The Topeka and Northwestern Railroad Company was incorporated
under the general laws of the State of Kansas, June 9, 1904, to
construct, maintain and operate a standard gauge railroad and a
telegraph line from Topeka to Marysville, KS.
A gang of Italians had laid the track south out of Onaga in January
1906. They reached a point about one-half mile out of town. Here
they were met with a force of about 140 Japanese workers who had
been laying the track from Topeka this way; and the connection
of the two pieces of track was made on the August Wegner farm.
A large crowd gathered to see the wonderful track-laying machine
and witness the time when the tracks would be completed, and trains
would be coming in from the south. On January 14, 1906, at five
o'clock in the afternoon, the last tie was laid; the last spike
was driven. Thus the greatest event in the history of Onaga had
There had been a question as to whether or not the railroad company
would be able to comply with their agreement to have trains running
to Onaga by February 23, 1906, the time allotted when the company
would receive or forfeit the $10,000 bonds voted by the City. At
this time, the western Union Telegraph Company was putting in poles
and stretching wires, and preparing for an office in Onaga.
The depot was located at the intersection of Second Street and
Clifton Street. It had a freight station, ticket office, express
agency headquarters, and a railroad telephone. When the railroad
was finished freight could be received and delivered in any quantity.
Southwest of the depot, not far from Hise Creek, was a well and
windmill to furnish water for the steam trains.
The first train reaching Onaga over the new railroad was comprised
of two work trains coupled together and arrived Monday, January
15, 1906. Conductors Lehman and McDaniel were in charge. In charge
of Engine No. 712 were Engineer Dolson and Fireman Carl; and in
charge of Engine No. 645 were Engineer Kemp and Fireman McHenry.
The brakemen were Mills, Steury, Gomo, and Fogge.
On a Saturday afternoon in the latter part of January, through
the courtesy of conductor McDaniels who ran one of the work trains
on the new road, about 20 citizens of Onaga enjoyed a trip to the
new town of emmett. The train left about 12:30 and returned about
4 o'clock, bringing with it the bunk coaches and material cars
of the Western Union Telegraph construction gang. The trains at
this time were running at 20 miles per hour. The excursionists
were all agreeably surprised at the good condition of the track
and the easy, smooth manner in which the cars glided along. On
February 5, 1906, the traffic over the Topeka and Northwestern
was opened to the public. That was a red letter day. The first
train from Topeka to Onaga over the new line carried the Topeka
Commercial Club, Marshall's Bank and a jolly crowd of sightseers.
Onaga gave the party a royal reception and all appeared to be delighted
with the wonderful opportunities for vast improvements the new
road will open.
In July 1906, Mr. George B. Keleker of Frankfort drove from there
to Onaga over the right- of-way. He described the work: "the
grading is all done with teams of horses and mules. The big steam
shovel is at work on one of the big hills at the Chris Ladner place
and it is a sight worth seeing. The ponderous shovel scoops up
about one-half a wagon load of dirt from the hillside at each scoop,
and swinging sideways empties it into a wagon, and when the two
scoopsful of dirt have been emptied into the wagon, the driver
of the team hurries away with it. After dumping it at the proper
place he returns for another load. A large number of teams are
used in connection with the steam shovel, and a vast body of dirt
is removed in a day.
There is a camp of nearly 100 men at work just this side of Onaga,
a large camp just a little farther this way, about 25 men working
on the steam shovel, a large camp near the county line and Irish
Creek and three camps between there and Frankfort. When the steam
shovel encounters a rock that is too large, a blast of dynamite
is used and the work proceeds without delay. Another description
of the building of the railroad is taken from the Onaga Herald
July 26, 1906 - This account was copied from the Frankfort Review:
Edward Kolterman came up from Onaga and gave this information.
The big steam shovel is located on his farm, at one of the biggest
cuts to be made on the line. The work so far being done is to dig
the dirt out of the hill and load it on wagons which haul it to
the bottom of the hill being cut into; and while this work is necessarily
somewhat slow, they have already filled in several feet. As soon
as the material can be gotten on the ground the trestle work will
be put in. Then dinkey cars take the place of wagons for hauling.
the trestlework will be made of any kind of timber, principally
poles and is not taken down as the work progresses, but is left
in the embankment.
