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Discover Mid-America —February 2006

Trains haven’t
lost their charm
or appeal

by Ken Weyand

By the 1830s, business leaders in Mid-America, noting the success of the Baltimore & Ohio and other lines in Pennsylvania and New York, were pushing hard for railroads. Hundreds of small towns, eager to get aboard the prosperity train, were coming down with “railroad fever.”

In 1837, Illinois with a population of 380,000, had authorized 1,300 miles of railroads. A financial panic that year wiped out all but the strongest lines. But good news was on its way.

In 1851, the U.S. government issued the first railroad land grant, with the state of Illinois as the chief benefactor. Nearly 2.6 million acres of land was granted for the building of the Illinois Central Railroad. Illinois got a sweetheart deal, which called for seven percent of the railroad’s gross proceeds to be paid to the state in perpetuity. The Illinois Central became the world’s longest railroad, stretching 700 miles through the state. The line was completed in 1856.

By 1860, Chicago had eleven different railroads, making the city an important link between east and west. As the Civil War loomed, the north had developed a strong railroad network, forging a link to the Midwest and outpacing the southern states — an ominous factor that would help doom the Confederate cause. Despite battles that resulted in destroyed bridges and torn-up track in the border areas, major railroads prospered during the Civil War, and paid increased dividends to stockholders. As the war went on, however, southern railroads were forced to tear up branch lines to get rails for more important routes.

Meanwhile, a wave of enthusiasm developed for a rail link to the Pacific. One of the first proponents of the railroad was Theodore Judah, who surveyed routes in California and urged legislators and investors to make the dream a reality. His words hit home with four Sacramento merchants: grocer Leland Stanford, dry goods retailer Charles Crocker, and two hardware men, Mark Hopkins and Collis P. Huntington. They would become the “Big Four” that would complete the transcontinental railway in 1869.

Across Missouri


The importance of rail transport is shown in this 1904 map of Scotland County, MO, served by two railroads and very few highways. (from The State of Missouri, by Walter Williams)

The first railroad west of the Mississippi River, the Pacific Railroad, originated in 1849 in St. Louis. City leaders secured a Missouri charter for the line to extend “from St. Louis to the western boundary of Missouri and thence to the Pacific Ocean.”

Plans were delayed by a cholera epidemic and a major fire in the business district. Despite the setbacks, a temporary organization was formed the next year, which raised $100,000 for route surveys. A permanent organization was formed, state aid secured and stock sold. By 1851, a route had been selected, land purchased and tunnels constructed. Rails, locomotives and passenger cars were shipped through New Orleans and brought up the river by steamboat.

On Dec. 9, 1852, a passenger train made its initial run, the first to be operated west of the Mississippi River. The five-mile line ran from Fourteenth Street to Cheltenham. By July 1853, the line was extended 38 miles to Franklin, now Pacific, MO. During the next 19 months the line was extended to Washington, MO. In late 1855, it reached Jefferson City.

West of Jefferson City, the line veered away from the river. But a fleet of steamboats connected with the trains at Jefferson City to transport passengers and freight upriver to Kansas City. The railroad would advertise that it had cut the travel time between the two cities to 50 hours!

Other Missouri railroads started during this period were the St. Louis & Iron Mountain, the Cairo & Fulton, the Southwest Branch of the Pacific Railroad, the North Missouri, and the Hannibal & St. Joseph.

By 1858, the Pacific Railroad reached Tipton, MO, the eastern terminus of the “Overland Mail” service from San Francisco. The initial eastbound run on Sept. 16 took 24 days, 18 hours and 26 minutes, about ten days faster than the route through the Isthmus of Panama.

The Civil War interrupted railroad building, including Kansas City’s first line, which reached Independence, MO, on Aug. 1, 1864. Missouri and other states saw their railroad progress halted by guerrillas who burned railway bridges and destroyed track. However, by the end of the war Kansas City was connected to St. Louis by rail. On Sept. 20, 1865, a train left Kansas City at 3 a.m. and arrived in St. Louis at 5 p.m.

