MAINLINE TO THE GULF: THE KANSAS CITY & GULF STORY

Road weary F3 300 with F7 323 sit idling near the KC&G's Riverfront Yard in Kansas City, Missouri. Trailing engine 323 represents a very rare engine on the bankrupt KC&G: It's been recently shopped!



THE BEGINNING...

It was the 1890's, and for many of the railroads in the Kansas City area, expansion fever was infecting many lines at a frantic pitch. However, for two brand spankin' new railroads in Kansas City, the fever took on a different nature, for both intended to build a new line in the same general direction: South out of Kansas City toward the port of New Orleans.

The race was on.

Unfortunately for the Kansas City & Gulf, the "other" Kansas City line, the Kansas City, PITTSBURG & Gulf (which would soon become the Kansas City Southern), was off to a much faster start, and thus appropriating the more preferred of routes through the mountains of Arkansas and the Oklahoma Indian Territory. Already, the “other” Kansas City line was well south of Pittsburg, Kansas, and had begun threading their way through the Ozark mountains. It was the intention of the Kansas City, Pittsburg & Gulf/KCS to adeptly dodge the main ridges by two-shoeing between the borders of Arkansas and the Oklahoma Indian Territory. Further to the south, the notch between the Ouachita's at the bases of Rich Mountain and Black Fork Mountain would put them through that portion of the mountains. Given the financial backing behind the “other” Kansas City line, there was little doubt that the most direct competitor to the KC&G would reach the gulf port town of New Orleans... and likely well ahead of the KC&G.

As for the KC&G, it was just now approaching the town of Springfield, Missouri. Having to settle for the Ozark leftovers that were rejected by the other north-south lines of the Frisco, the "other" Kansas City line, and a shortline by the name of the "Ozark & Southern", the KC&G would not have the best of routes through the Ozarks. Instead, they were left with the very unpleasant task of tackling the Ozarks rather head on.

Unfortunately, there were further complications. First and foremost: The KC&G still had not made a final decision in regards to the survey through the Ozarks! You see, the original survey called for availing themselves of a waterway that would eventually take the rails over the divide at Norton Gap. From Norton Gap, the line was surveyed to follow the watercourse of the Big Piney almost all the way to the growing town of Russellville, Arkansas. At Russellville, the line would span the Arkansas River, and continue south into the Ouachita Mountains. In view of the circumstances, this was as sensible a routing (considering the Ozarks!) that could be worked out.

The caveat, and it was a MAJOR caveat, would be the fact that there would nothing significant, freight wise, to help the Ozark Subdivision earn a living for the KC&G.

Further, once reaching Russellville, the KC&G would again be the Johnny-come-lately in that the Iron Mountain & Southern railroad was already there and thus capitalizing on what economy would grow in that region. Besides, the indications were beginning to point toward the main jewel in the Arkansas Valley that would be gathered and hauled was Black Gold: Coal. Yet, it was near Russellville where the major east-west coal seam played out. Thus the KC&G would NOT have good opportunity on line for coal.

However, IF the KC&G would divert and head southwest near Harrison, Arkansas, they could tap into, and exploit, the potential coal mining region near the town of Clarksville, Arkansas. Unfortunately, an obstacle was in place to that option: The Ozark & Southern.

A word about the Ozark & Southern. In 1875, the Ozark & Southern was a line that was foolhardy enough to actually begin building south out of Springfield, Missouri, with the intention of getting all the way to the Arkansas River Valley region and a connection with east/west Little Rock & Fort Smith railroad. (The LR&FS was soon acquired by the Iron Mountain Southern.) Though it was a struggle to get there, and a struggle now, the Ozark & Southern was already in the Clarksville region.

During the 1890s, each month it seemed there were rumors of more and more mines that were going to be established in the Clarksville region. Much more mining was possible IF a railroad were willing to follow the veins of coal with branch lines in order to supply transportation.

So, for the directors of the KC&G, it was mighty tempting to aim for Clarksville and coal. BUT, and it was a big one, getting there via a new line would be horrendous! Besides, the Ozark & Southern, as well as the Iron Mountain & Southern, were already in the Clarksville region as well as Iron Mountain being in Russellville, so won't they be harvesting black gold and thus the KC&G would be left to some mighty slim pickins?

Now understand that, in actuality, the Iron Mountain & Southern passed well south of Clarksville, and they had indicated they MIGHT be interested in building a branch to Clarksville proper, BUT, the coal mines wanting rail service would have to insure no financial losses before the Iron Mountain & Southern would proceed with a branch to Clarksville and northward and westward toward the promising coal fields. Such is the way things were when dealing with the likes of Jay Gould, the Rail Baron that owned the IM&S.

To complicate this, there was the Ozark & Southern, too, but unfortunately for the Ozark & Southern, they simply were not in a financial condition to develop the areas that lay near their rails.

Given the arrogant attitude of the Iron Mountain, as well as the financial situation of the Ozark & Southern, it should come as no surprise that this situation didn't set well at all with the budding coal industry. In fact, the Iron Mountain genuinely irked the more powerful of mine speculators.