To supply the water that is needed for the engines that operate
the steam shovel, a well has been dug near a creek and a large
steam pump forces the water to the shovel pumps, a distance of
nearly a mile, through pipes. The work of grading has been begun
at the end of the spur that was built for nearly a mile this side
of Onaga, and as fast as the railroad bed is completed the rails
will be laid so that material can be gott3en to the more difficult
portions of the work as rapidly as possible. In march 1907, all
construction wo9rk stopped due to a shortage in the financial system
of the Union Pacific. It was stated that in six more weeks all
of the roadbed would have been ready for ties and rails. The work
resumed again in the fall. It was fall 1909, before the rails got
to Lillis; and by 1910, the line was completed to Marysville. The
Fourth Subdivision of the Union Pacific consists of 251.8 miles
of trackage from Menoken, 4.9 miles west of Topeka, to Grand Island,
Nebraska., by way of Onaga, Upland, and Marysville, KS., and Hastings,
Ne br. the first segment from Menoken to Upland, a distance of
70 miles, was known as the Topeka Branch. the second portion of
this subdivision comprises 181.9 miles between Upland and Grand
Island. At Hastings the subdivision joins the Hastings Branch of
the "Gibbon Cutoff: of the Nebraska Division, affording a
direct route to the west and northwest over the Union Pacific main
line. mostly through freight between Kansas City and points west
is moved over this route which, however, has been "freight
only" for a number of years. The line climbs very gradually
as it continues northwestward, from 899 feet above sea level at
Menoken to 1,104 feet at Onaga to 1,864 feet at Grand Island. The
sign on the depot read 1,109 feet, however, according to records
in Marysville, it was 1,104 feet between the rails on the west
side of the depot.
when the train service was inaugurated over the Marysville-Topeka
cutoff in 1910, there were two mixed trains each way daily except
Sunday. In 1911, passenger service was begun with two motor cars.
this new passenger route shortened the distance from Kansas City
to Cheyenne, Wyoming, by 100 miles.
Building of the cutoff was one of the most expensive railroad
jobs in Kansas. the terrain was very rough and big cuts and fills
were necessary. the hills along the right-of-way were full of flinty
rock and much blasting was necessary.
All new depots along the way were painted straw color. The yards
around the stations were covered with Sherman Hill gravel from
Along the south side of the railroad track in Onaga was a well
equipped stockyard with shed and scales for loading and unloading
cattle for the surrounding farms. Long ago many farmers drove their
cattle and hogs from their farms to the stockyards.
The track, from the beginning, was well made for heavy freight.
the rails at that time were of the heavy 72-pound type. these served
for a long time, but were replaced by the 90-pound rails. Then
in March 1974 many new changes and improvements were announced.
Some of the new projects call for longer passing tracks to handle
longer trains. the new passing tracks will be extended from 6,000
or 7,000 feet to 13,000 feet. The 90-pound rails in the passing
tracks will be replaced by 133-pound rails, as are used on the
main track. These rails are welded and are about one-fourth mile
Long ago steam train engines class 400 series were used. They
were replaced by the 200 class, next the 2200's, 5000's, and 9000
class. The 9000's presented a beautiful sight of brute strength
as they came from the west on any of the uphill grades on a clear,
cold morning as the Kansas breeze blew the smoke and steam from
the train. The diesel type were put in permanent use beginning
in 1955. there were a few of the 39,000 class used but they were
not as successful as the 9000's.
Onaga, from the beginning, has owed her existence to the railroads.
It was said that an Onaga merchant had sold $10,000 worth of merchandise
to contractors and working men while the road was being built south
of the city. The hotels and restaurants, as well as the grocery
and clothing stores, were helped much by the railroad men. During
World War II, when gasoline and automobile tires were rationed,
many people took advantage of the passenger service of the railroad.
Many times the passenger car was crowded and people stood in the
aisles of the train or rode in the baggage car until there was
room to sit. A source of recreation for people on Sunday afternoon
was to be at the depot to see who dame in on the train and who
During both wars, troop trains of service men used this track
day and night. In time of floods, many trains- especially passenger
trains - were rerouted over this line from other railroad systems.
Now a familiar sight is the long train of over a hundred cars carrying
coal from Wyoming to the Jeffrey Energy Center near Emmett.
In 1950, this track had the best in signal systems and was classed
as the fastest single stretch of track in the United States. Now,
when finished, there will be centralized traffic controlled electronic
signals and switches to permit trains to enter and leave the main
line at high speed.