In 1873, the Texas & Pacific extended to Dallas. Another line, the Cairo & Fulton, linked with the Iron Mountain and also provided service to Texas.

The completion of the Hannibal Bridge in 1869 had already established Kansas City as a rail center. The Eads Bridge in St. Louis, completed in 1874, linked the eastern railroads to that city. In Kansas City, the Pacific Railroad (now called the Missouri Pacific) connected with the new Kansas Pacific, later to become the Union Pacific.

Railroads in other states


Interior of observation car at KC Rail Experience. (photo courtesy of Union Station)

The Union Pacific was Nebraska’s first railroad, one of five to eventually serve the state. The railroad began laying track across the state in July 1865, two years after the groundbreaking in Omaha. By 1866, the line had reached North Platte, and crossed into Wyoming Territory by the end of 1867. At its peak, the UP operated more than 1,358 miles of track in Nebraska. As in most Midwestern states, Nebraska railroads were responsible for the creation of many of its towns, which grew up from platted at the station points.

By 1869, Iowa was crisscrossed by five major lines, enabling travelers from eastern states to connect to the Union Pacific and proceed to California. The Great Burlington Route advertised the fare from Davenport to Council Bluffs at $9.68, with Palace Car charges extra.

Kansas’ first railroad was the Elwood & Marysville, a five-mile line built in 1859 from Elwood to Wathena. By 1865, the Kansas Pacific had completed a line from Kansas City to near Topeka. In 1873, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad had laid track from Atchison to the state line southwest of Great Bend, thus claiming a large land grant. Stalled by the Panic of 1873, it resumed construction in 1875, extending its line to near Pueblo, CO.

From Zephyrs to Doodlebugs

The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad began in the 1840s. Originating in Chicago, it expanded to fulfill its name within three years, then grew to serve a large part of Mid-America. The line became known as a “granger road,” serving agricultural areas by using lesser branches.

The CB&Q, later known as the Burlington Route, was notable in that throughout its history it has been the only Class I U.S. railroad to constantly pay dividends and never run into debt or default on a loan. The CB&Q phased out steam power and converted to diesels in the 1930s. About this same time it introduced the Zephyrs: streamlined passenger trains that provided fast, comfortable service. The railroad’s slogan “Way of the Zephyrs” failed to attract enough passengers in a declining market, and the last one was discontinued when Amtrak came on the scene.

In 1970, the Burlington merged with the Great Northern, Northern Pacific and the Spokane, Portland and Seattle railroads to form the Burlington Northern Railroad.

As the “granger railroads” struggled to serve their markets in the mid-1900s, many of them, including the Burlington Route, made use of the “doodlebug.” This was a self-propelled gas-electric railroad car, which provided minimal passenger and mail service on the lightly used branch lines. A gas or diesel engine generated electricity, which drove the axles.

My hometown, about four miles from our family farm in northeastern Missouri, was appropriately named Granger, and it grew up around the CB&Q depot. In its heyday, Granger sported a hotel, bank, car repair facility, a barbershop, a couple of cafes and several stores. In the late 1800s, farmers brought cattle to Granger, corralled them in pens near the railroad track and shipped them out on the CB&Q.

When I was a boy in the 1940s, regular trains served the little town. Then, as highway traffic increased, the trains stopped coming. In their place was a “doodlebug,” carrying mail and a few passengers. By the time I finished high school, the doodlebug was gone, and the station was dismantled a few years later.

The rails and ties gave way to weeds as the Burlington Route abandoned the line. Now the village, like scores of others along the old rail routes, is a ghost town. Weeds, junk cars, and derelict houses decorate abandoned lots. Dogs doze in the streets, well aware that no traffic will disturb them.

Rail history at Union Station

On Sept. 23, 2005, a new permanent attraction opened at Union Station in Kansas City, MO. The KC Rail Experience includes interactive displays, a locomotive simulator, train artifacts and vintage train cars.


