From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
In the year 1871 there was promoted a railroad, known as the Kansas Central. This was a narrow gauge railroad. The promoters were capitalists and business men of Leavenworth. Their names were Len Smith, a Mr. Dillon, Alexander Caldwell and others which was sure a welcome propect[sic] by most of this part of the country to furnish transportation for passengers, freight and mail service.
At that time most of the country was settled up and owned by young pioneers, ready and willing to sacrifice and give and take for the good of the country, and when the surveyors came through they were made welcome by most of the people with regard to building the road.
The public spirited men of Winchester behind the movement were: Squire Wilhelm, Lake Clark, the shoemaker, Ad Bromley, Rev. Dodds, Isaac Hull, and many farmers and their families.
The road was to be built from Leavenworth to Holton first. The people sure went to the polls and voted bonds to help build the road.
My uncle, Joe Fulton and my father sold the right-of-way through their land for $30 for each 80 and were glad to do so; and when the roadbed was built, an Irishman by the name of James Alexander, and my father, helped build it from Crooked Creek, west to the top of the hill, where No. 73 Highway is now. They always seemed proud that they had a part in helping to build a railroad, which was to help develop and make a country worth while.
In the 80's the road was extended to Onaga, then to Garrison and Clay Center and later on to Miltonvale.
The engines were all named after builders of the road. The passenger engines were named the "Caldwell" and the "Len Smith," the big freight engine was named the "Dillon."
The engines were fine looking --painted and striped with bright colors with large brass bands around the boiler; drive wheels were painted a bright red with drive rods white. The smoke pipes were the large funnel type and were built for wood and coal and the headlight was an arc lamp of lantern type. When they were on a siding waiting you would see the fireman with a handful waste wiping his engine, keeping it clean, and how proud he was of his engine! The first conductors I remember were Al Stokes and Mr. Hall. How proud they were of their coaches --keeping them fine and clean --for they were finely finished on the inside.
How we did enjoy being with these men --always pleasant, always had a smile --and a free ride for us boys from Winchester to Boyle --that is, if we got on board, and they did not see us; they would take us home and if not running too fast would drop us off in our father's field, and most times we lit all right.
The first engineer was known as "Buck." and his fireman would give us a long ride in the engine for a gallon of butter milk, and would put us off and see that we would light in the mud, and then laugh at us getting to our feet and wiping the mud out of our eyes. In the winter our joy was to see them buck the snow --sometimes they would be two days getting from Winchester to Boyle.
Sometimes it was the pleasure of father and mother to have Mr. Stokes with them for the night, as the train and engine were stuck in a snowdrift in our field. The farmers nearby would all get their scoop shovels and help them out; some would join the crowd and work west with them.
When the road was first built there was no telegraph system or operators. I well remember when they built the telegraph line --put in the poles and put up the wire. There were prairie thickens at that time and on a foggy morning they would rise and strike the wire and that meant a chicken for us --if we knew it.
The first weather service that I remember was out of Leavenworth; as there was no telegraph or phones, we would get the weather report from the side of the passenger coaches. There was a large weather sign about 36 inches square. If it was to rain, it would show a wet moon, if dry weather, a dry moon, and the great argument was whether it was a wet or dry moon, as we did not know the difference, which was which. In those days when the sign in the moon failed us and it seemed that everything was going to dry and burn up, the people would set a day for prayer and ask God for rain.
I shall never forget the men who had a part in keeping up the roadbed. Uncle James Carney, to my father and us boys, a true christian friend, to his men in this charge, always so kind and pleasant; and when he had a low joint, and there were many at that time in the spring of the year, he would tell his men to jack up the rail and drive a shim, as the tie was so deep in the mud, it was almost lost. Uncle Billy Barkley with his snow white hair, how faithful he was and so kind to Mr. and Mrs. Carney and all. He had no family, but a great christian. As he pumped the water for the engines at Crooked Creek, father and I would go and visit with him. He was a great lover of a good dog and always had one with him, if possible. He was asked one time what kind of dog that was, and his answer was "he is half Shepherd, half Bull and half Newfoundland."
In later years the road was widened out to standard gauge and new men came, new management, new rules, new engineers, new steel rails, from 30 to 70 and heavier. Then we came to know our friends, e. Kierman, Eph Bristow, Jim Lake, the conductor, Buckflop and Keeton, engineers, and Brinkerhoff, general superintendent at Leavenworth, Mr. Dawson and Mr. Hedrick, men that braved the storms of many a cold night of snow and sleet to keep the trains moving. Always on the job. Some are on the retired list, some are in the great beyond, and some still in the service, and many others who helped build the L. K. & W. and helped build up the country and enjoy the many blessings, and when we read, in our local papers, sometimes in regard to stopping the operation of the road, we ponder and think, is it possible after so many years of faithful service, from the general manager down to the section hand, for over 60 years, can this be.