Subways & Railroad Crossings

  by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Trains. A fact of life in Newton, Kansas since 1871. Anyone who has spent any time in Newton has likely had to wait on a train and wondered can something else be done?  An overpass? or perhaps, a subway? Throughout late 1899 and early 1900, there seemed to be serious consideration into the idea of putting a subway or viaduct at one or several of the railroad crossings in Newton.

In September 1899, Newton City council passed  Ordinance No. 434, “granting Santa Fe permission to lay a subway across Main street for steam pipes connecting the Arcade and Clark buildings.”  Even though this did nothing to fix the traffic problems, maybe the idea of a vehicle subway was planted.

“The city officials this morning met with the ‘brass collars’ of the Santa Fe and talked a little while on street crossings. The latter talked favorably toward putting either viaducts or subways on First street and Broadway.” ( Evening Kansan Republican 8 August 1899)

Evening Kansan Republican 8 August 1899

“Had It Not Been for Her Grit”

In addition to the inconvenience for people trying to get across town, the intersections were dangerous, especially for horse drawn buggies.

One such incident was reported in May 1899. Mrs. Sam Bourne was driving south on Main when she had a collision at the Santa Fe crossing.  The paper noted, “had it not been for her grit, it might have ended seriously.”   Two engines were at the crossing, and Ed Slaymaker’s  horse became spooked. The horse ran against Mrs. Bourne’s horse, “and in a jiffy her rig was overturned.”  Mrs. Bourne was praised for preventing a runaway by holding onto the reins even though she was thrown from the buggy. Luckily she was not hurt. Horses and train engines were not a good combination. (Evening Kansan Republican 30 May 1899)

Main Street, Newton, Ks looking north across the railroad tracks.

“The Question of the Santa Fe Crossings”

Throughout the months of February and March 1900, the question of a subway at one or more of the crossings in Newton was considered by the City Council, Commercial Club and the Santa Fe Railroad.

The Commercial Club held a special meeting only for members January 31, 1900 “for the purpose of discussing the question of the Santa Fe crossings.” All members were required to attend and to be ready to “speak to the question intelligently.”

The Commercial Club further noted that

“there is need of immediate action in this line it is no long a question for discussion. No one realize this more than the officials of the Santa Fe . . . they have signified their intention of doing something as soon as the will of the people is ascertained. “

Following the meeting the members were instructed to talk to community members “in an effort to ascertain the sentiment of the people.”

The general consensus, even before the January 31 meeting was that “the disposal of the First street and Broadway or Seventh street crossings seems to be an easy matter, but Main street promises to be a more difficult matter.” 

Main Street, Newton, Ks looking south across the railroad tracks.

“The Greatest Objections”

In a report from the meeting in the February 1 issue of the Evening Kansan Republican, the editor shared some of the objections to the subway.

The strongest objections were regarding the Main street crossing. People were against anything that would ultimately result in the closing of Main Street. One stated reason was “it will spoil the appearance of the Main street of the city.”   In addition to changing the look of Newton’s Main Street, it “would divide the town almost as effectually as a stone wall.”  The City also was unwilling to assume any damages that might result to property adjacent to the proposed subway. Finally, the property owners around the area of the proposed subway had “the greatest objections.” They observed that the value of their property will suffer.

The editor of the Evening Kansan Republican replied to the business owners with a quip of his own. “On the other hand, the safety of life and limb museum be taken into consideration.”

There was a strong feeling that Santa Fe “should stay by the original contract and always keep open Main, First and Walnut street and Broadway.” Some suggested a subway or viaduct constructed near Main either from 4th or 5th streets.

The editor concluded his report “it is up to the people now to say what they want.”

At the regular meeting of the City Council on 1 February 1900, a committee of representatives from the Commercial Club including J.C. Nicholson, D.W. Wilcox, S. Lehman, reported to the city council. They had been meeting with the Santa Fe regarding a subway. The City appointed Williams, Spooner, and Bennett from the City to meet with these groups and report back “as soon as possible.”

Thoughts From the Street

Meanwhile, everyone had an idea or opinion of how to solve the problem.

An Elevator

One big concern was that Main street remain open. Some people had creative ideas to accomplish this.

J.R. Pruit offered the following as a solution to keep Main street open.

