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About the Wabash Railroad




When the first rails were being laid on the Northern Cross Railroad from Meredosia to Jacksonville in the late 1830's, little or no interest was aroused in Missouri, less than 100 miles away. Missourians were convinced that their progress and growth was closely allied with river transportation. At that time, Kansas City was just a tiny settlement on the edge of the plains, dwarfed by the neighboring city of Independence a few miles to the north and east. In the eastern part of the state, St. Louis was competing for eminence with the thriving Missouri River town of St. Charles. With the Missouri River bisecting the State and thus connecting these locales, who needed a railroad?

However, into this picture, just ten years later, came a group of pioneer railroad men who, in 1851, secured a charter from the State of Missouri for building the North Missouri Railroad - from St. Louis to the Missouri-Iowa state line. This road was to comprise three divisions: the first from St. Louis to St. Charles - 19.2 miles; the second, 148 miles, from St. Charles to Hudson, Mo. (modern-day Macon), at which point it would intersect the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad; and the third from Hudson to the Missouri-Iowa State Line - 61.4 miles. Actual construction commenced on the first division in May 1854 and on the second in 1855. The first division was opened for traffic on August 20, 1855 and the second division was opened to traffic on February 1, 1858. Thus, for the first time, railroad communication was established between St. Louis and St. Joseph, Mo., on the west and Hannibal, Mo. on the east. Until 1864, however, it was necessary to unload all freight and passengers on the east bank of the river at St. Charles, ferry the people and the goods across, and reload on the opposite side. In 1864, a car ferry arrangement was effected which eliminated the necessity for this unloading and reloading.

During the Civil War period from 1861 to 1865, the North Missouri's property was a military objective for both the Union and Confederate Armies operating in the vicinity. General Sterling Price, a Confederate General commanding troops in the Missouri-Arkansas territories, issued an order in July 1861, just a few months after the start of hostilities, calling for the destruction of the North Missouri Railroad. Capt. "Bloody Bill" Anderson, one of the most daring Confederate cavalrymen, and a small group of hand-picked men were chosen to execute the order and during the summer of 1861, they succeeded in completely destroying every bridge and culvert over the 100 miles of railroad then operated by the North Missouri. In addition, extensive damage was done to stations, cars and engines, and wherever possible, the marauders tore up rails, destroyed ties and burned fuel supplies.

Again in 1864, the same General Price sent Capt. Anderson on a second destructive mission and this time two trains of cars and seven stations were burned. More than 120 men who tried to stop the Confederate invaders were killed and many of them are buried along the right-of-way near Centralia in Boone County.

Following the War, the North Missouri Railroad began to rebuild the lines destroyed in military maneuvers and also began the construction of what was then known as the "West Branch”, a line running from Moberly to Birmingham, a small town near Kansas City. Both the West Branch and the third division of the North Missouri were completed in 1868.

In 1871, a bridge across the Missouri was completed at St. Charles, and the North Missouri Railroad and the predecessors of the Wabash joined to provide a continuous line from Toledo on the east to the western part of Missouri. With this new bridge, the North Missouri now had a through line from St. Louis, through St. Charles and north to Iowa, west to Kansas City and St. Joseph, and a direct connection with the railroads on the east side of the Mississippi at Hannibal.

Less than three months following the completion of the new bridge, the North Missouri Railroad was reorganized, and as a result of foreclosure action, the entire property became known as the St. Louis, Kansas City and Northern Railroad Co.

Then in 1879, the Wabash Railroad Company (operating east of the Mississippi) and the St. Louis, Kansas City and Northern Railroad (operating west of the Mississippi) were merged into the Wabash, St. Louis and Pacific Railroad Company. However, in 1889, both the lines east and west of the Mississippi River were again reorganized, this time as the Wabash Railroad Company.  

Financial vicissitudes of the next two decades made that period one of great difficulty, but in 1889 fate took a turn for the better. In the succeeding decade, the Wabash found it possible to proceed with the construction of new trackage and the expanding of facilities to serve the city of Chicago during its Columbian Exposition of 1783 and the city of St. Louis during its Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. In the fifteen years of its operation following the formation of the company in 1889, the Wabash took its proper place as one of our country's leading enterprises, contributing greatly to the well-being of the public in the territories reached by its rails. In 1911, after foreclosure and reorganization, the Wabash Railroad of 1889 was sold to a new "Wabash Railway", incorporated under the laws of the state of Indiana. Following the example of its predecessors, the new management devoted its energies to the service of our country and its people. 