At "Grandpa's Attic," where a complex N-scale track layout is shaping up, volunteers (from left) Bob Gibson and Russell Watson work with Model Train Coordinator Tom Williams to assemble tracks. When finished, the layout will include many Kansas City landmarks, including Union Station. (photo by Ken Weyand)

First phase of the exhibit cost $2.4 million. The money was contributed by several railroads and private donors, along with financing from the station’s capital project fund. The contributing railroads — Kansas City Southern, BNSF, Canadian National, Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific — also donated historical items and artifacts.

Information is available about important personalities who contributed to railroad history, from a rail baron to a “gandy dancer” who worked on the tracks. Lifelike “ghosts from the past” include the Union Station’s designer, its long-time stationmaster, a Harvey girl, World War II sailors, a movie star and a jazz musician.

Interactive displays include train bells and whistles, and a working telegraph to send messages down the line.

The KC Rail Experience also includes a working model train display, built and manned by volunteers from four model train clubs in an area called “Grandpa’s Attic.” When finished, the display will depict Union Station and downtown Kansas City in the late 1940s, with dozens of N-scale cars. Tom Williams, Model Train Coordinator, directs several volunteers.

“We expect to have the project nearly finished by September 2006,” he said. Williams is paid for a 24-hour workweek. “But I usually volunteer another 24 hours a week,” he said.

The KC Rail Experience is drawing more visitors to Union Station. Sarah Biles, public relations specialist, said the exhibit was attracting more visitors each week.

“We’re delighted to see so many school groups,” she said. “But all ages appreciate the exhibits that showcase our area’s railroad heritage.”

Exhibit hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $4.95 per person. A $13.95 destination package includes the KC Rail Experience, Science City, traveling exhibits, a planetarium, and the Extreme Screen movie theater.

For more information, call 816-460-2020 or visit www.unionstation.org.

Ken Weyand can be contacted at kweyand1@kc.rr.com.



Mid-America railroad attractions

Railroad museums and excursion lines in Mid-America give visitors an idea of what old-time railroading was like. The following is a sample. Dates, admissions, etc. are subject to change. Call before driving.

ARKANSAS

Arkansas Railroad Museum. Restored locomotive from Cotton Belt line. Pine Bluff. Open Mon.-Sat. 8:30-3. Free admission. Annual Railroadiana Model Train Meet first Saturday in April. Adults $5, children 6-12 $2. 501-541-1819

Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway. Eureka Springs. 55-minute, 4-mile round-trip on line built in 1883. Lunch and dinner trains run April-October. Adults $10, children 4-11 $5. Under 4 free. 501-253-9623, 253-9677

Fort Smith Trolley Museum. Six streetcars restored and in process, along with other railroad memorabilia. May-October. Trolley rides: Adults $2, children $1. 501-783-0205, 783-1237

Reader Railroad. Oldest all-steam railroad in North America (1889), located between Camden and Prescott. 6 miles. Two steam locomotives. Adults $6, children 4-11 $3.60. Under 4 free. 501-624-6881

COLORADO

Colorado Railroad Museum. Largest railroad museum in Rocky Mountains. Rare artifacts of railroads that served Colorado and adjoining states in 1880 depot in Golden. Daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas, 9-5 (to 6 p.m. in June, July, and August). Adults $7, children under 16 $4, seniors $6. Family ticket for parents and children under 16: $16. 303-279-4591, 800-365-6263

Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad. Steam-powered open-car excursion train departs at 10 a.m. from Cripple Creek Museum. Historic mines, mountain scenery on route. May 15-June 13 weekends, trains depart every 35 minutes. June 14-Labor Day, trains depart daily every 35 minutes. Labor Day to Oct. 15, trains depart every hour. Adults $9, seniors 65 and over $8.50, children under 13 $5. 719-689-2640

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Round-trip steam train on 45-mile route from Durango to Silverton and return. Call for reservations and current schedule. Silverton; adults $42.70; children 5-11 $21.45 (under 5 free if not occupying seat); parlor car $73.45. 970-247-2733

