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RAILROADS in Graham County 
1888 - 1998

 
Artist Mike Boss: Remembering Union Pacific's Plainville Branch
by Mary Ridgway
All material copyrighted - Copyright© 1998 All Rights Reserved. 

     As railroad lines are absorbed, abandoned, and disappear, there are those who ensure that the history of Kansas railroads is not forgotten. Railroad history artist Michael Boss is working to document and preserve the railroad history of western Kansas. Having lived most of his life in Graham County, he has a special interest in that section of the Plainville Branch. The historic depots of Graham County (Penokee, Morland, Hill City and Bogue) as well as other depots and railroad history along the Plainville Branch are featured in a series of paintings done by Boss.

Union Pacific "Plainville Branch"
Starting at Salina & Ending at Oakley
     The Plainville Branch was a prominent rail line in central and northwestern Kansas and important to the economic development of the region. It was originally created for servicing large Kansas farming and stockyard centers in remote areas of Kansas. The new line out of Salina would ship fuel (coal), building materials and other merchandise into remote areas of Kansas, and ship agricultural and livestock products out of those areas.  In addition, the railroad stockholders fostered the economic development of western Kansas by encouraging people to relocate to towns along the line - incentive being that the cost of land in western Kansas was 1/10th of what if cost in the eastern part of the state.

     In 1886, the Salina, Lincoln and Western Railway Company began construction on the first section of an 108 mile long track running north westward from Salina to five miles west of Plainville. About fifteen towns located along the line and the train would stop in each of them. 
     Other railroad companies were quickly becoming established in western Kansas. The Oakley and Colby Railroad built a 21 mile long stretch of track north westward from Oakley to Colby in the same year the S.L.&W. opened. Two years later, in 1888, the Lincoln and Colorado Railway company connected the two lines with a 96 mile stretch of track. When all three railroad lines were connected and completed, a golden spike ceremony was held in celebration of the accomplishment.
     Plainville was established as the division point between Salina and Colby, and the three lines operated together until the 1890s. Ten year government loan notes became due and the entire 225 mile long line became subject to foreclosure. In October, 1898 Union Pacific Railroad assumed ownership of all three railroad lines which created U.P.'s longest branch line. 
     The line was in full operation until a few years ago including the awesome sight of hundreds of westbound empty coal and grain hoppers pulled by SD-60s and DASH 8 engines. After damage to track located between Salina and Plainville during the floods of 1993, U.P.R.R. determined that rebuilding that section of the branch line would not be cost effective. The section was dismantled in 1995 and the only remaining part of the line was from Plainville to Colby and Oakley until it too was dismantled in 1998.

     Much of the history of western Kansas is closely tied to the development of the Plainville Branch Line. The railroads kept the interior of Kansas connected to the rest of the country. The railroad was symbolic of advancing technology, romance and wealth. Many western Kansans fondly revere the Plainville Branch and the memories it spawned. Part of the Plainville Branch's beloved progeny was the "Jitney."
"The Jitney: Penokee, Kansas 1957"
     One of Mike Boss' Graham County artworks is called "The Jitney: Penokee, Kansas 1957". Pictured is a Pullman motorcar stopped at the Penokee Union Pacific depot on its daily route from Oakley to Plainville.
     The term "jitney" is defined as an American colloquialism meaning "a motor vehicle that carries passengers for a small fare." Union Pacific first exhibited the 74 passenger motorcar and its accompanying baggage/freight car at Penokee, Kansas in Nov. 28, 1928. Soon thereafter, the "Jitneys" were hard at work on the Plainville Branch. Throughout their 30 years of operation on the line, two of the motorcars kept the same train numbers: 533 westbound and 534 eastbound. Automobiles eventually became a more popular mode of travel and eventually displaced the passenger rail service. May 31, 1958 was the last day of service between Oakley and Salina for the venerable "Jitneys."
     Penokee's (originally named Reford) first depot was destroyed by a fire that resulted from being struck by lightning. During the blaze, the faithful telegraph agent was at his post frantically notifying headquarters that his depot was burning. 
The Penokee Depot at Ellis Kansas
The replacement depot, constructed in 1916, is a rare "pagoda" style building. It was moved by Hays businessman Richard Schmidt in 1994 to the grounds of the Ellis Railroad Museum where preservation and restoration of the building and its furnishings are progressing with the help of the Kansas Pacific Railway Association.

Ghost RAILROADS of Kansas
     This wintery cover painting on this issue of Ghost Railroads of Kansas is another Mike Boss work showing the original Lincoln and Colorado Morland depot in 1908, with westbound freight pulled by 827. The 4-4-0 American engine was built in 1887 by Union Pacific and was most known for pulling the $30,000 "Pomeroy Special" (a gigantic load of building supplies) to Hill City in 1888. The mill shown to the left was called the Morland Milling and Grain Co. Neither the mill nor the original depot are in existence today. On February 18, 1909 a fire spread from the mill and elevator and ultimately consumed the depot.

