Central Division timetables, either SLSF or MoPac, with a similar listing?

  10. john

    john Supporter

    I don't see this information in the few early (1930's) copies of either Frisco or MoPac ETTs which I have. The MoPac information posted above came from the "Supplementary to the Uniform Code of Operating Rules" booklet which seems to have been issued every other year. Earlier ones should provide the information through the 1930's, if someone has access to one.


    Attached Files:

  11. john

    john Supporter

    The situation at Van Buren seems to have been somewhat complicated in the early days.

    In addition to the Frisco/MoPac (Iron Mtn) crossing there was the Frisco (swing) bridge on the Arkansas River to consider and the fact that MoPac trains were still using it (the bridge) as part of their Fort Smith Branch. Even under yard limits rules you would think some additional control over all this would be necessary. Was it possible that the operation of the bridge was combined with control of the crossing?

    Special instructions in the Frisco Central Division ETT (#15) for 1906 as follows:

    All trains will look out carefully at ST. L. I. M. & S. R'y Junction and at St. L. I M. & S. R'y crossing for the trains of that Company using the Frisco Main Line.

    All trains or engines crossing Arkansas River Bridge at Van Buren must come to a full stop at the stop board. if draw is closed, engineer will give two short whistles and then proceed. If draw is open, a red flag by day and a red light by night will be displayed. Engine dampers must be kept closed while on the bridge.

  12. tomd6 (Tom Duggan RIP 2/11/2018)

    tomd6 (Tom Duggan RIP 2/11/2018) Passed Away February 11, 2018

    The Interstate Commerce Commission Engineering Field notes for the Frisco Valuation Survey, dated October 1918,do not show an interlocking plant at Van Buren.
    The personal data book of L.M.Cantrell, Central Division Superintendent 1926- 1936, contains a very detailed list of interlockers. There is no listing for a Frisco interlocker at Van Buren.
    As a business matter the MP had to pay per car and engine charges when crossing the Frisco bridge.It would seem more logical to use MP tracks and the Helen Gould bridge for Fort Smith traffic rather than operate over the Frisco bridge. Obviously this would not apply in the case of diversions and post 1970 when the Gould Bridge was demolished.
  13. john

    john Supporter

    I'm sorry about the large file size and poor quality, but here is the appropriate page from the Iron Mountain (MoPac) Central Division ETT #5 of May 1907.

    This late after the construction of the Missouri Pacific System's bridge at Fort Smith, the timetable still shows first class traffic on the Frisco bridge. (a quicker shorter route east than the Greenwood Jct. route)


    Attached Files:

  14. gbmott

    gbmott Member


    This gets really interesting! Several things about the 1907 TT page you copied. First, I am assuming that "Cherokee Jct" is what later became known as "Greenwood Jct". It appears, then, that Iron Mtn trains 103 and 105 from KC to Little Rock were routed Coffeeville-Cherokee Jct-Greenwood Branch to Fort Smith-Fort Smith Branch to Van Buren. That would be the most direct routing for a timetable south train to take.

    In the opposite direction, train 106 appears to have operated from Van Buren across the SLSF bridge to Fort Smith, thence Gould Bridge to Cherokee Jct while 104 operated from Van Buren to Cherokee Jct and Gould Bridge to Fort Smith, then turned around as 123 and retraced its route to Cherokee Jct. This latter would explain the note "Number 123 is superior to 104". I can only assume that train 104 was a lower priority and the Iron Mtn was willing to accept a slower schedule to avoid the trackage rights fee on the Frisco.

    I have to admit that this is an operation of which I was completely ignorant and that I find very interesting indeed. In earlier posts there were detailed maps of this area posted dating from about this time and they clearly show that the connecting track between the SLIM&S and the SLSF was in the geographical SE quadrant which would have been correct for the moves outlined above.

    The only fly in the ointment to what I propose above is note C 2. under the Fort Smith Branch section of the timetable where it says "Between Van Buren and St.L.& S.F. Junction all trains will be governed by St.L.& S.F. Time Table". This would ordinarily make me think that it refers to the Frisco track between St.L & S.F. Jct and the Frisco's Van Buren station. The problem is that times are shown for the Iron Mtn trains at "Van Buren" without any kind of a note to indicate that it means the Iron Mtn's Van Buren station. For that matter, why would the Iron Mtn timetable even show the Frisco's line between St.L & S. F. Jct. and the Frisco's VB station? This part has me baffled.