Forney Transportation Museum. Steam locomotives, business cars, cabooses, dining car, paintings, rare automobiles at 1416 Platte St., Denver. Mon.-Sat. 9-5. Adults $7, seniors $6, children 11-15 $4.50, children 5-10 $3.50 (under 5 free). 303-433-3643

Fort Collins Municipal Railway. Restored trolley runs on 3-mile round trip in Fort Collins. Noon to 5 p.m. weekends and holidays, May through Sept., weather permitting. Adults $1, children (through age 12) 50 cents (under 2 free), age 60 and over 75 cents. 303-224-5372

Georgetown Loop Railroad. 6-mile round-trip from either Georgetown or Silver Plume on open excursion train. Daily, Memorial Day weekend through first weekend in October. For schedules and fairs, call 303-569-2403 (in season), 800-691-4386, 303-670-1686 (Denver, reservations year-round)

Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad. Open-car excursion train on 11.5 miles of former Colorado & Southern track between Leadville and Climax. Highest in U.S. Memorial Day to mid-June, daily at 1 p.m.; mid-June to Labor Day, daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.; Labor Day to Oct. 1, weekdays at 1 p.m., weekends at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Adults $26.50, children 4-12 $15. 719-486-3936

Manitou & Pike’s Peak Railway. Highest cog railway in the world & one of only two in North America. 18-mile round trip from Manitou Springs to Pike’s Peak. Daily, May through Oct., June-Aug, eight departures from 8 a.m. to 5:20 p.m. May, Sept., and Oct., departures at 9:20 a.m. and 1:20 p.m. Reservations necessary. Adults $28, children 5-11 $16 (under 2 free if held on lap). Add $1 to rates between July 1-Aug. 21. 719-685-5401, 719-685-1045 (off-season)

Platte Valley Trolley. Replica of old-time open streetcar operated by Denver Rail Heritage Society. April and May, except Mondays, every half hour 11-3; Memorial Day to Labor Day, daily, every half hour 11-4. Adults $3, children 3-12 and seniors $1.1-hour excursion departs 12:30, Thurs. thru Sun. Adults $5, children under 13 $3, age 60 and over $3. 303-458-6255

Royal Gorge Scenic Railway and Museum. Open car diesel train runs from Canon City 1.5 miles to rim of Royal Gorge Canyon and back. Steam Train and Antique Car Museum are on grounds. March-Dec., 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. during peak season, 9-5 during off-season. Call for excursion rates and schedule. 888-724-5748

The Ski Train. Denver to Winter Park, a 2-hour, 57-minute excursion with coaches, club cars, and café-lounge cars. Mid-Dec. to mid-April, weekends, leave Denver Union Station 7:15 a.m., leave Winter Park 4:15 p.m. Adults $49 coach, $74 club car. Children 2 and under free. 303-296-4754

Tiny Town. Oldest kid-size village and railroad in the U.S. Small open-car steam train gives visitors tour of miniature town with more than 100 buildings in Denver area. Open daily 10-5, Memorial Day thru Labor Day. Weekends 10-5 May, Sept. & Oct. only. Adults $3, children 2-12 $2, under 2 free. Train fare $1. 303-697-6829

ILLINOIS

Museum of Science and Industry. Several locomotives, large O scale model railroad. 57th St. and Lake Shore Dr., Chicago. Open daily except Christmas Day. Adults $9, children 3-11, $5, seniors 65 and over, $7.50. (Chicago residents slightly lower rates) 312-684-1414

Trolley Plaza. Open-air streetcar repro takes 45-minute excursion. Rockford. Early June to late August. Call for rates and times. 815-987-8894, 987-8893

Fox River Trolley Museum. One-mile excursion on electric line in Elgin. Mother’s Day to first Sun. in Nov. Sun. 11-5. Sat. 11-5 in July, Aug. & Oct. Adults $3.50, children 3-11 and seniors 65 and over, $2. All day tickets $7. 847-697-4676

