Monday, August 3, 2009

Riding the Rails - an Excursion on the Midland Railway

My two and a half-year old granddaughter has been talking about trains lately. So, her mother (my oldest daughter) decided she might enjoy an outing to ride a train - and chose the Midland Railway, located at Baldwin City, Kansas. It's nearby, relatively inexpensive, and the ride lasts about an hour - perfect for a child of this young age. Of course Gammaw and Gampaw jumped at the chance to join our little princess in a train ride.

At the Baldwin depot we purchased our tickets and joined fellow passengers - lots of little ones with their grandparents - on the platform. Most of the travelers were from eastern Kansas, but we also saw car tags from Kentucky and Texas in the parking lot. We were given the opportunity to do a little exploring while awaiting our departure time, and the caboose was a popular place to climb aboard and look around.

For the kiddies, many no doubt thinking of Thomas the Tank Engine, the train ride would be an exciting new adventure, but for the elders like me, it would be a nostalgic journey, a brief opportunity to relive the mesmerizing clickety-clack that accompanied the riding of the rails. I did take several long trips by train in my younger days, so it did rekindle memories - especially the long haul up and over Raton Pass on the Colorado-New Mexico border en route from Kansas City to Flagstaff, Arizona.

There was an open air car that normally would be popular in late July, but was unoccupied on this unseasonably cool day. Instead, we all took shelter in the 1923 commuter rail car that once served the Chicago area on the C.R.I.&P. (Rock Island) railway. Comfortable? No, but it didn't matter much on a trip as short as this, and it was definitely an authentic experience.

I hasten to add a disclaimer at this point. You are not taking this train ride for the scenery. The view hardly measures up to train rides Nancy and I have taken in Austria or Switzerland, much less the scenic railways at Chama, New Mexico, or Durango, Colorado. Although this part of Kansas does boast some pretty countryside, you don't get to see much of it on the short trip from Baldwin to Norwood by way of Nowhere. I suspect the views will be more scenic and interesting when the line once again extends to the historic depot in Ottawa (more about that later). The most interesting segments of this trip were crossing a trestle high above Sand Creek, and a meeting with an escaped cow who nonchalantly claimed her spot on the railway right-of-way.

There are a couple of historically significant spots along the route which I did not know about until doing some reading several days after taking the trip. One - Fletcher's Farm at Deerfield Flats is particularly intriguing to me. It was there that William Quantrill's raiders were overtaken by forces from Fort Leavenworth, Baldwin, and Prairie City as they attempted their get-away from the sacking of Lawrence, with a short battle ensuing. Quantrill's bushwhackers managed to escape to Missouri. There is also the site of a Catholic mission to the Indians (1859) near the route. I think it unfortunate that there is no one aboard to bring these interesting facts to our attention as we roll along.
The halfway point of the trip is at Norwood, once a thriving metropolis of 50 or so. Here the train comes to a halt and passengers are allowed to disembark for ten minutes or so, if they choose. This is where the engine is moved from one end of the train to the other, for the purpose of pulling the cars back to Baldwin. This is also a good opportunity to add in a picture of my beautiful granddaughter Sydney. She is two and a half years old, and practically grown up!

The diesel engine was a type I don't remember seeing in this part of the country. New York Central diesel #8255 pulled us on this day's trip. It is privately owned (not by the Midland Railway organization) and has been in use here since 1993. #8255 is an ALCO-RS 3, for those who know and care about such things, and was built in 1951.

Back at the depot grounds, I was fascinated by a pair of Rock Island Rockets, those iconic, art deco design liners manufactured in the early 1940s, with their unmistakable color schemes. A photographer's delight. If you wish to see them, you had better be making your plans to do it soon, as they have each been sold, and will be moved as soon as track and trestle repairs allow access to the BNSF main line at Ottawa.

About the Midland Railway: The Midland Railway is a volunteer-staffed, non-profit organization operating excursion trains over track line originally laid in 1867. Its fundamental purpose is to preserve and display historic transportation equipment and facilities, and to educate the public regarding the key role played by railroads in developing America's heartland.

In spite of current economic conditions and recent floods which have destroyed some trestles (bridges) and road bed, the organization has unflinchingly managed to continue on in its efforts, even though forced to discontinue those longer excursions which carry passengers to the historic depot (now a museum) at Ottawa, Kansas.

Baldwin City is about an hour or less from most parts of metro Kansas City, and makes for a pleasant day trip. It is a historic town on the Santa Fe Trail, with the oldest four year college or university in the state of Kansas and ties to the bloody and violent days in Kansas prior to the Civil War. More info online:


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  2. Looks like a special time. A lasting memory she will remember for a long time.

  3. Great pictures! This is my kind of amusement ride.