      The Plainville Branch was an economic link to larger shipping centers. The cattle ranches of western Kansas depended on it. Every Saturday for decades, the "Cattleman's Special," train number 190, departed Colby for Salina. All along the Plainville Branch the train picked up preloaded cattle cars and transported them, via Salina, to Kansas City for Monday morning trade.
"The Cattlemen's Special, Morland, Kansas 1927"
       Mike Boss' painting "The Cattlemen's Special, Morland, Kansas 1927" shows us a night of the new moon where a 400 class steam engine backs into the siding to pick up a livestock shipment. The setting and year for the painting was suggested by the artist's father, Warren Boss, who in the 1920s rode that train to Kansas City on numerous occasions.
     The "Special" was most often headed up by 400 Class 2-8-0 Consolidations. Consolidation engines numbers 486 and 489 were the mainstays on the branch line. They were impressive engines to see puffing along the Kansas landscape. Engine 489, which was manufactured by Baldwin in 1903, had 57 inch driving wheels and a 6,000 gallon capacity tender.
     The Morland depot featured in this Boss's artwork is the depot that was rebuilt in 1909. Its exterior is currently being restored by the Morland community and may eventually be listed in the register of Kansas historic buildings. The Morland depot will be painted in the original standard Union Pacific colors of colonial yellow and light brown.

Bogue, Kansas 1925
     An original painting by Boss called "Bogue, Kansas: 1925" shows a view looking east down a row of box cars toward sunset with a 400 class engine working the yard. A full moon rising foretells a clear, cold, Kansas night. 
     The small town of Bogue seemed to have a share of newsworthy moments at its depot as well as U.P. gossip. In April of 1904 a local man believed that the woman he saw through the Bogue depot window was the same person responsible for persuading his wife to leave him. In his rage he fired shots through and into the depot waiting room, hitting the woman and killing her. 
     During the days when Bogue was new and developing, a hopeful, but naive small town newspaper editor of the Bogue Signal boasted that, 
     "The U.P.R.R. Co. knows a good thing when it sees it. It has reserved six lots in block 49 in the City of Bogue on which it intends to erect a large building in the spring. It is thought that the company will move it's headquarters from Omaha to this place and that the building is for that purpose." - Feb 7, 1889
     "The very latest tip on the intention of the R.R. officials was obtained from reliable sources. Within the next 60 days, the ground will be broken for a 19-stall roundhouse at Bogue." - April 25, 1889
     Bogue never had a roundhouse, nor is it particularly conceivable that U.P. would ever consider moving its Nebraska headquarters from the main line to a small town on a branch line. Bogue did however gets it's own depot. Many years later, the building was taken out of service and sold. It has been relocated to private property south of the town. The building is maintained by its present owner.

Hill City Depot
     Boss did a memorial piece for the Hill City depot. It shows  the depot at sunrise, during the post WWII era, as a west bound Consolidated with freight pulls into town to unload.
     A friendly, informal relationship with the railroad crews was relatively unheard of on the main lines, but many people in small towns on this branch line had a cordial and personal relationship with the railroad crews. Buck's Grill was a well known 24-hour restaurant located in Hill City about a mile from the tracks. During the 1950's fully loaded trains would pull into town about 2 a.m.  Upon arriving the engineer would lay on the whistle as a signal for the  merchants to come unload the train,  and for Buck to come pick up the railroad crew. If Buck didn't show up, the local police did.
     Hill City's depot was in operation for about 100 years (from 1888 to about 1988). After being taken out of service, the depot was purchased and torn down around 1990. The timber was used by the owner to repair of other buildings.
     With the exception of the Hill City depot, all of the depots built on the Graham County portion of the line still exist. When originally constructed, the first four depots (Bogue, Hill City, Reford (Penokee) and Morland) were built by Lincoln and Colorado. The replacement depots at Morland and Penokee were built by Union Pacific.
     As railroad lines are absorbed, abandoned and disappear, there are those who insure that the history of Kansas railroads is not forgotten.  Mike Boss's artwork is working to document and preserve that railroad history of western Kansas for us all.
 
 

 
 
Kansas artist Michael Boss is a resident of Hill City, Kansas. He has been professionally creating aviation, space and railroad history for over twenty years. He attended Southern Illinois University and Kansas State University but attributes most of his art training to the tutelage of renowned commercial illustrator and fine artist Jack Leynnwood. Michael Boss' art is in many private, corporate and public collections including the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, Az., Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C. and Union Pacific Railroad, Omaha, Nebraska.

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