Free enamel pin when you buy any two Atlas Obscura products. Shop now.

Groom, Texas

The Leaning Tower of Texas

This water tower slanted at an uncomfortable angle off the old Route 66 was an ingenious marketing ploy. 

Despite a population of 574 residents and its location in the middle of nowhere, the town of Groom, Texas has nearly as many unique attributes as it does people.

These include a small stretch of the original Route 66, the site of the plot of Cross Canadian Ragweed’s song “42 miles,” the seventh-largest freestanding cross in the world (at 190 feet), and a strange leaning water tower slanted at an uncomfortable angle.

This water tower lies right alongside the former path of Route 66, which has since been paved over to create US Interstate 40. During the early and mid 20th century, passersby on the Mother Road were intrigued by the severe tilt of the tower, asking themselves what on Earth could have caused it. A crashing plane? An earthquake? A giant tornado?

In reality, it was the work of a heavy-duty vehicle and a bulldozer. Ralph Britten, a man who wanted to start up a truck stop and restaurant off Route 66 in Groom, bought the water tower from the town of Lefors as an ingenious marketing technique to attract new visitors. He towed the enormous thing 34 miles to Groom, wrote “Britten USA” on top, and then, using a bulldozer, elevated two of its legs off the ground, dangling them in midair without support, so that the water tower made an 80 degree angle with the ground.

This helped his business immeasurably. It would catch the eye of every passing motorist on the route for years, many of them becoming terrified that the tower was in the process of collapsing. This played right into Britten’s hand. Worried route-takers often swerved off the road and into his truck stop, shouting “watch out! That tower’s about to fall!” Britten responded that it had been like that for years, and then asked them to sit down and buy food and a drink. 

Britten’s manipulation of the tower did, however, require sufficient knowledge of physics. If the water tower were completely empty or completely full, its center of mass would be directly in the middle of the can, making it topple when slanted. So Britten filled it only partially, so that the low level of water would place the can’s center of mass near its base, directly above the two supporting legs, keeping it aloft.

Unfortunately, after many years of success, Britten’s truck stop burned down in a devastating fire, closing down all sales. Despite this unfortunate event, the leaning water tower is still one of the most photographed oddities on the way out west.