Turntables and Roundhouses: Where Dinosaurs Danced

Big and heavy and almost extinct now, they are dinosaurs. Or, more accurately, they are the dance floors of dinosaurs. At one time every part of town has had a rail yard, from T&P/MoPac/Union Pacific on the west to I&GN on the east, from Rock Island on the north to Katy on the south. And every rail yard had a turntable and a roundhouse. The turntable was a round platform, set in a pit in the ground, that revolved so that a locomotive could be turned literally in its tracks, usually to direct it into the adjacent roundhouse, which was a fan-shaped maintenance shed.

As late as 1963 Fort Worth had at least six railroad turntables. But today, as far as I know, despite the miles of track that remain active in Fort Worth, only two complete turntables survive.

puffy panel

This turntable serves the Grapevine Vintage (formerly “Tarantula”) Railroad at the Stockyards. (More videos of steam engine 2248 and other engines at A Time Machine Named “Puffy”: Next Stop, 1896.)

Watch engine 2248 take a turn on the dinosaur dance floor:

UP turn googleThis turntable is in the Union Pacific Davidson yard in west Fort Worth. You can’t see it from ground level outside the yard. But if you hike up to the highest point of the Rosedale Street overpass and squint, you can just make out the white rim of the pit of the turntable in front of the roundhouse (which, just to irritate literalists, is rectangular). Follow the track that begins in the lower left corner of the photo. You can see the turntable operator’s booth to the right of the track where the track meets the turntable rim.

Now there is little evidence that the other turntables ever existed. Their pits have been filled in, paved over, overgrown by weeds.

But this aerial photo of the rail yard just east of the Convention Center downtown shows the footprint of both a roundhouse (the fan-shaped concrete pads) and a turntable (where the clump of trees grows to the right of the roundhouse) of the Fort Worth & Denver City railroad.

Here are the pads of the roundhouse from ground level. I stood where the turntable was to photograph the pads.

This 1891 bird’s-eye-view map shows the Fort Worth & Denver City yards in that location east of 12th and Jones streets.

Detail from a 1911 Sanborn map.

The roundhouse was still there in 1952, as this aerial photo shows. The roundhouse was gone by 1970. Today even the footprint of the roundhouse and turntable is gone, overlaid by tracks.

rock island ttrock island sanbornEast of Samuels Avenue in the area called, aptly, “Rock Island,” was the yard of the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf railroad. The turntable and roundhouse were gone by the mid-1950s.

As the 1907 city directory shows, railroad “table turner” was a job description and, for John and Samuel Brasher (brothers or father and son?), a family affair. The Brashers’ Bryan Street home put them just a short walk from their “office” at the Texas & Pacific rail yard just south of downtown. The South Side fire of 1909 burned T&P’s roundhouse and thirty-five locomotives inside it. T&P announced immediately after the fire that its new roundhouse would be fireproof.

The new T&P roundhouse and turntable were at Main and Vickery streets, southwest of the Fort Worth & Denver City yards in this 1928 aerial photo.

mktThe Katy roundhouse and turntable east of South Main at Allen Street in 1952. They survived into the 1990s.

katy freight turntable 52This turntable south of Vickery Boulevard and east of Main Street may have been Katy. The Katy freight station was adjacent on Vickery at Jones Street.

i&gn turntable 52Lastly, the dark circle near the center shows the footprint of the International & Great Northern turntable on the near East Side in 1952. Could at least part of the I&GN turntable still exist?


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2 Responses to Turntables and Roundhouses: Where Dinosaurs Danced

  1. Michael says:

    Look at 1591 Pharr St, Fort Worth, TX 76102 on bing maps in the birdseye view. You will see the outline of a turntable pit. I do not think you have this turntable listed. In 1952 the turntable and round house are there. In 1956 they are both gone. I viewed these two year on Historic Aerials.

    • hometown says:

      Michael, the Rock Island yards are mentioned in the first paragraph, but the post had no CRIG images. I have updated the post with new images for CRIG and GVR. Thanks. If you look at a contemporary aerial of where the CRIG yards were, you can see a big concrete arc–a “C” facing east. I went out there convinced it was a remnant of the turntable perimeter. But it’s a few yards north of where the turntable was, a bit smaller, and I now think it was the track for some kind of hopper that pivoted in an arc.

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