Turntables and Roundhouses: Where Dinosaurs Danced

Huge 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 railyard, from T&P/MoPac/Union Pacific on the west to I&GN on the east, from Rock Island and Cotton Belt on the north to Katy and Fort Worth & Rio Grande on the south. And every railyard had a turntable and a roundhouse. The turntable is a round platform with tracks across its diameter, set in a pit in the ground. The turntable revolves so that a locomotive can be turned literally in its tracks, usually to direct it into the adjacent roundhouse, which is a circular or semicircular 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 google

This turntable is in the Union Pacific Davidson yard in west Fort Worth (formerly the Texas & Pacific yard). 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.

These photos were taken in 1938 inside the (un)roundhouse. Note the overhead crane on rollers, capable of lifting a locomotive. (Photos from University of Texas at Arlington Library Star-Telegram Collection.)

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

This aerial photo of the railyard 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 had been to photograph the pads. The dome of the convention center can be seen in the background.

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. Santa Fe’s turntable was about three blocks west but gone by 1952.

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 brothers John and Samuel Brasher, a family affair. The Brashers’ Bryan Street home put them just a short walk from their “office” at the Texas & Pacific railyard 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.

The roundhouse and adjoining machine shops were built in 1899 as T&P built its new passenger terminal at Main and Lancaster streets. Note that Thurber bricks were used.

The roundhouse and machine shops on the 1927 Sanborn map. (Rio Grande Street is today’s Vickery Boulevard.)

But the roundhouse was torn down and the turntable removed in 1928 as T&P opened its new Lancaster yard southwest of downtown.

On 8th Avenue at Robert Street where today is a post office were the roundhouse and turntable of the Fort Worth & Rio Grande railroad. The FW&RG was bought by the Frisco railroad.

Fort Worth & Rio Grande also had a roundhouse and turntable on Railroad Avenue (West Vickery Boulevard) west of the T&P reservation. These were gone by 1952.

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

katy freight turntable 52

This turntable south of Vickery Boulevard and east of Main Street near Tower 55 and Fort Worth Macaroni Company may have been Houston & Texas Central, although the Katy freight depot was just three hundred feet west on Vickery at Jones Street.

The St. Louis-Southwestern (Cotton Belt) railroad began serving Fort Worth in 1888.

The Cotton Belt a yard, with a turntable, was located north of the confluence of the two forks of the Trinity River and west of North Main Street.

Lastly, the circle labeled T is the footprint of the International & Great Northern turntable on the near East Side in 1952. The rectangles labeled 1 through 4 are the footprints of four concrete locomotive stalls of the roundhouse.

Could at least part of the I&GN turntable and roundhouse still exist?

Posts About Trains and Trolleys


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11 Responses to Turntables and Roundhouses: Where Dinosaurs Danced

  1. James, Scott says:

    I would like to find out when the Santa Fe Roundhouse in Sweetwater was decommission and also I would like to find out when the round house burnt down.

  2. Terry Morris says:

    You have researched and gathered a tremendous amount on the railroads around Ft Worth. I am a member of The Texas Westen Model Railroad Club in Forret Hill. And I’m building the Frisco 8th ave yard. I have footprint of the tracks a buildings, but not much on pictures.if you had anything of roundhouse or other bldgings in the yard.

  3. Geoffrey Reeder says:

    I retired from Union Pacific’s environmental remediation group. While cleaning up a site north of downtown we found an old turntable that we didn’t know existed. It was buried and we hit it with a trackhoe during an excavation. When I saw it I didn’t think it was a turntable because the walls were made of brick instead of concrete. It wasn’t until after it was completely exposed that we figured out what it was. It’s located adjacent to the east side of the levee where 5th street dead ends into the levee. It may not be visible any longer as I think it was covered again after I retired.

    • hometown says:

      Bingo. The Cotton Belt turntable was (is?) exactly where you locate it at the end of Northwest 5th Street east of the levee. You can see it in the map at this link by the late Pete Charlton. Thanks for that information.

  4. Another great article on an obscure part of Fort Worth history mostly forgotten.

    Here are a few comments that I hope will clear up a few things.