    As for the crossing, it appears from earlier posts that in the early days it may have been unprotected and trains simply proceeded on the basis of visually check that there were no conflicting moves. It still leaves open whether between that time and the establishment of an automatic interlocking there had been a manual interlocking.

    This is getting interesting (and fun)!

  15. john

    john Supporter

    In the 1885 St. Louis & San Francisco Railway Co. annual report was the following comment. "The total amount required to pay interest on the bonds (for the bridge company), together with the cost of maintenance and taxes will be about $36,000 per annum, of which the Little Rock & Fort Smith Railway Company will contribute not less than one-third under a contract with the Bridge Company running thirty years from April 1, 1886."

    I had not really questioned what track was referenced in C2. I just thought Van Buren was the north bank of the Arkansas River (the junction on the north side of the SLSF bridge) and the SLSF junction was where the original LR & FS (later Fort Smith Branch of the Missouri Pacific which we are discussing) and Frisco tracks "split" just a mile or so south of the bridge.

    Also - as late as March 1925 the Fort Smith Branch of the Missouri Pacific still appears in their Official List of Officers, Agents, Stations and Mileage book.

    0.00 - Fort Smith Branch Connection
    0.10 - St. L - S.F. North Connection
    1.57 - St. L - S.F. South Connection (presumably with the bridge between the connections) and so on down to the Ft. Smith (MoPac) depot at 5.26.

    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 27, 2010
  16. john

    john Supporter

    I think every crossing (diamond) that I have seen was controlled by the first railroad constructed. This seems to have been the case here at Van Buren as well. The Little Rock & Fort Smith got through Van Buren first. It ran from Little Rock to Cherokee, IT - now Moffett, OK - across the Arkansas River west of Fort Smith in the 1870's. The Frisco didn't arrive until about 1882. Was this practice universal? Did the first railroad always get to control the crossing?
  17. gbmott

    gbmott Member

    That was certainly normally the case, with the junior road also responsible for the on-going maintenance of the crossing. This was always open to negotiation and there are many examples where the junior road has control, usually because they have the preponderance of traffic, but this is because it has been agreed upon.

    As for the Iron Mountain, unless I am mistaken they actually built illegally in what was then Indian Territory and had to dismantle the road from the state line to Moffit and that is what led them to enter into the agreement with the SLSF to use their bridge.

  18. john

    john Supporter

    I have confused at least one person (probably a lot of people) so here is an attempt to explain the early railroad layout at Fort Smith - Van Buren, AR.

    The first railroad was the Little Rock and Fort Smith which ran west from Little Rock, Arkansas, through Van Buren and on around the bend in the Arkansas River to a point on the River Bank west of Fort Smith (the depot was called Cherokee). It is NOT shown on the accompanying map. This original LR & FS was completed about 1876. Trains could not cross the river and passengers and cargo crossed into Fort Smith by small boat. The Cherokee Nation (in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma) immediately raised a fuss because the last mile of this was on their lands (without permission). In January 1879 the rails were pulled in the Indian Territory and track laid from a point on the south bank of the Arkansas directly south of Van Buren to Fort Smith (all in Sebastian County, AR). This is the LR & FS shown on the accompanying map.

    The LR & FS trains now crossed the Arkansas River (with great difficulty) on the first of two transfer boats (rail ferry). The transfer operated just west of where the SLSF bridge was later built and the LR & FS track made a loop around low ground on the south bank of the Arkansas to eventually tie into the track shown on the map. (By the date this map was drawn the "loop" had been removed.) In 1882 the Frisco arrived at Van Buren and laid track parallel to the LR & FS track into Fort Smith south of the River. Both of these lines are still there - still in use today. The Frisco also used the LR & FS ferry to cross the River. Arrangements were started to build a joint LR & FS - Frisco bridge at Van Buren. THEN, Jay Gould got control of the LR & FS and the good relations between it and the Frisco fell apart.

    Strings were pulled and the Frisco suddenly discovered new problems building both its Van Buren bridge (LR & FS pulled out of the partnership) and building south across the Indian Territory to Paris, Texas. It took several years to sort things out. Eventually the Frisco Bridge was finished (early 1886). The bridge replaced the transfer boat and both railroads used it to enter Fort Smith from Van Buren. At this time there was no other way into - out of Fort Smith by rail.

    Eventually both the Frisco and the MoPac System got what they wanted - the right to cross the Indian Territory. The track to Cherokee, IT was relaid on the original LR & FS roadbed and a new bridge (shown on the map) finished in 1891. This is the Cherokee Branch (or Greenwood Branch) on the Missouri Pacific System.

