Tuesday, February 11, 2020

You Can See Economic History in Nebraska's Satellite Imagery

The accessibility of satellite imagery has opened up a treasure trove of interesting things that might otherwise remain hidden in plain sight. I've past mentioned scarchitecture in this blog before, where the historic tracks of railroads, canals, roads, and other transportation systems can result in oddly-angled buildings which offer clues of the past.

Others have noticed geography playing a role in other arenas of history as well, as geologist Steven Dutch noted that the more Democratic Black Belt in Alabama matched up nearly perfectly with a 100 Million year old rock formation. (Wired)

Similarly, I noticed something interesting in regards to my abandoned railroad map, with regard to the proximity of three railroad lines that had significant portions of their routes that were never built. These were three related branches of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad that never reached their full extent in central Nebraska. Today we explore why they were never completed.

These were the lines that ran from Palmer, NE to Burwell, NE along a 70 mile route; Palmer, NE to Sargent, NE, along a 75 mile route, and Greeley, NE to Ericson, NE along a 20 mile route. These are shown below in blue, with the unbuilt sections in pink.

Image: Google Maps, Abandoned & Out of Service Railroad Lines
I call this little oddity the Three Fingers area, given how it looks on the map. And after quickly searching online, I came to learn that there is a reason that none of these lines was completed.

Old Chicago Burlington & Quincy Depot at Burwell, 1983. Image: Stu Nicholson, RRPictureArchives.net
The Burwell Branch, along with the branches to Sargent, NE and Ericson, NE, were all intended to run farther north into the Black Hills, however economic and drought troubles of the 1890's, most notably the Panic of 1893, quite literally derailed these plans.

"First Train into Sargent, Custer County, NE, October 25th, 1899"
The Ericson Branch was the first line to be abandoned, with the last train arriving there in 1940. What was built along these branches was usually poorly maintained, but the Burwell and Sargent Branches each survived until the early 1980's, which is surprising, because as early as the 1920's, the Chicago Burlington & Quincy noted these lines were unprofitable. Ultimately, they were abandoned by the Burlington Northern, after having been passed on from the CB&Q.

Despite never having been operated, each of the unbuilt sections of grade are still quite visible on satellite imagery, with the exception of the grade which ran through what would become the Calamus Reservoir. At least thirty miles of the Sargent Branch continuing north of Sargent is plainly visible on satellite imagery, continuing until nearly Brewster, NE.
  • 41.65435, -99.38339
41.65435, -99.38339
Here's the Burwell grade as it extends past the Calamus Reservoir:

41.90571, -99.29619
The Ericson grade continues on as Cedar River Rd north of the town.

41.79088, -98.69342
So, the economic downturn of the 1890's remains immortalized in our satellite imagery, at least in central Nebraska, and even though these routes were never completed, the grades themselves tell a story of railroad lines that wouldn't make it past construction.

Thanks as always for reading!

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Rio Grande Southern Railroad

The Rio Grande Southern Railroad was a narrow-gauge line that ran from Durango, CO to Ridgway, CO, along a roughly 160 mile route. (Right of Way)

Image: "Railway station at Ophir, Colorado" 1940. Via Shorpy
First founded in 1889, the road began construction the year after. "The RGS’s early revenues came mainly from the numerous silver and gold mines near Telluride, Ophir and Rico. Hauling hundreds of tons of precious metal ores and hundreds of passengers in and out of the area made the financial condition of the railroad extraordinarily strong for its first two and one-half years! " (RGS History)

Unfortunately for the line, the silver panic of 1893 meant the newly opened line would face unforeseen financial difficulties from then on.

Through most of its history, it was owned by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, but operated separately, although often with second-hand equipment from the D&RGW.

Despite never being a highly-profitable route, the line survived longer than many narrow-gauge lines, finally being abandoned in 1953. Part of this can be attributed to creating the "Galloping Goose", a motorcar which allowed the line to carry passengers, mail, and small amounts of cargo along the line necessary to meet demand.

"Photo by David Fluit #4 and #5 on the D&S at Tacoma, August 28, 2015 during Railfest. This was the first time the two "Geese" operated together since 1952." (RGS History)
The right of way is still traceable in spots, and follows US-160, and several Colorado State Highways.

Further reading: “Robert W. Richardson's Rio Grande Southern: Chasing the Narrow Gauge” (Amazon) (eBay) Note: This site may earn a commission using the provided links.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Cassville & Western Railroad

The Cassville and Western Railroad connected Cassville, MO with Exeter, MO along a five mile right of way. First proposed in January 1896, the line quickly secured financing, and construction along the short route was complete in June of that year. This gave Cassville a connection to the Frisco system at Exeter, connecting it to the rest of the US Railroad Network.

Fields' Photo Archives via Barry County Museum.
The line was imperative to Cassville's success, as roads to the town were impassable during the winter, and during inclement weather. By 1919, the line was nonetheless facing bankruptcy. After reorganization as the Cassville & Exeter Railroad, its fortunes changed dramatically.

Fields' Photo Archives via Barry County Museum

It was billed as the shortest independent standard-gauge railroad, although there were quite a few examples of shorter short lines, such as the Illinois Midland Railway. Newspapers across the US, and Ripley's "Believe it or Not" publicized the line, and its one-man operator. It thus remained profitable for its remaining decades.

Right of Way via our Abandoned & Out-of-Service Railroad Lines Map
The line would continue to run independently until 1956, when it was abandoned. Today, only scarchitecture in Cassville and the tree line of the right of way to Exeter are the only visual cues that remain of the line's existence.

For more information on this line, check out Seven Short-lines Their Lives and Times on Amazon.

Thanks as always for reading!

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Partially-Built Ocean Shore Railroad (San Francisco to Santa Cruz, CA)

The Ocean Shore Railroad was planned to connect San Francisco with Santa Cruz, CA, with construction beginning in 1905 at both ends of the route.

Image and History

Just one year later, the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 occurred, and caused major damage to the route, and forced the line to become two separate projects; San Francisco-Tunitas Creek, and Santa Cruz to Swanton.

Within San Francisco, the right of way was electrified, and portions of the route are still in service as part of the BART System. Outside of San Francisco, the right of way ran along the Pacific Ocean, paralleling the modern-day CA-1 (Pacific Coast Hwy).

The Swanton line found partial use by a logging company, but by 1920, the San Francisco-Tunitas Creek line was abandoned, outside of portions of the route that were incorporated into Rapid Transit lines. Both the inability to connect San Francisco and Santa Cruz, and increased competition from automobiles and roads were contributing factors in the line's abandonment.

Between Davenport and Santa Cruz, the line is still in service, having been passed down to Union Pacific Railroad.

Right of Way via Abandoned & Out-of-Service Railroad lines map.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Chicago, IL

Originally named Grand Blvd, and later S Park Avenue (or S Park Way), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Chicago, IL became the first street named after the civil-rights leader, following his assassination in 1968.

Image: Wendell Huston, DNAInfo
Today there are over 700 streets named in his honor. Not every name change has been without controversy, however, as Kansas City, Missouri attempted to rename a historic street name, The Paseo, after MLK Jr., to which voters overwhelmingly objected.