Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad

by John Hinson

Crawford tower
Photograph 4/60, by Dr. J W F Scrimgeour

Crawford tower, in the state of Wisconsin, was located where a branch of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul & Pacific Railroad to Marquette, Iowa, crossed the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy main line.

This view looks north towards Prarie du Chien along the Burlington company's main line. The double track main line is only single for a short distance between here and Ports (behind the photographer). The signals outside the box serving both directions are Train Order signals.

Standing on the landing at the top of the stairs is tower operator Allan M Caya, who was on first trick (early shift). Forty-two years on, Allan remembered some exciting days working at Crawford tower.

During the winter, three men were needed to keep the switches clear for the interlocking and during a snowstorm or ice storm, and this was no easy task. Allan and the other men were riding on a rail-mounted motorcar (like the one parked on the left in the picture) with trailer from the Prarie Du Chien depot to Crawford preparing to relieve the operator. As the car was going over the last crossing in Prarie, it hit an ice chunk that had recently fallen from one of the fast Zephyr trains. This sent himself and the others off the car and trailer with Allan landing in a snowdrift face first. In that accident, one man broke his arm and the another broke a leg, just through a lump of ice.

In the spring and fall the tower became infested with snakes. Bull snakes, timber rattle snakes, and spotted adders were the typical species that dared to mess with the operator. One day Allan had just parked his car to the east of the tower and north of the Milwaukee tracks and started walking down the Milwaukee tracks to the diamond. All of a sudden, a 6 foot long bull snake curled up in front of him. So Allan walked back to his car, got his .410 shotgun, marched back to the snake, and shot it. That day the snake learned that you don't scare the operator because you don't know what the operator will do to you in return!

Interior of Crawford tower
Photograph 4/60, by Dr. J W F Scrimgeour

This interior shot shows the 24-lever interlocking machine, built by the Union Switch & Signal Company.

Power frame in Crawford tower
Photograph 4/60, by Dr. J W F Scrimgeour

At the far end of the frame, just visible in the previous view, is a Federal Signal Company miniature lever frame working the pointwork at Ports by electric power, installed in 1916.

Signal board at Crawford
Photograph 4/60, by Dr. J W F Scrimgeour

A closer view of the signal board shows the layout. On the left is the double to single connection at Ports, together with a connecting spur to the Milwaukee, worked from the power frame. To the right is the crossing with the Milwaukee line, and the resumption of double track. The mechanical levers also work points on the Milwaukee company's line where the spur from Ports connects.

Conway tower opened in 1903, and closed in 1963 after the abandonment of the Milwaukee company's branch. The line was thereafter controlled remotely by Centralised Traffic Control.

Additional notes by Samuel T Weber, grandson of Allan M Caya

About the photographs

Comments about this article should be addressed to John Hinson