Illinois Railway Museum. Large collection of steam and diesel trains, interurbans, streetcars. (Said to be America’s largest railway museum.) Union. 2006 schedule begins April 6. Various admissions depending on steam and diesel train schedules. Some days free. 815-923-4000, 800-244-7245

Valley View Model Railroad. HO scale railroad with 8 scale miles of track and several trains in Union. Memorial Day to first weekend in Oct. Wed., Sat., Sun. & holidays. Call for admissions and schedules. 815-923-4135

IOWA

Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad. Former interurban line between Des Moines and Fort Dodge restored between Boone and Wolf Crossing. One hour and 45-minute round trip from Boone. Memorial Day weekend through Oct. weekends & holidays. Dinner and dessert trains, caboose rides, etc. Call for fares and schedules. 515-432-4249

Fort Madison, Farmington & Western Railroad. Two-mile round-trip near Donnellson. Doodlebug and locomotive, other displays. Memorial Day, weekends through Oct. Call for fares and schedules. 319-837-6689

Iowa Star Clipper Dinner Train. Four-course dinner on 1950s-era dining cars during 3-hour excursion through northeast Iowa, originating in Waverly. Call for schedules and fares. 319-352-5467, 800-525-4773

Midwest Central Railroad. At Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, 5-day annual event ending Labor Day in Mt. Pleasant. Steam passenger trains operate on one-mile track. Small fare charged in addition to Reunion admission. Under 6 free. 319-385-2912

Midwest Electric Railway. Operates on 1.5-mile loop during Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant. Small fare in addition to Reunion admission. 319-385-8937

Railswest Railroad Museum and HO Model Railroad. Museum in former railroad Rock Island depot in Council Bluffs. HO scale model railroad, UP boxcar and mail car, Rock Island caboose. April 1-Oct. 31, plus last weekend in Nov. & four weekends in Dec.. Wed. thru Sat.10-4, Sun. 1-4.. Adults $7, children 6-12 $5, 5 and younger free. 712-322-0612, 323-5182

Santa Fe Depot National Historic District. Former Santa Fe depot in Fort Madison. Museum of rail history, firefighting equipment, fountain pens. Other displays include 1993 flood, caboose. May-Sept. Call for hours and admission. 319-372-7661

Trainland U.S.A. O gauge layout depicts railroad development throughout U.S. Located near Colfax. Memorial Day to Labor Day daily, 10-6. Also open Fri., Sat. & Sun. after Thanksgiving, noon-6 p.m. Adults $4.50, children 4-12 $2 (under 4 free). Age 55 and over $3.50. 515-674-3813

KANSAS

Midland Railway. Excursion train makes 7-mile round-trip from Baldwin City depot. Mid-May through Oct., weekends and holidays, trains depart at 11 a.m. and 1 and 3:30 p.m. Norwood (morning) excursion: adults $10, children 4-11, $5, under 4 free. Afternoon excursions: adults $15, children 4-11, $7 and under 4 free. 913-594-6982, 371-3410

MISSOURI

Belton, Grandview and Kansas City Railroad. Excursion train takes five mile, 45-minute round-trip from Belton, MO in 1920s-era open passenger coach, excursion car, caboose, or locomotive. May through early October. Various fares. 816-331-0630


One of the locomotives on display in Belton, MO. (photo by Ron Johnson)

Branson Scenic Railway. 21-mile excursions offered on Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad. Most trips take 1.75 hours in dome cars, lounge cars, and coaches. Mid-March to mid-Dec., Wed.-Sat. Leave Branson 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. April-Oct., trains also run Mondays and Tuesdays, plus Sundays of holiday weekends and October Sundays. Additional train at 4:30 p.m. late May to Labor Day and through most of Oct. Adults $21.75, children 3-12 $11.75. 800-287-2462, 417-334-6110

Frisco Railroad Museum. Frisco-related artifacts and memorabilia at 543 E. Commercial St., Springfield. Tues.-Sat. 10-5. Adults $2, children 12 and under $1. 417-866-7573

