Only five miles long, it was abandoned and forgotten in its final years and became so obscured by vegetation and the encroachment of residential development that you’d never know it was there.
But beginning in 1941 it helped to win a war.
In 1940 as America looked east it saw war in Europe. As America looked west it saw war in Asia. Meanwhile relations between Japan and the United States were deteriorating. Reading the storm clouds on both horizons, the Fort Worth chamber of commerce began lobbying the federal government and Consolidated Aircraft Corporation to select Fort Worth as the site of a Consolidated military aircraft factory.
One day later Star-Telegram publisher Amon Carter in a lengthy statement printed on page 1 recognized all the organizations that had helped secure the plant for Fort Worth. He also outlined some of the future responsibilities of the city. Fort Worth would have to provide land for the bomber plant and for an adjacent airfield where pilots could train to fly the planes built at the bomber plant. Fort Worth would have to provide infrastructure for the plant and airfield: utilities and a four-lane highway.
And tucked away in Carter’s statement was this short sentence. Why a spur track? To haul in first the material to build the bomber plant and then the parts to build the bombers.
With the “I think I can, I think I can” determination that had brought the railroads, the packing plants, and the military bases of World War I to town, Fort Worth quickly got to work. In March voters approved a $1.25 million ($21.5 million today) bond package promoted by Amon Carter and other civic leaders to buy the land for the bomber plant and airfield.
In May the government contracted with the Texas & Pacific railroad to build a five-mile spur track from the T&P’s main track in southwest Fort Worth to the bomber plant site. An Army division engineer predicted that with the spur completed, the bomber plant would be built and turning out airplanes by January 1942.
Work on the spur began immediately. By mid-May workers were building a railroad overpass over Highway 10 (Camp Bowie Boulevard).
By early June the bomber spur was almost completed.
The next month the government let contracts for construction of the bomber plant and for a diesel engine to operate on the bomber spur. The first shipment of steel for construction of the plant was expected by August 1.
Indeed, in August the first shipment of a twenty-six-thousand-ton order of Bethlehem steel arrived via the bomber spur: seven flat cars carrying five-ton steel columns for the outer walls of the assembly building. The assembly building would be .9 miles long, its foundation containing enough concrete to pave a four-lane highway for thirty miles. Workers would use bicycles and motorscooters to get around the huge building.
In November 1941 the city deeded to the federal government one thousand acres adjacent to the bomber plant for an Army Air Forces airfield.
One month later the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would justify the expense and labor of building the bomber plant and the bomber spur and intensify the need to build the airfield to train pilots to fly the bombers.
Fast-forward to April 17, 1942. The bomber plant turned out the first of its three thousand B-24 Liberators—one hundred days ahead of schedule.
By August 1942 a contract to build Tarrant Field Airdrome had been let, and the director of the training school at the airdrome had arrived.
A month later the airfield was built and occupied by bomber crews-in-training.
And where did the aviation fuel for those bombers come from?
By 1943 a branch of the bomber spur had been laid to a tank farm on the east perimeter of the airfield to provide fuel via tank cars for the airplanes being built at the bomber plant and flown from the airfield. (On the map, “Grandbury” is today’s Vickery Boulevard.)
B bomber plant
F fork in spur track
S switch at main T&P track on Vickery Boulevard
This map tells us a lot. By 1943 much of the land that the bomber spur passed through was still undeveloped.
But here and there civilian life went on right next to the little track that went to war.
For example, in July 1941, just as the bomber spur began operation, the Bowie Boulevard drive-in theater opened as Fort Worth’s first drive-in theater. The western perimeter of the drive-in theater was just forty feet from the bomber spur track. (Neiman-Marcus department store would be built on the drive-in site in 1962.)
And see the creek labeled “King’s Branch” south of the airfield? We’ll come back to that.
On September 2, 1945 the war that the bomber spur helped win formally ended.
This composite of three aerial photos (of varying contrast) shows the spur track in 1952. You can see B-36s parked at Carswell. In a higher-resolution photo you can see a string of black tank cars on the spur track near the tank farm (T on aerial photo) on the right side of the base.
There was not much residential development north of Calmont Avenue. There was no West Freeway.
Along the spur track—from north to south—can be seen:
A assembly building of the bomber plant
T tank farm
R Ridgmar Mall future site
Z Z. Boaz golf course
D Bowie Boulevard drive-in theater
H Fort Worth Horseshoe Club (complete with race track), future site of Ridgmar Hills addition
Elsewhere can be seen:
C Clayton Road where Ridglea Hills addition would be built
L Luther Lake
Later in the 1950s when West Side developer A. C. Luther (as in the lake) and others developed the Ridglea Hills addition, the south part of the addition was built on the site of the horseshoe club. Overhill Road was laid out parallel to the bomber spur track. Backyard fences were just a few feet from the track.
The 1955 movie Strategic Air Command starring Jimmy Stewart was filmed in part at Carswell. In the center and bottom scenes from the movie, black railroad tank cars on the spur track can be seen.
This aerial photo shows plenty of elbow room on the western edge of town in 1955. Looking west, it also shows the bomber spur trestle (left) over Camp Bowie Boulevard, the Weatherford traffic circle (right), and, in the fork of U.S. 80 and Camp Bowie Boulevard, the Bowie Boulevard drive-in theater and a Buddie’s supermarket. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries Special Collections.)
This report of a train derailment on the bomber spur shows that aviation fuel was still being shipped via rail to Carswell in 1966. Eventually fuel was delivered to Carswell by a pipeline, and aircraft components were delivered to the bomber plant by trucks.
The bomber plant became obsolete to the military.
But in 1972 the new Levitz furniture store on Camp Bowie Boulevard used the spur track for shipments.
Eventually the bomber spur was abandoned, and most of its track removed. Its right-of-way reverted to nature.
This aerial photo shows the route of the bomber spur. Today only a few reminders of the track remain:
A scar across the 7000 block of West Vickery Boulevard. The elevated roadbed of the T&P main line can be seen on the far side of the street.
A disembodied section of track still crosses the 4300 block of Southwest Boulevard.
Abutments on both sides of the 7000 block of Camp Bowie Boulevard are all that remain of a bridge.
A bridge to nowhere over the West Freeway.
Scars across the two western entrances to Ridgmar Mall.
The aerial photo from 1963 shows that the spur forked at two bridges over King’s Branch creek. The west track went to the bomber plant, the east track to the fuel tank farm on the east edge of the airfield. When Ridgmar Mall was built, King’s Branch creek was channeled under the mall.
On the satellite photo you can still see the curve of the west track above Ridgmar Farmers Market/Cowtown BBQ. (By 1963 the original west track had been rerouted to accommodate the extension of a runway at Carswell.)
The next time you drive along Alta Mere Drive on the west side of Ridgmar Mall, look to the east at the line of trees between the two entrances. Those trees line King’s Branch creek. And over that creek lie the remnants of the bridges of the little track that went to war.
The city plans to convert three miles of the bomber spur right-of-way into a hike-and-bike trail.