When I was a little girl, my dad and I had a favorite pastime: riding the downtown “tunnel train.” The “tunnel train” was actually the M&O Subway that connected passengers from a large downtown parking lot to the Tandy Center, which was home to RadioShack headquarters. But, of course, my favorite part about Tandy Center was the train ride. Sometimes Dad would let us ride the subway back and forth a couple of times just because I asked. The mall and ice skating rink at Tandy Center were also pretty cool in the eyes of a five-year-old.
The subway has been gone for a long time now (since 2002) but its memory continues to enlist nostalgia from all who enjoyed it. This transit system’s life spanned nearly forty years, with its beginnings at Leonard’s Department Store in the early sixties. Leonard’s occupied the space Tandy Center (now City Place) eventually took over, from 1918 to 1967. Similar in size to a modern day Walmart, Leonards offered most everything you would need, from groceries to automotive parts, from chicken feed to kitchen appliances.
In 1963, Leonard’s decided that it needed a subway. Their parking lot was massive and not especially close to the actual store, and a subway would be the perfect way to transport shoppers from their vehicles to the air-conditioned indoors. Prior to this time, they operated a fleet of buses to transport their customers. But a subway was much more modern and exciting! The line ran about three-quarters of a mile, and less than a fifth of that (about 1,000 feet) went through the underground tunnel.
As a child, when Leonard’s was long gone, the tunnel seemed much longer. I can clearly remember the darkness pushing through the windows of the subway car and the rumbling sounds of the engine becoming tinny, all while sitting on my dad’s lap, who was finishing up his time at North Side High School when Leonard’s left town. I’m sure he had traveled on the “tunnel train” for decades before I came along, making this an adventure that spanned generations.
Originally, the subway began its journey at a terminal just northwest of 2nd Street (by the parking lot) and terminated its journey in the Leonard’s basement. When Tandy Center took over, the terminal was relocated near where the intersection of 1st Street and Taylor would be if Taylor ran all the way through and ended its journey near the Tandy entrance.
Fort Worth said farewell to the “tunnel train” in 2002. RadioShack was moving its headquarters out of the Tandy Center, which had been sold to PNL companies in 2001, and it no longer needed the subway. During its time, it was the only privately owned and operated subway line in the country. Part of the tunnel now runs beneath the Tarrant County College Trinity River campus, and the terminals are chained up to keep out all of those who love tunnels–train enthusiasts, zombies, and geocachers are all prohibited. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram took an adventurous trip into the tunnel this April, though, and you can watch a video about that experience here.
The photograph of Leonards comes from the Lester Strother Texas Metro Magazine collection. The Texas Metro was largely founded to publicize the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport and the many economic opportunities in the Southwest Metroplex. The collection includes 183 linear feet of articles and photographs from the magazine, as well as other grey literature.
-by Alexandra Traxinger Schütz