    The "direct" link between Van Buren and Fort Smith is the Fort Smith Branch on the Missouri Pacific System. It only operated over the SLSF on its northern end, to use the SLSF Van Buren bridge. I am trying to avoid creating further confusion by using the term Missouri Pacific although several different corporate names were involved on the Missouri Pacific side.

    Hope this helps, John

    Attached Files:

  19. tomd6 (Tom Duggan RIP 2/11/2018)

    tomd6 (Tom Duggan RIP 2/11/2018) Passed Away February 11, 2018

    I have a few problems with your facts.
    1. C.P. Huntington and Jay Gould acquired a controlling interest in the Frisco in Jaunuary 1882 (The Railroad Gazette, January 27, 1882, p 64.) If they controlled the Frisco and the Little Rock & Fort Smith why would they want to damage both railroads ?
    2. I have done extensive research on the Van Buren bridge. I have seen no mention in the press or Frisco annual reports of a joint Frisco-Little Rock & Fort Smith railroad bridge at Van Buren. There is no mention of Little Rock & Fort Smith involvement with the bridge in the Frisco Annual reports for 1882 and 1883. One reason may be that the Frisco was able to issue bonds in the name of the Fort Smith & Van Buren Bridge co to cover the $450,00 cost of building the bridge. My impression is that the Little Rock & Fort Smith was a weaker railroad since it was in and out of receivership as it sputtered from Little Rock to Fort Smith. The Frisco corporate records at the Western Historical Manuscript collection at Rolla ,Mo refer to a contract executed between the Frisco and the Little Rock & Fort Smith. I wonder if this covered use and debt service on the Van Buren Bridge by the Little Rock & Fort Smith.

    4. The "strings" you mention were not in fact caused by tha acts of others as seen in the following recapitulation of facts.
    The Frisco reached Van Buren, AR in November 1882. It used the steam launch of the Little Rock & Fort Smith to ferry cars to Fort Smith. The ferry could carry four passenger cars or two freight cars per trip.

    The Frisco Railroad bridge at Van Buren did not open for service until February 1886. The Department of War had jurisdiction over navigable rivers such as the Arkansas. The Corps of Engineers and the Frisco had two disputes that delayed the bridge.(Frisco 1883 Annual Report, page 10)
    (a) The Frisco’s original bridge plans were modified by a board of engineers. The Frisco did not agree with the changes. In 1884 the railroad company proposed to construct at its own expense any work which might subsequently be found necessary for the maintenance of navigation. The Corp of Engineers agreed.
    (b) A portion of the Frisco’s alignment crossed the long inactive Fort Smith Military Reservation. The War Department did not agree to the Frisco plan. The War Department plan included twenty four acres of Federal property and required the Frisco to build a stone wall that would make the Fort Smith Military Reservation a completely enclosed fort. The War Department plan was approved by the House of Representatives and US Senate and signed into law by the President on February 20, 1883. (Senate Act 2239) Congressional Record 1883, page 2961.

    Railroads building through Indian Territory had to obtain congressional approval. The first railroad to build through Indian Territory was the MKT in 1870. Congress than closed the doors and for many the MKT had a monopoly on Kansas-Texas traffic. Congress then lifted the blanket ban on new railroad building in Indian Territory. On August 2, 1882 the Frisco obtained Congressional approval to build through the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations subject to the following conditions:
    (a) Posting a $500,000 surety bond;
    (b) Quarterly fee of $750 for the benefit of each nation’s schools divided 75% for the Cherokees and 25% for the Choctaws;
    (d) Filing a map of the completed route within two years.
    The Act of August 2, 1882 gave the Frisco two years to complete the road.

    The Frisco did not complete the road within two years. Frisco President Edward F. Winslow then approached the Department of the Interior, and President of the United States by letter in February 1886. Winslow explained that the Frisco failure was due to a dispute with the Corps of Engineers that delayed the construction of the bridge that in turn delayed construction of the Indian Territory line.
    On June 1, 1886 a bill was signed into law that gave the Frisco an additional two years to comply with the legislation passed on August 2, 1882.
  20. john

    john Supporter

    Lots of folks sometimes have problems with my facts and interpretations so you are in good company. I'll try to address the points you presented in order.

