About the Santa Fe Historical Society


"Almost busted, b'gosh!"
A little known bump in the progress of the AT&SF Ry. Co
1869 - 1873

By D. K. Spencer

(Excerpts of articles by Ava Betz, and C. V. Mills, of Lamar (CO) Daily News used in the Centennial Edition of May 19-23, 1986)


James Marshal in "Santa Fe, the Railroad that Built an Empire", published by Random House in 1945.


Milepost information from Larry R. Green - greenlr@juno.com

The AT&SF Railway Coompany was incorporated in Topeka, Kansas February 11, 1859 by Colonel Cyrus K. Holliday as president, but it was ten years before a steam engine had trackage to leave Topeka. This first trip was the Wakarusa Creek Picnic Special taking picnickers on a 30 minute trip seven miles from Topeka, at a speed of 14 miles per hour, according to James Marshal in "Santa Fe, the Railroad that Built an Empire".

By 1870 the line was under construction for the 130 miles to Newton. With the modern track laying and maintenance machinery of today, it seems impossible to build a railroad without it. However, in those days the work was mostly by brawn. There was little machinery. Picks, shovels, and plows to cut through the hills; horse drawn scrapers made the fills. To make a curve, rail was cut into short lengths, new holes drilled by hand, and bolted together. No rail bending machines here. Rails and ties were carried by hand, and secured by muscles using spike mauls, and wrenches for bolts and nuts. Men with pry bars aligned the track to the proper gauge.

The Santa Fe Trail and the Arkansas River was their guide when they left Newton on May 1, 1872 heading for Colorado, estimated to be 340 miles away. The supervising engineer was Albert Alonzo Robinson and the construction foreman was J. D. (Pete) Criley. There was a requirement in the Kansas land grant (2,000,000 acres spread over 300 miles) the Colorado state line had to be achieved by March 1, 1873, or the grant would be voided.

In the beginning they laid a mile a day, except on Mondays, when a half mile was the norm allowing for hangovers from Sunday "rest days". The day after payday was even worse, averaging about 500 yards of new track.

However, knowing that deep winter and frozen ground made construction impossible, it became imperative to reach the Colorado state line no later than late December, the historical time when severe blizzards usually started.

As the crew settled into a rhythm, they picked up speed and were laying three miles of track a day. They were in Hutchinson by June 14; Great Bend July 15; August 8, west of Larned; September 19, in Dodge City, and had extended the line over 300 miles in 230 days.

Quite a feat, even under perfect conditions, but weather and other delays slowed the work somewhat. On July 23, a prairie gale blew three cars off the track at Raymond. On July 30 the westbound work train was held up at Ellinwood by desperadoes. The wildness of Dodge City was a problem, a story unto itself.

By Thanksgiving Day, the grader crew had arrived at the site the railroad's surveyor said was the Kansas-Colorado state line, and a tent community was set up known as State Line City. The actual trackage arrived on December 22. At dusk that day, a surveyor drove a wooden stake into the ground, with a sign reading "Kansas" on the east end, and "Colorado" on the west end.

"Home for Christmas, boys," yelled Pete, "work train leaves in the morning." The men gathered the remaining rail and ties in a pile, and retired to their tents to pack and celebrate. The work train, crammed with most of the men left the next morning, but Pete was in his tent blissfully catching up on his sleep.

Hours later he was awakened by Robinson who had a government surveyor in tow advising they were four miles short of the actual state line. With the main crew gone, and very little rail and ties on hand, as well as manpower, they were in a quandary. With the government man leading the way, the skeleton crew graded ahead to the point designated by the surveyor.

An important man with the crew was the telegrapher to keep in contact with headquarters. He called for a work train to be sent out to State Line City, to pick up Criley and Robinson, and what ever men were still there, and to bring whatever manpower they could find. The job was to return east to tear out four miles of sidings to get the necessary rail and ties, for the final trackage. By dusk of December 28, 1872 the actual Colorado line was reached, and Pete drove the last spike.

They were 5 yards into Colorado at this point, and all available rail and ties were now in place, and a blizzard was in the making. The work train engine crossed into Colorado, and to celebrate, drinks were hoisted, and buffalo steaks were fried on the fireman's coal scoop, in the manner that engine men heated meals in those days. State Line City (later Sargent, still later Trail City in 1885) was also moved to the new end-of-rail at MP 471.9, and the land grant was secure.

In April 1873 the line was built across the Arkansas River reaching Old Granada MP 481.5 on July 5 1873. A nationwide financial panic stopped the progress, and the expected surge of settlers did not become reality, so for two years Old Granada became the western terminus of the line, complete with a three stall roundhouse and turn table, as well as other structures, and stock yards for cattle from area ranches, or trail herds from the New Goodnight Trail.

New Granada MP 485.3 was established in 1888, when Old Granada was abandoned to avoid paying bonds that were taken out to improve the city. Old Granada became the headquarters for the famous XY ranch, and as a town, faded into obscurity.

Rail revenue came from shipping of cattle, buffalo hides, and bones. From Dodge City, in the winter of 1872-73 Charlie Rath and Bob Wright shipped 200,000 buffalo hides worth $1 to $3 apiece, and 200 cases of frozen tongues and hindquarters, to New York and Chicago restaurants. There was a constant stockpile on hand of 40,000 hides worth around $100,000. It took 100 bleached buffalo skeletons to make a ton of bones, and the collectors received $8.00 for each ton. Other revenue came from the travels of a few trappers, gold prospectors, and land seekers, but it was fleeting at best, so in September 1875 they started moving west, reaching Pueblo in 1876.

The Santa Fe published brochures by the thousands which painted grandiose verbal pictures of the Golden West available along the Arkansas Valley route, from Missouri to Colorado and New Mexico, of which settlers would find irresistible. Land sold between $1.50 to $8.00 per acre, and credit was available for eleven years at 7 per cent interest, or 20 per cent off if paid in cash. The availability of land takes us into my next story:


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