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Columbus Towers




        In the 1950s, controlling train traffic on the five Columbus railroads fell to the dispatchers, train directors, operators and switch tenders spread over twenty-five locations around Columbus.  At the heart of the network were the towers some being interlocking towers and others employing switchtenders to manually throw the track switches.  The term “towers” implies a two story building situated alongside the tracks.  In most cases that is true, however, in a few cases the building was actually a single story or the function was located in a more distant building such as a yard master’s office.

        Twelve of the towers were located at junctions where one railroad crossed another.  The remaining towers controlled entrances to rail yards, crossovers on the mainline or points were single track transitioned to double track.


        Like so many railroad advances the interlock plant was a reaction to safety problems.  The railroads needed a failsafe method to align complicated track switches and coordinate that with the signals given the trainmen.  The interlock was a way to ensure the multiple moving parts of switches and signals were moved in the proper sequence to ensure safe operation of the trains.  The proceed signal could not be given to the trainmen until all the switches were properly aligned.

        There were at least three ways to control switches with interlocking plants.  A mechanical connection using pipes and levers often referred to as an "armstrong" plant.  It could take a lot of muscle for the operator to move the levers.  Another type of plant, the electro-pneumatic, moved the switches parts with air pressure.  This was much easier on the operator.  A third type of plant was electric switch machine.

        Typically the interlocking plant was installed in a two story building or "tower".  The first floor was for equipment.  The towerman or operator worked on the second floor.  The second floor perch had the added advantage of giving the operator a clear view of his domain. However, there were several variations as you will see in the individual descriptions for each operator location in Columbus.


        The dispatcher had overall responsibility for the operation of trains over a large section of the railroad.  He would issue train orders to the operators who would then align the switches and signals and pass the orders to the train crews.  The dispatcher had to maintain the big picture determining when trains moved and making sure that high priority trains like passenger trains, mail trains and high value merchandise trains were given preference.

Train director

        The train director sat between the dispatcher and the operator in high traffic situations.  There was a train director located at US Tower, for example, that directed train movement into and out of Columbus Union Station. 


        The operator was responsible for aligning the switches, setting the signals, recording the train movement, transcribing train orders and passing the orders to the trainmen using a train order hoop.  He, and occasionally she, also inspected the passing train for defects, shoveled coal into the furnace for heat and swept the floor.


        Towers that didn’t have an interlocking plant often had switch tenders that work under the direction of the operator.  The switch tender had a small shack where he stayed during the quiet times.  The operator would communicate with the switch tender by loud speaker who would then align the switches. They would be out in all weather, all times of the day tending to their duties

Building Terminology

        It has been difficult nailing down the correct terminology for these railroad control points I am referring to as “towers”.  Different railroads used different terminology and it is easy to confuse function with a physical building.  All the towers, dispatcher locations and other locations along the railroad like hump offices and depots had a name, and almost always, a two letter telegraph identifier.  The PRR typically referred to a tower by name which was the name of the local village or in larger cities the closest street.  Sometimes it was by the name of the railroad it was crossing but typically not its 1950's name but rather the railroads 19th Century name like “Miami Crossing” or “Valley Crossing”. 

        The C&O referred to its towers as a cabin as in “HV Cabin” with “HV” being the telegraph call sign for a particular tower.  The B&O called one tower “US Tower”.  “US” were the telegraph call letters, but putting the word tower in the name was a little unusual. Even within a specific railroad the naming convention was not always consistent.  

The Selects   

        The first of the two selects at the top of the page provide an overview list of the Columbus area towers.  The second select illustrates through drawings the towers used by each of the five railroads. 

        Down the right column are selects for detailed information and photos of the individual towers and other operator locations.  The title of each page will be the name and telegraph call letters. In some cases the tower went by two names.  Under the name-call letter title will be the tower’s function. 

        Corrections and additions are most welcome and should be sent to columbusrailroads.com at columbusrr@att.net.

East Side


US Tower

Cleveland Ave

Alum Creek

East Columbus


West Side

High Street

Dennison Ave.

Olentangy (HV Cabin)



Scioto (LM Cabin)

B&O Crossing

Miami Crossing

North Side

NYC Yard Office-CD

Fifth Ave. (NYC).


Fields Ave.

CW Tower

JO Tower

South Side


Valley Crossing

Frankfort St.




HX Cabin