Van Buren tower

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

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

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

    I think that all of us who post on this forum do their best to be accurate. Your statement the the Frisco could have built the bridge any time is not supported by facts.
    (I)The following extract from Mike Condren's FSVB web site sets forth in more details the Frisco problems with the Corps of Engineers in respect of the proposed bridge:
    "Congress authorized the Frisco railroad bridge at Van Buren on July 3, 1882 - subject to approval of the company's plans by the Chief of Engineers, United States Army.

    On November 6, 1882, W. W. Belknap submitted the Frisco's plans for the proposed bridge. They were rejected on November 24th.

    Grounds for rejection:
    1. Map submitted by the railroad company was not in conformity to law.
    2. Bridge would be near the head of a bar that split the River. During low water boats take the channel to the right of the bar, whilst at ordinary high water the other is used.
    3. The direction of the axis of the bridge and the location of the draw span are not favorable to navigation of the channel next to the town.
    4. The difference between high and low water, as assumed by the company, is 32.5 feet, whereas it was 35.5 in 1844 and 39 in 1833.
    5. The proper location of the bridge would be from 1,800 to 3,000 feet farther upstream.

    On December 5, 1882 the Frisco replied that:
    1. The location suggested is impracticable, since the curve approaching the bridge would require tunneling through the side of a steep bluff from 200 to 300 feet high, at an enormous expense, amounting to a prohibition to build the bridge at all.
    2. That the draw-span is located where the main channel has been for thirteen years.
    3. That the law declares that the bridge would be located at Van Buren.
    4. That the navigation interests of the Upper Arkansas are insignificant.
    5. That the company expects in good faith to conform to the requirements of the act as to the width of draw-spans and height of bridge.

    It was stated that "excessive cost of the approach on the Van Buren side, which involved a curved tunnel in very difficult soil, amounted to a prohibition of the work."

    On December 12, 1882 the Frisco submitted an amended bridge plan, to conform with the high water of 1844 (raised grade 3 feet).

    A special board considered the Frisco's proposal and rejected it. They recommended a compromise location 550 to 600 feet further upstream.

    A group of owners, captains, pilots and others engaged in commerce on the Arkansas also transmitted a protest against the proposed location.

    Frisco then, on March 8, 1883, replied that:

    (A) There would be little difference in either proposed site in regard to currents in the River. (B)The proposed location would endanger the transfer boat of the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railway Company, "used by them jointly with that company, which carries almost the entire traffic of Fort Smith and vicinity and would be endangered by close proximity to the bridge while under construction at the upper location."(C)The cost of the bridge would be $50,000 greater than at the proposed Van Buren location, while commerce on the Arkansas River was so insignificant that it was not worth the sacrifice.

    The Army Engineers replied on March 22, 1883 that: (A) The bridge approaches and piers would contract the width of the river and increase the velocity at Van Buren even more. (B) The danger to the transfer boat could be obviated by providing her with "ordinarily powerful machinery." (C) The $50,000 estimate seemed rather large. They also felt that they had already "given in" enough, especially since they had agreed to allow the construction some 2,000 feet downstream of the original site they had selected.

    The Frisco then suggested that a Van Buren location would allow the bridge to also function as a wagon bridge, but that could not easily be done further upstream. (This was probably done in part to win more support in Van Buren. Many people there were opposed to the bridge as it would decrease the importance of Van Buren as a shipping point.)

    November 6, 1883 a "memorial" from the citizens of Fort Smith suggested that "the rapidly increasing trade of that place, and that the region of country trading with it has a population of about 50,000, and ships from 20,000 to 30,000 bales of cotton besides other merchandise, which, owing to the bad condition of the navigation of the river, is dependent upon the two railroads crossing the Arkansas in a transfer boat at Van Buren, which only takes two cars at a time, and that for the want of a bridge at that point the commerce of that region is seriously embarrassed."