    FW&DC – Their yard and roundhouse area was called “Ninth Street Yard”. The FW&D was the last railroad to operate steam locomotives in and out of Fort Worth on a regular basis. Actually it wasn’t uncommon to see one of their 2-8-2 “Mikado” types switching at Ninth Street throughout the 1950s. They finally retired the last of their steam locomotives in August 1959 when the 409 operated a steam powered football special up to the Greenbelt Bowl in Childress. The roundhouse and turntable were retired after that with the turntable surviving until around the late 1960s.

    Santa Fe – To my knowledge the Santa Fe never had a roundhouse in Fort Worth, mainly because their massive railroad shops at Cleburne were located so close to Fort Worth. Later on in the late 1950s or early 1960s the Santa Fe did install a turntable at the southern throat of their downtown yard and passenger terminal on Jones Street so that they could turn engines without requiring them to be turned at Tower 55. The main beneficiary of this was the ANGELO passenger train (Fort Worth-Brownwood-San Angelo) which needed its diesel to be turned in Fort Worth each day. The turntable survived until the 1970s when it was moved to their yard out by Meacham Field. I’m not sure if this yard is legally in Saginaw or still in Fort Worth. Most railfans refer to it as Saginaw Yard.

    Fort Worth & Rio Grande – This was the Frisco’s old 8th Avenue Yard and roundhouse. I call it Frisco because the Frisco owned the FW&RG. They had a nice old rustic looking turntable and roundhouse out there that I would visit on any trip to Fort Worth. It was still there until the Frisco was merged into the Burlington Northern in 1980. After the merger 8th Street was no longer needed so the entire yard was closed and the roundhouse and turntable removed. As a matter of fact the entire Frisco switching yard was ripped up as well and the land sold for commercial development. The old roundhouse and turntable would have been great if it could have been saved and used by the Tarantula train.

    Katy – The Katy roundhouse was probably in the best overall condition of any Fort Worth roundhouse. It survived until the early 1980s, and was even leased to a railroad car repair company before it was razed. I heard rumors that it caught on fire which was why it was eventually torn down. I think it was razed sometime between 1980 and the UP takeover in 1988.

    Fort Worth & Western turntable at the FW Stockyards – This turntable was not from Fort Worth at all and was actually the ex-WF&NW turntable from the Katy’s “North Yard” in Wichita Falls. This is still a hot topic by some who know what happened but basically the turntable was still being used in WF to turn diesels. The Union Pacific had just taken over the Katy and was putting the line from Wichita Falls to Altus, Oklahoma up for bid which was eventually won by a new shortline called the Wichita, Tillman & Jackson Railroad. When the folks who would eventually win the bid inspected the facilities at North Yard prior to bidding, the turntable, sanding tower and diesel fueling rack were all still on site and were to be included in the sale. So the WTJ placed a bid on the property with these on site facilities in mind.

    Little did anyone know but on a weekend after the bid had been placed certain parties from Fort Worth came up and stripped the yard of all of these items. A large crane picked up the turntable and loaded it on a trailer, the sanding tower was torched off at the ground, and the diesel rack removed.

    The turntable then showed up at the Fort Worth Stockyards.

    The WTJ then won the bid and when they arrived in Wichita Falls to begin operation they discovered that they no longer had a way to turn a locomotive, no way to sand the engines except by hand, and no way to fuel their diesels either. Naturally their bid was based on everything still being there.

    Even today they have no way to turn their diesels, which requires them to always operate diesels back to back so that at least one is pointed south and one pointed north. The only locations on the WTJ where they can still turn a diesel is at their wyes at Frederick or Altus, Oklahoma.

    There may have later been some type of compensation from the UP with their lease since it was discovered that an unknown UP agent in their property department was the one responsible for the screw up. This all took place around 1991.

    The UP still operates trains up to the old Katy yard here in Wichita Falls about three times a week but they always send at least two units pointed in different directions as well.

    Most here in Wichita Falls have no idea what happened to our historic turntable, and most in Fort Worth have no idea of where the one at the stockyards came from or the mysterious act that took place one weekend when our’s simply walked off without anyone knowing about it.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks for your expertise, Steve. RE Santa Fe: I had seen a turntable on an old map and assumed there had once also been a roundhouse. I have made that correction.

  5. Mike Anderson says:

    Then there was the Roundhouse Cafe on Vickery Blvd. In the ’60s it was a favorite week-end late-night hangout for many of us Paschal High students after dates or nights out with the guys.

  6. 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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