The Bomber Spur: The Little Track That Went to War

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.

After six months of lobbying, on January 4, 1941 the Star-Telegram announced that the U.S. government would build a bomber plant on the shore of Lake Worth.

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, for example, 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
A airfield
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 just north of the theater the spur skirted the western edge of Z. Boaz golf course.

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 off Alma Mere Drive/183.

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.

Photos taken in 2022 show the two trestles (bomber plant branch on the left and foreground, Carswell branch on the right and background).

The Carswell trestle in 2022. To the left is Alta Mere Drive/183, to the right is Ridgmar Mall.

The city plans to convert part of the bomber spur right-of-way into a hike-and-bike trail.

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Posts About Aviation and War in Fort Worth History

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14 Responses to The Bomber Spur: The Little Track That Went to War

  1. Tim says:

    This is a good bit here, and like this! But, here is my question. I have been trying to find photos of this same area, but just another 100 yards down the track. I remember there being a small building (1960-70s) where the old Don Pablos building is now that had a Veterinary, Barber Shop, and Feed store in it. The train on its way to Carswell would pit stop right at their dock and drop feed supplies. Does anyone remember, and/or have photos of this building? These were there.

  2. Terry Wallace says:

    About when was White Settlement Road closed and the Carswell runway extended?

  3. Chris says:

    Nice piece and I have a comment on some photos but not about the Spur. I thought it worth noting that the star of Bomber Command, Jimmy Stewart, was a B-24 pilot during the war. Also, he served with a bomb group that was assigned to the 8th Air Force. As can be seen in the one photo the 8th was based at Carswell when the film was made.

  4. William L. Williams says:

    Great research, as always!
    I played in ‘Bomber Spur’ briefly, and I think they mentioned that, once upon a time, there was actually a sign that said, ‘Bomber Spur’, but I’ve never seen any photos. I would assume that, if they existed, you would have included it. – This is the first major, comprehensive study on the subject. Thx!

  5. Anita C Baker says:

    What memories. My dad worked at Convair (now Lockeed) from the mid-1940 into the 1950s when he died. The plant and the base were an integral part of my growing up. Great article.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Anita. I have enjoyed learning the history of the bomber plant and the air base.

  6. Texino says:

    My family moved to River Oaks in 1970 when I was 8 I remember hearing the train in the mornings so I took off on my bike soon to look for the tracks. I have been a Bomber Spur fan ever since. To my knowledge the west track was pulled up around 1986 and the east around 2002. Ironically I joined a band in 2015 called Bomber Spur playing steel guitar, in 2018 I built a G scale garden railway in my front yard to commemorate the spur not far from the original location. the trains still pull tank cars to this day.

    • hometown says:

      Texino, I ran across your band on YouTube while researching the spur. Answering “How did your band get its name?” questions, your band probably has done more to tell the story of the Bomber Spur than any ol’ blogger could.

    • Texino (Kerry) says:

      I found the band doing a random search for the Bomber Spur rail line. since I was a musician I contacted the guys. They were located in west Fort Worth and were local history buffs. I played with the band from 2015-2019. Ironically again! I now play with a Irving band called Twang Train. at least I’m still on the rails somehow. Also thanks Hometown for the article on the spur and other works you have done on local history..I’m a big fan!

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Texino.

  7. Keith Robinson says:

    Great story! I grew up in the early 70s riding my mini bike in the fields of Kings Branch creek and before it became Ridgmar Mall. The reason my dad came to Texas from North Carolina was to help build Consolidated (Lockheed-Martin).

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