“An elevator on both sides of the track. Vehicles can be lowered to the subway, drive through, ‘ring’ the other elevator down, go up and drive off. He has not drafted the plans and specifications for the scheme yet.” (Evening Kansan Republican,  3 February 1900)

“You May Quote Me”

Others thought a subway was entirely unnecessary.

“You may quote me as being against a subway or viaduct on Main street. We don’t need one there. Did you ever hear of anyone being hurt there? Of course you didn’t. What accidents have happened in the vicinity were due entirely to the carelessness of the victims, and they didn’t happen on the crossing but in the yards. What we do need, as a time saver is a viaduct across from Fifth street.”  N. A. Mathis (Evening Kansan Republican, 26 March 1900)

“What do You Think of a Subway?”

The editor of Evening Kansan Republican posed this question to several men one cold, windy February evening just as a “long freight train was pulling over the crossing” at Main. The group of men, standing in the sleet and rain,  had businesses on the north side of the track. They were returning to their homes on the south side of the track for the evening. One merchant replied, “Oh, gives us anything in that line you can think of. We are not at all particular what it is.”  The editor could not help but notice that none of the businessmen had a business in the block just north of the track.

 Santa Fe’s Proposal

By March 1900, they had a proposal ironed out.  Mayor Young and Commercial Club President Hoisington met with Supt Dolan, J.H. Banker and Engineer Earl from the Santa Fe, “in regard to the proposed subway the company has offered to build.”

The proposal from the Santa Fe was as follows:

“The company will build a subway under its tracks and across vacant lots, commencing at East Seventh and ending on Broadway west of Kansas Avenue and will open a street from Broadway to Sixth.”

The estimated cost was $16,000. In return, the Santa Fe asked the City to close the Broadway and Walnut street crossings. “Main street and West First street was left for further discussion.” (Evening Kansan Republican, 17 March 1900)

The city council meeting on 3 May 1900 was “a long session and transacted much business. All members with Mayor Young, were present.”  The first order of business was a motion from the “railroad crossing committee” consisting of members of the city council and the commercial club.

A motion made by Mr. Spooner and carried unanimously,

“it is the sense of this committee that the proposition for a subway at Seventh street, submitted by the A.T. & S. F. Ry., does not furnish a practical and satisfactory solution to  the question involved and can not be recommended to the people.”

Second, . . . that a crossing should be constructed at right angles to the railroad at the point just west of the present freight depot, that the north and west approach be on Sixth street and the south and east approach be over the fractional block 58 to Pine and Fifth streets.”

The idea of a subway seemed to be finished.

“Nestled Away in Some Remote Corner”

Not everyone was satisfied with the outcome.  The editor of the Evening Kansan Republican printed a  conversation he had with several men who were not ready to let the matter rest. In the 22 December 1900 issue, he published a column entitled “Saturday Night Talks.”

He  described a conversation with several men. They noted that there had been several recent accidents at the Main street crossing, including one fatality, “yet we hear nothing about the subway.” 

One complained, “recently we have heard nothing about the matter. The whole subject seems to have wrapped itself in a slumber robe and has been nestled away in some remote corner of the council chamber.”

Another individual responded, “Well, the railroad was here first, I guess, and the town built on both sides of it. It wasn’t the fault of the railroad.” 

A friend challenged him on this. “Hold on now . . the city of Newton is a child of the railroad.  The railroad company laid it out on both sides of the track way back in 1871. It sold town lots and encouraged building other south as well as on the north side . . . If the city waits until the railroad voluntarily remedies the matter, it will wait a long time.”

After the editor faithfully reported the discussion he noted “that it is not the citizens of Newton alone who are interested in the subject. It interests every citizen of the county who, in the transaction of his business, is compelled to cross the tracks on Main.”

Continuing Discussion

Over the next few years, there would be subtle and not so subtle mentions in the Evening Kansan Republican.

“The Question of the Santa Fe Crossings”- 1901

In the January 30 issue of the Evening Newton Kansan, the editor again asked the question” “Has the proposition to build a subway or a viaduct at the Santa Fe crossing been laid on the table?”

Evening Kansan Republican, 30 January 1901

Subway Agitation Revived? 1902 Headline

“Subways are Needed” – 1904

The matter was again brought up in May 1904. Another committee was formed. It was noted that there remained strong feelings “among the councilmen . . . that Main street must be kept entirely open, no matter what subway plans are adopted.  The council recognizes the most imperative need of a subway crossing at Seventh street and West First.”