    1. I can not now remember exactly when Gould obtained final control over the Little Rock and Fort Smith. It may have been a little bit earlier than I implied. I doubt that every detail of every railroad was immediately, or ever, brought to Gould's personal attention but there can be little doubt that he was very interested in and involved with railroads (and coal) in the Fort Smith area. He made a personal visit to his company's coal mines at Jenny Lind, AR (south of Fort Smith) soon after the first opened. The visit was on March 15, 1889 - how many communities of that (small) size can claim that? I'm also not certain that the early poor financial condition of the LR & FS was as relevant after Gould assumed control as it would have been earlier. The LR & FS seems to have been quite important to Gould. (Source: The Life and Legend of Jay Gould, page 373) Under his reign a lot of improvements were made.

    It is true that Huntington and Gould, working together, managed to obtain about 1/2 interest in the Frisco in early 1882. My understanding is that this was to prevent the Atlantic & Pacific grants (which Frisco held) from falling under the control of the Santa Fe. This might have allowed that railroad to expand eastward in competition with the Gould and Huntington systems. Control of the Frisco blocked a mutual threat to both men's empires. I think that it's a bit of a stretch to think that the Frisco was now cooperating with Gould's railroads or that those cared what happened to the Frisco. In fact some real historians (and I'm certainly not one) seem to think that this arrangement did a great deal of harm to the Frisco and that Gould was definitely not looking out for its interests.

    2. There are articles in some of the early 1880's Fort Smith (or Van Buren?) newspapers discussing a proposed joint LR & FS/Frisco bridge at Van Buren. At the moment I don't have that information in front of me and I certainly can't provide the names and dates from memory, but I have it filed somewhere and I'll try to locate it and post it here shortly.

    3. I have no answer for this one.

    4. The N. D. Munson (LR & FS transfer boat at Van Buren) could indeed carry two passenger or four freight cars ( I think you may have this switched, size - not weight - seems to have been the primary limitation). Unfortunately the vessel was too large (in draft) for the job and often rendered unusable by chronic low water in the Arkansas River. There is a photo of the Munson on page 22 of the Fort Smith Historical Society Inc. JOURNAL Vol VI, #2, Sep 1982, with Van Buren in the background. It was replaced with the Harold B which was at best barely usable. The lighter draft Harold B only had one (not two) steam engine and was a smaller craft. It was stretched pretty thin attempting to handle the rolling stock of two railroads and contending with the currents in the River on its limited power. Low water was still often a problem. There is a reference to problems with this second transfer boat on page 9 of the 1884 Frisco Annual Report.

    Frisco agents applied to the Choctaw tribal council for permission to cross their Nation in 1881. They were granted a right of way. Some have suspected that bribes or other shady practices were involved. This was the intended route south from Fort Smith. At the time that it was granted most authorities (not everyone) seem to have considered this a perfectly acceptable exercise of tribal rights based on treaties which granted the Choctaw autonomy over their own land. Almost immediately a debate on this subject sprang up in Congress. The end result was a law that effectively undercut the previous treaties and killed whatever rights to grant eminent domain across their land the Choctaw (for that matter any tribe) may have held in their "nation". The rights now rested solely with Congress. You made a reference to this in your statement about the MKT. Jay Gould has been implicated in published works, as he was in newspapers at the time, as the man behind these actions. Gould had good reason to want to keep Texas to himself and the Frisco out. I believe this would be an acceptable example of someone with wealth and power "pulling strings" to arrange matters to benefit himself at the expense of the Frisco. This matter was of great interest in Fort Smith and references to what was (and was alleged to be) going on can be found in newspapers from that era.

    About the time the Frisco finally obtained its permission from Congress to build across the Choctaw Nation, Gould obtained partial control over the railroad. Almost immediately the Frisco's efforts to build south began to flounder. I realize that several different reasons (some financial) have been given for the failure to complete the line at this time, but any and all could have been overcome if the will to do so had been great enough.

    Frisco could have built an Arkansas River bridge at any time - permission to cross was never denied - as long as they were willing to build it where the government wanted it. It's true that some additional cost would have been involved, but probably not nearly as much as the Frisco claimed. It's also difficult to see why other problems like the old fort at Fort Smith were insurmountable obstacles for the Frisco. They could easily have routed their line around it (to the east). In fact the line did turn east almost immediately after it passed the fort grounds. I think a strong case could be made that Frisco unnecessarily allowed the original allotted time to built south to run out. Again, was Gould behind this???

    As shown above I do consider the Frisco (or any other railroad) Annual Reports to be acceptable sources, but in some respects they are little better than newspaper articles and need to be taken with a grain of salt. Great effort was always expended to place the railroad company and the actions of its officers and directors in a most favorable light and you are always only going to get one side of the story.

    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 28, 2010

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