    On January 26, 1884 the Frisco formally agreed to the last set of modified terms, and to take whatever steps might be necessary to restore navigation if the bridge disrupted it, and the bridge was erected at Van Buren.
    Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers, United States Army
    to the Secretary of War, 1884. (Part 2, Vol. II, pp 1792-1796) "

    II.Mike Condren's Fort Smith Van Buren website has some early photos. None of them show an interlocking tower.
    III ICC Finance Docket No 9883 at ICC Reports 193,p29 effective April 27, 1933 authorized the Missouri Pacific to abandon operations into Fort Smith using the Frisco's Van Buren bridge. The decision noted that the MP had access to Fort Smith via its own bridge and that The MP had paid the Frisco $60,123 intrackage fees for the five years ended December 31, 1932, an amount almost equal to the MP's cost of taxes and maintenance on its own bridge.The MP application noted there had been a sharp decline in Fort Smith freight business that rendered use of the Frisco bridge redundant. From this document I would deduce that henceforth the MP used the Frisco bridge solely for diversions.

    IV The ICC Valuation Report for the Fort Smith & Van Buren Bridge Company, ICC Valuation Reports, Volume 41, p 558-9 does not contain any reference to Little Rock & Fort Smith/MP ownership of the Frisco's Van Buren Bridge.
    If the MP had an ownership interest the bonds issued to build the bridge would have shown two obligors.
    V. Gould's alleged interest in delaying Frisco construction through Oklahoma may have been rooted in a desire to protect the monopoly the Gould controlled MKT had on rail traffic to and from the Lone Star State.
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  2. john

    john Supporter

    We might as well go ahead and continue to ruin Bill's thread, since the original question is pretty much lost anyway.

    I guess I don't see the problem reconciling the opinions I posted earlier with the bridge information that I submitted for Mike's website (it probably just lost its credibility as a source). I don't remember ever seeing anything that would support the idea that the Frisco wasn't going to be allowed to bridge the Arkansas River. The fuss seems to have been entirely over the location of the bridge. IF the Frisco's officers had felt like they needed the bridge finished right then (for whatever reason - to make it easier to access Fort Smith or to finish the proposed route to Paris, Texas), all they had to do was build it where the Army Engineers wanted it. Yes, the Frisco lawyers raised some good points. I don't think the Army Engineers were idiots, however, and their arguments also had merit. The Engineers politely pointed out their belief that the Frisco was overstating the cost of following their recommendation for the bridge site, which to me was the big issue.

    The "fuss" over the location of the bridge began in 1882. I think we would agree that at this point the Frisco was definitely "going it alone". If memory serves me correctly this is AFTER any discussion about a joint LR & FS bridge appeared in newsprint. It's also pretty clear the Frisco had it's mind (if a company can have a mind) made up about where it was going to be built, since they went ahead and laid the track into Fort Smith from the south bank of the River prior to getting their bridge location approved. I'm not sure what this shows other than very poor planning by the Frisco.

    There are some interesting comments about the LR & FS transfer boat in the Army Engineers report. Notice that the boat in question only had a capacity of 2 rail cars. Also - The danger to the transfer boat could be obviated by providing her with "ordinarily powerful machinery." I'm sure the boat referenced here was the Harold B, the second and final boat. I have never located a newspaper article or a date for the change in boats. (obviously it was between 1879 and 1883) If anyone has this information I'd love to hear from you.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 29, 2010
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  3. john

    john Supporter

    It's time to create more confusion.

    This map is dated 1888. At this time the bridge would have been roughly two years old. It's the only map I am aware of which shows any structure at/near the bridge. The building shown seems to have been connected with the LR & FS.

    Mike has a copy of this photo posted on his website. I'm just making it available here in higher resolution, if someone would like a better look at it. The copyright date is 1900. The original source is There Is Something To See Along The FriscoLine.


    VB map 1888.jpg VB Bridge and Crossing 1900.jpg
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 29, 2010
  4. john

    john Supporter

    I don't believe the building on the LR & FS at the Frisco crossing and bridge is the LR & FS depot. Here's a different section of the perspective map which shows the location of their depot.

