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.
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.
The McPherson County towns of Moundridge, and Elyria were stops with the line and ending in McPherson.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- “Newton and the Missouri Pacific 1886-1986,” by S. Hackney, with photos by Lawrence E. Hauck, 3/1988. Flat Files, 14-6-A, HCHM Archives.