Onaga, Kansas
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train_illustration

 

KANSAS CENTRAL RAILWAY -
LATER THE L. K. & W.

 

(FROM THE HISTORY OF ONAGA AND ......)

The original directors of the Kansas Central Railway Company were Leonard T. Smith, Lucien Scott, Thomas Carney, Levi Wilson, Paul E. Havens, William Marbin, H. L. Newman, and W. H. Gillett. They each planned to invest $50,000 to $100,000, but additional funds would be needed from local areas. Elections were held in various counties.

On August 15, 1871, Leavenworth County citizens voted to aid the railroad. Jackson County, which was to have forty miles of track, approved $160,000 aid - $60,000 of that amount was to be paid when they reached Holton, $50,000 if they completed a branch line to Netawaka, and the final $50,000 when they reached the west line of the county. Jefferson and Grasshopper Townships in Jefferson County offered $25,000 and $40,000, respectively. Pottawatomie County soundly defeated a $325,000 bond issue. Vienna Township mustered sufficient votes for bonds. In an election in August 1876, Mill Creek Township joined Vienna Township in voting bonds; $13,000 would be granted when the road reached Onaga, and $7,000 when the west line of the county was reached.

On September 11, 1871, the first engine was ordered from the Baldwin Locomotive Works at Philadelphia. It was called "The Leavenworth", and could pull twelve passenger cars carrying 400 people at forty miles per hour. A notice for bids on the grading, masonry, and bridging for the first division of ten miles was issued the first week in October. The narrow gauge Kansas Central was a three-foot railroad, and the plan was to build sharper curves, up to a radius of 478 feet; also steeper grades, a grade of seventy-five feet to the mile. Due to using lighter road stock, they planned to use thirty pounds to the yard rail. In January of 1872, the equipment began arriving in Leavenworth. The engines weighed about twelve and one-half tons each. They had four drivers and a two-wheeled truck, a wheel base of eleven feet, eleven and one-half inches, and an overall length of thirty-five feet, four inches for engine and tender. They could pull about 512 gross tons on level, or 164 tons on a forty feet to the mile grade. The passenger and smoking cars, which could carry thirty-four passengers, were beautiful inside and out; the seating arrangement had double seats on the left and single seats on the right for half the car, with the opposite arrangement at the back. They were outfitted with the latest Miller platforms and Westinghouse atmospheric brakes.

The first excursion was held April 5, 1872, when two passenger coaches and a smoking car, pulled by the "Leavenworth", carried 150 people from Leavenworth to Hund Station, a distance of eight miles, in thirty-three minutes.

Progress of the roadbed building was slow at first because of the first fifteen miles of high bluffs. Heavy rains also caused some delay. After one year, the tracks were approaching Winchester at about one mile per day, with 1,500 men at work. When the Kansas Central reached Grasshopper Falls (now Valley Falls) on June 20, 1872, a big 4th of July excursion was planned. Two trains carrying 700 people made the round trip, with fares of one dollar for adults and fifty cents for children. The first regular schedule was put in operation. Daily trains, except for Sundays, made the round trip journey, leaving Leavenworth at 9:13 a.m., and arriving at Grasshopper Falls at 11:40; leaving the Falls at 12:10 and arriving at Leavenworth at 2:32 p.m.

Unless construction reached Holton by August 15, $60,000 would be forfeited, but the railroad arrived on August 11, and a big celebration was held in Holton on August 22. The fare from Holton to Leavenworth for a one-way ticket was $2.25, at four cents a mile. the company had made plans to build west at the rate of at least one hundred miles per year. First plans were to go to the western border of Kansas; later plans were for the railroad to go on into Colorado, where they would connect with the Denver and Rio Grande at Denver. Due to lack of funds, it was five years before the Kansas Central could advance west from Holton.

Over-speculation in railroad building contributed to the panic of 1873. Business was dull, money scarce, and taxes high. Some businesses were failing, but the Kansas Central reported that in 1873 they had shipped, from Holton, 239 cars of hogs, corn, oats, wheat, barley, potatoes, flour, meal, bran, cattle and mules, a total of 4,409,307 pounds. They also shipped 1,000,000 pounds of way freight. In carload lots, the freight cost was eight cents per 100 pounds; in lesser amounts the cost was 25 cents per hundred pounds. The passenger business consisted of 1,188 adults, 38 children and 312 excursion tickets. On March 13, 1874, they began operating single train service each way.

After almost five years from August 1872 to June 1877, the Kansas Central began to move west again. By September 23, the first stretch of line was completed to Circleville. The construction workers were given, in addition to their regular pay, a demijohn of whiskey at the end of each day's work. In 1872, the workers had a strike because the construction contractors hadn't paid them their wages due to lack of funds. The ringleaders were arrested and the men went back to work. In September, 1877, another strike occurred when the construction contractors were two months behind in paying the workers. A leader of the strikers was shot and killed before the men went back to work. Onaga, twenty-eight miles from Holton, was reached in December, 1877.

The company received $13,000 of the $20,000 voted, but never collected the other $7,000 because once again they ran out of money to build any further. when work was begun again, the road was fourteen miles west of Onaga by August 14. By the middle of September, an additional five miles brought the line to Butler City (Blaine) a new Irish settlement. In November, President Smith purchased a town site on the Blue River to be called Garrison. He planned to have the road built there by midwinter so he started work on a hotel to be ready by the time the railroad reached the town.

The Kansas Central reached Garrison by the end of July, 1880, Clay Center by Christmas, and Miltonvale, 165.39 miles from Leavenworth, on April 1, 1882. No attempt ever seemed to be made to extend the line any further, although plans called for another 300 miles. It cost the company $328,804 to complete this last three years of construction from Onaga.

When the L. K. & W. closed on January 10, 1935, twenty-four towns along the line were left without train service.

An annual report of 1886, reports the wage scale of Kansas Central employees and is listed below by job, number of employees in the job, and wages by month (designated by "M") or wages by day (designated by "D").

Job
Number of Employees
Wages

Daily (D) or Monthly (M)

Clerks
10
$54.32
M
Station Agents
18
$54.00
M
Mechanics
1
$4.17
D
Conductors
5
$3.22
D
Engineers
10
$3.75
D
Brakemen
18
$2.53
D
Flagmen
4
$2.17
D
Section Men
145
$1.38
D
Laborers
13
$1.36
D
Misc. Help
16
$1.32
D

Some of the street names in Onaga were the first names of the original directors of the Kansas Central Railway Company.

 


 

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