The worldwide "depression" of the early 1930's severely struck the Wabash Railway and all other U.S. railroads. With industry paralyzed, the price of products at a new low, incomes (both personal as well as corporate) slashed, and with market prices for commodities and securities crowding the vanishing point, the Wabash was once again forced into receivership. The task with which the Receivers were confronted was a most difficult one. The welfare of entire communities along the more than 2000 miles of territory served by the railroad, the continued operation of many industries contiguous to its rails, and the livelihoods of families of thousands of men & women employed by the railroad depended on the judgment and wisdom of the Receivers in the handling of the Wabash Railway Company to best further the public interest. 

Due in large measure to the efficient handling of the receivership and the reorganization proceedings, the Wabash Railway Company was one of the very first of our country's railroads to come back from the effects of the Depression. Yet throughout the entire receivership period, the Wabash continued to uphold its trust in serving the "Heart of America". 

By 1940, when war clouds again appeared on the horizon, the Wabash had even more solidly established its reputation as one of the most important rail traffic arteries in the nation. And throughout World War II, the Wabash performed outstanding service to our country in transporting men, materiel and supplies at a tremendously accelerated pace, in order to serve the needs of the nation in a global war; constantly outdoing all previous conceptions of possible performance. 

During the war years, it was not possible to secure either materials or labor for making additions or improvements to the property. Post-war, however, the now-reorganized Wabash Railroad Company invested more than one hundred million dollars in new facilities of all kinds, in order to serve even more efficiently the shipping and traveling public. In addition to modernizing its freight yards, communication facilities and signaling devices, the Wabash also greatly improved its passenger train equipment. The first stride in this direction was the inauguration of a totally new streamlined service between St. Louis and the west coast. On June 2, 1946, in conjunction with the Union Pacific & Southern Pacific railroads, the new train, named the "City of St. Louis", began operation. In addition to drastically reducing the overall tunning time between St. Louis and the west coast, the new train offered the traveling public through-service in both coaches and Pullman sleeping cars to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. On November 26, 1947, another new streamliner was placed into service. Called the "City of Kansas City" and operating between that city and St. Louis, the train met with instantaneous success, and was highly acclaimed by the many new passengers it attracted. Inauguration of the "Blue Bird" passenger train on February 26, 1950, was an epoch-making event. It marked the first time in history that "dome" cars were used between St. Louis and Chicago. The new train, containing four dome cars in its six-car consist, was put into service and offered passengers a new view of Wabash Railroad territory. 

Since 1953 the Wabash Railroad has been considered 100% dieselized for both freight and passenger service. Upholding its promise of ever better service to the HEART OF AMERlCA, the Wabash again stands on the threshold of a bright, successful future.


(Thus was the ending of the original corporate history written in December, 1953. The following paragraphs were added in August, 1959. The addition was prepared just five years before the N&W merger)

Since 1953 the Wabash Railroad has been considered 100% dieselized. Steam locomotives were operated for a short run on the Keokuk Branch because the bridge crossing the Illinois River at Meredosia could not support the weight of diesel engines. One of the steam engines made its last trip in 1955 and thus by a strange turn of fate, the reign of steam power on the Wabash ended where it all began 111 years before. The engine, number 573, a Mogul 2-6-0 Class F Mogul built by the Rhode Island Locomotive Works in 1899, was donated to the National Museum of Transport in St. Louis County in August, 1955.

In July, 1954, the Wabash Railroad entered the trailer-on-flat car field, to uphold its promise of ever better service to the HEART OF AMERICA. This new service, called "Piggy-back", was first operated between Chicago and New York via the Niagara Frontier and was shortly thereafter expanded from Chicago to St. Louis, then from St. Louis to Detroit and from Chicago to Detroit. Expansion of "Piggy-back" service on and beyond Wabash rails has been so rapid that the railroad now participates in these movements from the east coast to the west coast and from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico and the Rio Grande.                                 

The Wabash Railroad Company is continuing to look forward with optimism to the future in the belief that the railroads and the national economy will gain strength under the free enterprise system.