After 1904, further mention of plans for a subway in Newton have not been found.  Safety, however, continued to be a concern.

“The fool that rocks the boat has a close rival in the fellow who tries to cross ahead of a train.” 

The editor of the Evening Kansan Republican observed in September 1910 that

hardly a day passes but what there are narrow escapes on Main street where people who are foolhardy enough to cross just ahead of the train.”

He scolded his readers noting, “The gates are lowered . . .  for the protection of the public . . . but to watch the people who cross the tracks, one would think the people did not want any protection but wanted . . .more of an element of danger.”

He urged the readers to “exercise a little more judgement at the crossing.”

The railroad crossings at Main, Broadway and 1st street continue to be a challenge to Newton drivers 122 years later.


  • Evening Kansan Republican: 8 August 1899, 8 September 1899, 26 January 1900,  30 January 1900, 31 January 1900, 1 February 1900, 2 February 1900, 3 February 1900, 8 February 1900, 17 March 1900, 26 March 1900, 4 May 1900, 22 December 1900, 30 January 1901, 15 May 1902, 24 May 1904, 2 September 1910,

Historian, Mentor, Friend & Gentleman

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Our new exhibit, Memories in Miniature, is opening this weekend, February 17, 2018. One featured miniature is the model railway created by Dale Stewart.  Stewart began began working on the HO scale model in 1946 and created a fictional line that operated between Florence and Piedmont in Kansas. The collection was donated to HCHM after Stewart’s death in 2016.  A portion of the train model was installed for the exhibit by Gaylord Sanneman.

Dale Stewart was a 1950  graduate of Newton High. As a student he entered his pen and ink drawings focusing on the railroad in local competitions. He continued to create detailed drawings of trains throughout his life.  Stewart was in the U.S. Army during the Korean War as a non-commissioned officer. His career was as a newspaper editor, first for the El Dorado Times in Kansas and later the Idaho Statesman, Bois.  Beginning in 1970, he worked as the city editor for the Times-News in Twin Falls. His newspaper career spanned various transitions in the field of journalism including the hot metal, cold type  and the computerization of publishing.

His lifelong interest in all things railroad, and especially Santa Fe Railway in Kansas. was reflected in his art and model railroad.

An Extra Surprise”

Dale Stewart completed this pen and ink drawing in April 2008. He dedicated it to his friend and mentor who had recently passed away, Lloyd E. Stagner.

The drawing was inspired by a recollection of the late Lloyd E. Stagner of Newton, rail historian of the first order and retired Santa Fe employee.”

An Extra Surprise” in  Memory of Lloyd Stagner, 1922-2008, drawn by Dale Stewart, 4-08. HCHM Stewart Collection.

Dale Stewart writes on the back of the drawing:

“Having crossed Bridge 147A a short distance back, Extra 897 West starts up the stiffer grade leading to the divide between the drainage of the South Fork of the Cottonwood River and the Walnut River.  Engine 897 is fresh from a visit to the shop at Emporia.  Trailing it are 50-Odd empty petroleum tank cars en route to the refineries at Augusta and El Dorado, where 897 is assigned switching duties.  The 2-8-2 is one of Santa Fe’s first 15 of its type, leaving the Baldwin Works in 1903.  By mid-20th century, the 885 class is in its sunset years but still doing solid service. The rail fans and photographers on the rim of the out were no doubt surprised by the appearance of the older locomotive on the Santa Fe’s main freight line.  Bridge 147A carries the track over Kansas Highway 13, a scenic route through the Flint Hills pasture region.”

The Archives at HCHM houses the collections of both men, Lloyd E. Stagner and Dale Stewart.  An exhibit of Stewart’s art and his miniature train is on display February 2018 – December 2019.



  • “Obituary: Dale Stewart, Magic Valley Obituaries, 13 July 2016 accessed at, 8/12/2016.
  • Correspondence, Dale R. Stewart to Jane Jones, Archivist, HCHM, May 11, 2011. HCHM Curator Files, Dale Stewart.
  • Dale Stewart Collection Inventory, HCHM Curator Files.

“The Doodle-bug:” the Missouri Pacific Railroad in Harvey Co

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

The railroad is a huge part of daily life in Harvey County, from waiting at a crossing or hearing the long whistle, trains are a fact of life. The AT&SF Railroad has a strong history in Newton and Harvey County, but it was not the only railroad to provide much needed connections to the rest of the U.S.. The Missouri Pacific Railroad also has a long history in Harvey County. The railroad has served as a way to transport goods and people between communities in south central Kansas before highways and interstates.