KC Rail Experience. At Union Station in Kansas City. Exhibit of train cars, locomotive simulator, old-time train memorabilia, model railroad. 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sat., noon to 5 p.m. Sun. $4.95 admission. 616-460-2020

Museum of Transportation. One of the largest collections of locomotives and cars in the U.S. St. Louis. Open daily 9-5; till 7 p.m. Thursday; 1-5 Sunday. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Adults $4, children 5-12 $2 (under 5 free), age 65 and over $2. 314-965-7998

Silver Dollar City. 1890s theme park offers open-car trains with German engines on 20-minute ride. Mid-April to Dec. 30, daily; closed Mondays and Tuesdays before May 20 and after Oct. 30. Free with park admission. 417-338-8100. 800-952-6626 for tickets.

Six Flags Over Mid-America. Open-car, 1.25 mile, steam-powered excursion train around perimeter of theme park in Eureka. Free with park admission. Weekends only in April, May, Sept. & Oct. Daily June-Aug. 314-938-4800

St. Louis Chain of Rocks Railroad. Three-mile excursion line on Riverview Blvd. Between Burlington Northern Junction and Mississippi River Dam No. 27. Boards at Briscoe Station on Riverview Blvd. April-Oct., second Sunday of the month. Departures at 1, 2, 3, and 4 p.m. Fare is free; donations accepted. 314-752-3148

St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway. Excursion line operates on Jackson & Southern Railroad, on three routes originating in Jackson. Round trips take 1 hour, 2 hours, and 5 hours. April-Oct. Saturdays and holidays leave Jackson for Gordonville at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., dinner train to Dutchtown at 5; Sundays to Gordonville at 1 p.m.. Murder mystery train to Delta operates once a month). Sightseeing fares: adults $16, children 3-12, $8. Dinner train, $26.50/$19 ($12/$6 without dinner); mystery train, $40/$32.50. Children 2 and under free. 314-243-1688

Wabash, Frisco & Pacific Mini-Steam Tourist Railway. 12-inch gauge steam-powered open-car railroad over more than a mile of track at Glencoe. Sundays May-Oct., 11:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. weather permitting. Fare $3 donation (children under 3 free). 314-587-3538

NEBRASKA

Fremont & Elkhorn Valley Railroad. Nebraska’s state railroad museum. Trains run over Chicago & North Western rails 15 miles from Fremont to Hooper. Sundays May-Oct.; Saturdays June-Oct. 1 p.m. Reservations advised. Adults $12 first class, $8 tourist. Children $8/$6. 402-727-0615, 800-942-7245

Omaha Zoo Railroad. Steam train with open coaches circles grounds of Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. Weekends, April-Oct. Daily June-Aug. Round-trip faire: adults $3, children 2-12 $2 (under 2 free). 402-733-8401, 733-8400 (recorded info)

Union Pacific Historical Museum. Includes re-creation of Lincoln’s funeral car, Golden Spike artifacts, O scale model railroad. 200 Pearl Street, Council Bluffs. Mon.-Fri., 9-5. Free. 402-271-3530

OKLAHOMA

Cimarron Valley Railroad Museum. Private museum in former Santa Fe station in Cushing.. By chance or appointment. Free, donations welcome. 918-225-1657

Oklahoma Railway Museum. Operated by volunteers at 3400 NE Grand, Oklahoma City. Excursions given on KATY line 3rd Sat. of each month. Adult fare: $8; children 12 and under, $5 (under 3 free). Saturdays, 10-4. 405-424-8222

Waynoka Depot Museum. Former Santa Fe depot features train memorabilia plus Harvey House items, model train. Noon to 5 Tues.-Fri., 6-8 p.m. Fri. & Sat. 2-4, other times by appt. $2 admission. 405-824-5871


Discover Mid-America founder and Senior Contributing Editor Ken Weyand files regular reports on notable Midwest destinations. He can be reached at kweyand1@kc.rr.com.


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