History has been full of serious stories since the beginning of time. But, life is made up of not only serious business but a whole lot of downright funny stuff also.
The Pacific Railroad was issued a charter to construct a rail line from St. Louis to Kansas City in 1850, dubbed “The River Route.” Construction got underway almost immediately from St. Louis, but by the time they reached Sedalia the Civil War had gotten in the way and construction was pretty much curtailed until after the war. The final spike wasn’t driven on the completed road until Sept. 19, 1865. However, it was a couple of weeks before the first passenger train made the complete trip from St. Louis to Kansas City. Samuel Woodson Jr. recalled making the trip with his parents and said the train ride took almost 25 hours.
During the latter part of 1867, a group of Independence businessmen became interested in building a narrow-gauge railroad heading east from here toward Lexington and swinging southward to Sedalia. A committee was formed to raise the needed capital with Preston Roberts (First National Bank) as its chairman. Within about an hour they had raised the necessary $25,000 to get the ball rolling. Incorporation was soon granted by the state, known as the Kansas City, Independence and Lexington Railroad Company. This project would open a large tract of land for which public transportation had not yet been available.
By June 1877, trains were running from Kansas City, through Independence, past what is today The Examiner building down through Lake City, Buckner, Levasy, Napoleon, Wellington, Lexington, and on through Sweetwater to Sedalia.
An excursion train was arraigned by the railroad people with a whole load of dignitaries and fancy guests for a picnic down the line to Sweetwater, south of Lexington.
The train was made up with a coach directly behind the engine for the very elite. Behind that were several open cars with plank seats for accommodations, though not for comfort. Then, behind these were open cars with standing room only. There was another special observation car named “The Dolly Varden.” It was enclosed partway up on the sides and had a canopy over the top. This was reserved for notables dressed in full-length linen dusters and high, stiff, white collars.
Just as the locomotive was cruising past the water tank at Lake City, a big gush of water came shooting out of the spout full blast, resulting in pandemonium among the passengers. By the time the train came to stop, we couldn’t print the language emanating from the train. The Lake City people who had gathered to watch the train’s arrival were completely numb with surprise. There was a rumor that Mike O’Neil, the track tender, had been given five dollars to let a little water down to wash away the cinders from the locomotive as it went by: If so, it proved to be a joke on the passengers. The picnic party in their soaking wet fashions soon settled down though, and laughter among them took over. The excursion train was soon underway again en route to Sweetwater, where they spent the day in outdoor frolic, but they never forgot Lake City.
Later, the narrow gauge railroad was purchased by the Missouri Pacific, which upgraded it to a standard gauge line and made it a part of their great railroad. Today, the line is still an integral link in the Union Pacific system.
Reference: “Jackson County Pioneers” by Pearl Wilcox.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call 816-896-3592.