In the spring of 1886, the St. Louis, Fort Scott & Wichita Railroad began building a line northwest from  El Dorado.  By summer, the tracks had reached Newton. The line was completed on 19 November 1886 in McPherson.

Missouri Pacific Depot, Hesston, ca. 1900, HCHM Photo Archives.

Missouri Pacific Depot, Hesston, ca. 1900, HCHM Photo Archives.

This 62 mile railroad became a part of the Missouri, Pacific Line with stations east of El Dorado, as well as in El Dorado.  Additional stations were located in Butler County at Oil Hill, Hopkins, Potwin, Brainerd, and Whitewater. In Harvey County, Annelly, McLain,  Newton, Trousdale (later Zimmerdale), and Hesston each had a Missouri Pacific Depot.

Missouri Pacific Depot, Hesston, 1920.  Photo taken by Lawrence E. Hauck, HCHM Photo Archives.

Missouri Pacific Depot, Hesston, 1920. Photo taken by Lawrence E. Hauck, HCHM Photo Archives.

The McPherson County towns of  Moundridge, and Elyria were stops with the line and ending in McPherson.

Missouri Pacific Railroad Map, drawn by S. Hackney, 3/1988.  HCHM Archives Flat Files, 14-6-A.

Missouri Pacific Railroad Map, drawn by S. Hackney, 3/1988. HCHM Archives Flat Files, 14-6-A.

In Newton, the depot was located along N. Kansas Ave at east 6th, which was about a half a mile east of the Santa Fe Depot on Main Street. A circular wooden water tower was located just north of the depot until the late 1920s. The tower was relocated south of east 1st due to increased automobile traffic.

Missouri Pacific Depot, east 6th, Newton, 1919. Note Water Tower in the background.  Building torn down in 1987.

Missouri Pacific Depot, east 6th, Newton, 1919. Note Water Tower in the background. Building torn down in 1987.

The “Mop” (Missouri Pacific) branch passenger train used original equipment through the late 1910s which included a small brooks steam locomotive with a high smokestack, a single combination U.S. Mail and baggage car and one passenger coach.  In the cab of the locomotive, the engineer and the fireman could barely see each other over the boiler head.  The switch to a diesel engine was made in the late 1940s.

G.E. Miller, train engineer "on the Doo-bug" (doodlebug). HCHM Photos

G.E. Miller, train engineer “on the Doo-bug” (doodlebug). HCHM Photos

The cars were made of wood and of the “open vestibule variety” and passengers had to “hang on for dear life” when the train was moving.

The “Mop” freight locomotive usually had low steam pressure at the stop in Newton.  As a result, the wet exhaust often “put nasty spots on nearby clothes lines” frustrating those that lived nearby.

Mop "mixed train daily" No. 756 at the Kansas Ave and 4th St. intersection, 1920.  Photo by Lawrence E. Hauck, HCHM Photos.

Mop “mixed train daily” No. 756 at the Kansas Ave and 4th St. intersection, 1920. Photo by Lawrence E. Hauck, HCHM Photos.

In 1924, the updated passenger Train No. 741 went from Newton to McPherson. At McPherson, travelers could board “the Doodlebug,” a Union Pacific branch McKeen  gasoline powered rail car, and continue to Lindsburg, Assaria and Salina.  At the time, this was the most efficient way to travel from Newton to Salina.

Missouri Pacific Passenger Train No. 742 crossing east 4th St., Newton, summer 1920.  Photo by Lawrence E. Hauck.

Missouri Pacific Passenger Train No. 742 crossing east 4th St., Newton, summer 1920. Photo by Lawrence E. Hauck.

The “doodlebug” left Newton daily at 10:23 and arrived in McPherson at 11:35 in the morning.  In the afternoon, the return trip started at 1:50 and arrived in Newton at 3:09. The Missouri Pacific passenger train continued to operate into the 1930s.

With improved highways and the increased use of cars, passenger service on the doodlebug became obsolete. By the 1950s, the route was “freight only.” Since then, the “modest railroad segment” has been an important mover of crude oil, grain, flour, lumber and other commodities for the businesses in the communities along the route.

The Missouri Pacific officially merged with the Union Pacific Railroad on 1 January 1997.