    River Front.jpg
  5. john

    john Supporter

    Here's the 2nd LR & FS transfer boat, the Harold B, moored at the incline on the north bank of the Arkansas at Van Buren. Harold B was a single engine (port side), side-wheel, double ended transport boat with a normal capacity of two freight or one passenger car. This is the vessel which transported both LR & FS and Frisco trains across the River until the completion of the Frisco bridge in 1886. It is mentioned by name in the ASCE Transactions article by Purdon on the building of the bridge.

    The Purdon article includes drawings for the original bridge including the piers and spans. It also includes charts such as the one referenced below of the river stages.

    On the day this photo was taken the River level was recorded at about 366 feet. I estimate (with a large degree of error) that the track elevation here at this time was about 405 feet. (Someone correct me if necessary) The drop to the boat's deck would have possibly been about 35 feet. If the drawing of the ramp (from ASCE TRANSACTIONS May 1889) on Mike's website is correctly scaled the ramp and incline was about 4 times the length of the turn span on the new bridge or about 1480 feet. This works out to a steep grade for a railroad. Charles Winters has been quoted as having said that the cars were pulled up the inclines with mule teams.

    As a bonus, here's a postcard of the original bridge which I don't believe is on Mike's website. Unfortunately it doesn't shed any light on the tower question.

    Harold B.jpg Postcard VB Frisco bridge.jpg
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 29, 2010
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  6. john

    john Supporter

    These are just sketch notes, but they do give some newspaper sources for Frisco - Fort Smith articles in the early 1880's. Some of this is obviously just rumors. I'm still looking for my earlier notes. I believe that these are the last references I recorded to proposed cooperation by the Frisco and the LR & FS on a project to build a bridge at Van Buren.

    Fort Smith Elevator - 25 Feb 1881

    Mr. Converse, President of the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railway Company has written a letter to Hon. Jesse Turner of Van Buren in which he expresses a lively interest in Arkansas railroads and manifests a desire to co-operate with the St. Louis Arkansas and Southern railroad in bridging the river at Van Buren. We believe we were the first party in our county that ever advocated the building of a railroad bridge at Van Buren and the wise men of Fort Smith at that day could not see it. Mr. James P. Henry who afterwards wrote the Resources of Arkansas, was the only party who agreed with us at the time. We think now it will be built soon...

    Fort Smith Elevator 30 Sep 1881

    The frisco to be pushed rapidly through to Van Buren

    The railroad bridge at Van Buren decided on. Bridge to be commenced at Van Buren by the San Francisco and the Little Rock and Fort Smith roads.

    Fort Smith Elevator 17 March 1882 (reprinted from Van Buren Argus)

    The Frisco is now located through town to the river and the bridge is also located. The south half of the block on which Lynch's gin stands was purchased last Saturday by the right-of-way committee for the depot grounds.

    (NOTE: I wonder why they didn't check with the Army Engineers before they "located" the bridge. You would think any railroad or bridge engineer would have understood that as a requirement for crossing a navigable river)

    Fort Smith Elevator 17 Nov 1882 (reprinted from St. Louis Globe Democrat)

    The Arkansas division of the St. Louis and San Francisco railway will be open for traffic to Fort Smith on Wednesday and will give a direct passage line that shortens the distance ninety-one miles over all other railroads (from St. Louis). The completion of the road to the bank of the Arkansas river will be celebrated by an excursion from St. Louis and a banquet at Fort Smith.

    Fort Smith Elevator 9 March 1883 (reprinted from Fayetteville Sentinel

    Cessation of work on the road. Talk that Van Buren would end up as the final terminus and the track to Fort Smith will be torn up.
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  7. tomd6 (Tom Duggan RIP 2/11/2018)

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

    Re: Van Buren tower-RIP

    I do hope this will be the final post on the Van Buren Tower which I believe all agree never existed.

