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 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. 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.

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.

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.

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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8 Responses to Turntables and Roundhouses: Where Dinosaurs Danced

  1. 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.

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