I am a walker, sometimes bike rider, and curious. On a walk several weeks ago, along a very nice walking trail nearby, I found that the trail was being extended towards the North. Being my curious self I ventured along the new construction route to see where it would go. Along the way, a short distance past the beginning of new construction, I realized that I was walking on an old rail roadbed. I asked one of the workers what railroad it was and was told it was from "long ago".
Now, long ago can mean so many things. I remember a person in Greece telling me that a set of ruins was "very old", turns out they were Minoan. Old indeed.
I remembered seeing some reference to a light rail system at a local county display so I returned there to take a second look. Although the display piece I remembered was a route listing and not a map the pieces fit. I had been walking on a portion of the Kansas City, Clay County & St Joseph rail road, or at least a small portion that was being reused in this walking trail expansion.
Interurban Rail Roads
I did some digging on the internet and local libraries. Again, my curiosity was in full drive. I did not find a great deal of information at first. The long and the short is the Interurban story was short by historical standards.
By 1900 there were thousands of miles of rail lines throughout North America. Any town of any size had at least a spur line going to another line that linked all the large population centers. By the 1910s ones option to travel any distance was to walk, ride a horse, buggy or stage, or go by train. Although the automobile was just beginning it's rise, there were no hard surface roads between towns.
Within the larger cities electric trolley systems had replaced a lot of the horse drawn vehicles for mass transit. Many cities created Interurban lines to connect nearby towns, farms and smaller cities. Kansas City was no exception to this trend. The Kansas City Clay County & St Joseph (KCCC&ST JOE) was opened in 1913. The line ran North from Kansas City to North Kansas City where it split. One branch ran to Excelsior Springs about 28 miles, the other ran to St Joseph about 51 miles.
These two routes were not just another trolley line. The road grades, bridges, ballast and track were laid down to steam locomotive standards. The new cars used on this line were massive, with four 100 horse power DC Electric Motors, and could reach speeds in excess of 70 miles per hour. In fact this particular Interurban was sited as the "Worlds Fastest Interurban".
When this line was conceived and opened they did so with a 200 year charter in 1913. The rail road was closed and abandoned in 1933. Hard surface roads, the automobile, and eventually the plane replaced this early "Light Rail".
Not to be forgotten, the key piece of the story of the KCCC&ST Joe was the completion of the Armour, Swift and Burlington Bridge over the Missouri River. Built by Armour Packing Co, Swift and Company and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, this was one of only two bridges built in this design. The ASB Bridge had a lower, steam freight bridge and an upper trolley and vehicle, pedestrian bridge. The lower section raised as a Vertical Lift Drawbridge, while the upper section remained in place for continuous use. The Piers for this bridge were built in 1890, that bridge was not built. However, in 1909 it was completed as it now still stands across the Missouri River. The upper deck was removed in1987.
Walking the Routes
I had found some history and done a little digging (not literal). I began to be more observant on my walks through areas that had been right-of-way for the KCCC&STJ. As I revisited the new trail construction site where I had first noticed the rail road grade I found a section extending south that seems to be just as it was the day the line was abandoned. From the intersection of the new trail there is about a mile of old right-of-way extending South. I ventured down this trail one day and found it to be a nice hike.
The tracks and ties are long gone but other evidence remains. The crushed rock ballast remains, multiple round concrete culverts drain the East side to the West and on a larger creek a 1/2 circle single arch bridge still carries the road over the stream. In a few places a low, hand laid rock retaining wall runs alongside the road bed. There is also a concrete power pole footing on the west side of the road bed still standing after 100 years.
In this one mile segment of over 75 miles of rail road one can "see" a railroad. Looking beyond this one small segment one has to look a little harder. There is evidence but not for the casual eye. Sometimes you have to get off the trail and look at things from a different vantage point.
I am very pleased to see a portion of this route being re-used in the form of walking/bike trails. I have found a few. Some are due to civic projects and some are private projects. All, in large and small ways keep this piece of history alive.
In looking for evidence remaining of this rail road I have gotten a lot of walking in. I will describe a few of them here along with the evidence along the way.