    In the May 1932 issue of the Frisco Employes Magazine, Frisco railroader Mr. J. E Bradley of Fort Smith recalled the early days of Fort Smith including laying ties on the Fort Smith Van Buren railroad bridge before it opened for service. He mentioned “ At that time there was no railroad bridge across the Arkansas at Van Buren and in those days he frequently saw an entire train moved across the river by ferry. It didn’t take a large ferry to do it either, Mr. Bradley pointed out, because the train usually consisted of two wooden coaches. The locomotives were not transported as one brought the train up to one side of the river and another continued with it after it had been ferried across. There were two trains a day , one in the morning and one in the afternoon.”
    The Union Bridge Company commissioned an album on the bridge’s construction. It has a nice shot of the Harold B steam launch moored adjacent to what resembles an air compressor barge.
  8. gbmott

    gbmott Member

    John and Tom

    Thank you both for what has been a lively and very informative discussion, and while it has wandered quite a bit from the specific subject of whether a tower ever existed at the crossing in Van Buren, it has been a wandering that I, at least, have certainly welcomed. Thanks both of you.

    As for the tower, however, there remains a thirty-odd year gap between knowing that the crossing was stop-and-proceed-on-visual-indication in the early 1900's and that it was protected by an automated interlocking sometime in the late 1930's. Both the traffic on both roads and the available technology had developed to the point where it seems somehow improbable that an unguarded crossing would have been seen as acceptable at some point. The question is when that point was reached and was automated interlocking technology available at that time so that indeed there was a direct move from stop-and-proceed to automatic interlocking.

    So folks, dig out those employee timetables, both SLSF and MP, between 1910 and 1935 and tell us what they say! [​IMG] By the way, my money is still on there never having been a tower.

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  9. slsfrr (Jerome Lutzenberger RIP 9/1/2018)

    slsfrr (Jerome Lutzenberger RIP 9/1/2018) Engineer Staff Member Supporter

    I am trying to clarify this in my mind. (1) It would appear, from the post, when the bridge was constructed it may, or may not have been, a joint effort between the Frisco and MP (predecessor railroad). (2) At some point in time a stop sign was placed on the Frisco before crossing the MP. (3) Later, an interlocker plant was installed which may or may not have been automatic. One thing to remember is that a manual interlocker can be controlled from a number of locations, not necessarily a tower at the location of the interlocking plant. It could have been controlled by a control operator at Van Buren, or the dispatcher’s office. (4) There is evidence to support an automatic interlocking plant (MP timetable) at least as early as 1944.

    Which brings us to the new bridge, constructed in the late 60’s early 70’s (not sure). My understanding is this section of track was CTC, controlled by the dispatcher in Springfield. Would that include the interlocking plant? And what kind of interlocker is at this location now?

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  10. john

    john Supporter

    I believe that Tom and I would probably agree that WHEN the bridge was built it was strictly a SL-SF project. Any talk of a joint project was just that, talk. If anything I said implied that the LR & FS was involved in the ownership or construction of the bridge I have unintentionally misled you. The evidence supports the idea that the LR & FS (and later companies) had a contract which allowed use of the bridge.

    It's interesting that Gould's visit to Jenny Lind took place in 1889. This visit was prior to the construction of the Helen Gould Bridge at Fort Smith and his train has to have entered over the Frisco bridge. He could not have been happy about this. It has been written that Helen accompanied her father on the visit. Perhaps this is how the MoPac System bridge (construction began shortly afterward) came to carry her name. Helen has also been credited with naming the company coal town (and depot) "New Jenny Lind" thus preserving the interesting name of the neighboring community of Jenny Lind.

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  11. Coonskin

    Coonskin Member

    Well, once again ol' Coonskin arrives at the party too late. However, looks to have been a great thread and one that I wish I would have found earlier.


    I would love to hear more about this Jay Gould trip to the Jenny Lind coal fields. Do you have more info at your source level?

    As for the lift span:

    As mentioned, that went in during 1970. I recall having viewed Mike's (Condren) slides during some of the Fort Smith Gang's* infamous "Pic Parties" of Monett trains arriving at the Fort Smith yard from the south, having used the Mop bridge to access Fort Smith.

    Current interlocking at A&M/UP in Van Buren:

    On our side (A&M) it is a manual interlocking. That is, we always see a Stop indication north/south. The Conductor must go over to the junction box and request a North/South signal (depending) by pushing the appropriate magic button. We may/may not get an Approach within seconds. If not, then there's a more lengthy procedure that must be followed.

    Gotta' run... church is beckoning. When I get back I want to take more time to go through this thread and more fully digest the info shared.

    Thanks to all that contributed!


    Andre Ming

    * "Fort Smith Gang" = Mike Condren, Jim Christenberry, Dale Dawson, Dave McDonald, Darrell Rantz, and a few other assorted crazies including yours truly.
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  12. john

    john Supporter


    The information that Jay Gould had visited Jenny Lind and Greenwood originally came from an article in an old back issue of The KEY (South Sebastian County Historical Society). I kept my eyes open for some time for something that would actually document or support the statement.

    The supporting documentation turned out to be in an unpublished diary which was kept by Mattie Caldwell (who resided between Jenny Lind and Greenwood) during the time period in question. Her entries were very interesting and detailed - things like the daily weather.

    I don't have all of the entries in front of me at the moment, but here are a few.

    Nov 7, 1888 "The company has the railroad graded to Greenwood from Fort Smith."
    Dec 31, 1888 "The cars ran to the depo (in Greenwood) this morning for the first time."
    March 15, 1889 "Jay Gould visited Greenwood this morning."

    The Key article had mentioned, with some disgust, that Gould never even left his private car when his train stopped at Jenny Lind, but had the mine operators there come to him.

    I had hoped that there would be good information, with exact dates, about the building of the Frisco south from Fort Smith, but that was a little bit "out of her area."

    Jan 31, 1887 "We saw the Frisco train for the first time. The trains have just commenced running through the backbone tunnel. A train to Hackett City daily." Since I don't know what she meant by "just commenced" I can't offer an exact beginning date for the completion of the tunnel.

    The first published reference to service south of Fort Smith which I have seen was an article in the Fort Smith Elevator about two weeks later.

    February 18, 1887 which only said "a branch of the road has already been completed ... (to Hackett) regular trains will begin running there as son as coal shiipments commence or perhaps sooner."

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  13. Coonskin

    Coonskin Member


    Thanks for the interesting supplemental information. As you well know, I too, have an interest in the Coal Belt region... the Iron Mountain being part of it!

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  14. john

    john Supporter

    Hopefully this information will still be of some value. It is in response to Bill Pollards original post on this thread (#1). The question concerned a tower at the Frisco/Missouri Pacific crossing just north of the railroad bridge at Van Buren, Arkansas. The attached map (a small section of a Missouri Pacific ICC Valuation map) makes it clear that there was once a tower at the crossing - controlled by Missouri Pacific. See the bottom left corner for the notation "Tower Removed AFE 411527"(dated November 1942). AFE 411528 is noted as "Installed Telephone Booth" and is dated 9/13/1943. Another notation concerned AFE 36890 "Replace Mech with Auto Interlocker" which was dated 5/24/1938. A different map (northern Fort Smith) shows Note R-287 LR&FS RY (later Missouri Pacific) "right to use bridge cancelled 1933."
    Van Buren Tower.jpg
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 24, 2017
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  15. tomd6 (Tom Duggan RIP 2/11/2018)

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

    John- You have made a really nice catch.I checked Frisco Central Division Employee Timetable No 25 effective October 30, 1932. It does showa manned day & night MP Crossing interlocker at MP 410.6.
    Another place the Frisco used a foreign interlocker was at Gravette, AR on the Bentonville Branch.The Bentonville Branch crossed the KCS mainline. The KCS built an interlocker in 1901, rebuilt it in 1907 and operated it until at least 1932.It seems a bit excessive since the Bentonville Branch at its peak had two never had more than two passenger runs plus seasonal fruit extras.After 1927 it declined to a daily mixed train.
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