So it was that the coal industry "powers that be" formed a "cartel" of sorts, and approached the KC&G with the idea of enticing them to head for the Clarksville area in order to tap into the wealth to be mined in, and around, Clarksville IF only the KC&G would divert their route to pass through that region.

Unfortunately, to get to Clarksville would require laboriously building the route through some of the most inhospitable terrain the Ozarks had to offer, with the final segment through the Boston Mountain Range being the most daunting. Ah, but IF they did, then a ripe plumb could be picked on the way to New Orleans: Coal. Lots of it. The prospects of getting there were grim, though. After all, one line, the Ozark & Southern, had already tried to carve out a living in the Ozarks, but the topography was literally eating their financial lunch. For a railroad, it's tough to eek out a living when you live ONLY in the Ozarks! It was far better to pass THROUGH the Ozarks on your way to better prospects.

Somewhere, in someone, the proverbial light came on, and an idea was birthed: What if the Ozark & Southern became a part of the KC&G? This would accomplish three things:

1. Get the KC&G to Clarskville on an existing line. This would be a HUGE time saver and potentially save untold dollars.

2. Be the salvation of the Ozark & Southern line, albeit at the loss of the company itself.

3. Give the Coal Cartel rail service WITHOUT having to kiss the hand of the Iron Mountain.

This was an intriguing concept. All three parties were put in contact with each other, and a meeting place set up. Soon, negotiations were begun by all involved to attempt making this idea a reality.

IF the O&S could be successfully acquired, it would save a LOT of time and a lot of money in construction, but at the rather high cost the O&S was asking for the priviledge! Nevermind that the O&S was built to hasty standards back in the mid-1870s. Nevermind that their ruling grades neared 3% in one area and 2.5% or so was plentiful on other grades. Nevermind that tight curves abounded on the O&S and that it traversed a hogback profile! Oh, and the fact that being captive to the Ozarks was literally starving them to what appeared to be a slow death! No, those negative items (and more) were not factored into the price tag by the O&S. Instead, the O&S thought they were in the catbird's seat and had the KC&G by the tail!

And perhaps they did have the KC&G by the tail. However, in shrewd dealings and political smoke and mirrors, the KC&G feigned to the O&S that their dubious line was not worth the "outrageous" price being asked for it. So, they broke off negotiations, and told the O&S that they would proceed to build their own line through the Ozarks directly to the town of Clarksville and thus the KC&G would be the ones to secure the coal field business.

It didn't take a lot of financial aptitude on the part of the O&S minds to realize that if indeed the KC&G built their own trunk line through the Ozarks, ALL the O&S would have left would be the meager online traffic and GONE would be the bridge freight from Kansas City via the O&S Springfield connection south to the Iron Mountain & Southern. To add urgency to this concern, the KC&G was rumored to be purchasing land out of Springfield. One can imagine the tone within their board of directors meeting when the O&S came to the sickening realization that if indeed the KC&G built their own line, likely the O&S would lose a tremendous amount of potential traffic, and would very likely not survive the blow.

The O&S became very negotiable.

The two sides sat back down at the negotiation table. In short order the KC&G agreed to purchase the O&S at a more realistic price. Win-win: The KC&G had an existing route through the Ozarks and the O&S owners made a reasonable profit. So it was in the mid-1890s that the Ozark & Southern passed into history, being absorbed by the KC&G. Southward HO! Of course, now the KC&G had to bridge the Arkansas River, no small undertaking or small expense in itself.

Thus, we find that the KC&G had to settle for a more rugged crossing of the interior Ozarks within the glorious state of Arkansas via the purchase of the Ozark & Southern. However, the seemingly shrewd move of obtaining the O&S was tempered significantly on account of the fact that the former Ozark & Southern's crossing of the Ozarks was originally built to more, shall we say, "hasty" standards. But, with legendary Missouri Mule determination, they pressed on. By retaining the lighter rail, tighter curves, steeper and more plentiful grades, shorter pass tracks, et al, of the original O&S... their determination to get through the Ozarks was realized and realized far quicker and with significantly less expenditure than would have been the case had they built an entirely new line.

The Ozark & Southern portion of the line would prove to be the most challenging section of the entire KC&G. By looking strictly at what was now the "Ozark Subdivision" of the KC&G, it was hard for them to convince themselves that they were actually a "flatland" railroad. But in all practicality, the KC&G was indeed a flatland road. Fortunately the Arkansas Ozark portion, along with a less rugged section located further south in the Ouachita Mountains, would be the only significant vertical "hiccups" in the KC&G's southward progress. BUT, and this is important: Via the O&S purchase, they NOW had a way through the railroad-inhospitable Ozarks. Now, to build, acquire, whatever it would take, to get down to New Orleans.

And do it they did: New Orleans was finally reached. As well, the needed short branches to the coal fields around Clarskville were plotted and laid, and the line to Ft. Smith and Hot Springs, Arkansas, were completed. In addition, the KC&G and the "Choctaw Route" (soon to become the Rock Island) worked out a mutually profitable traffic arrangement for freight to/from Little Rock. Things were looking good.

The first years were formative, but the KC&G soon began to carve out a modest living among the flatlands of Missouri, the mountains of Arkansas, and the bayou country of Louisiana. The coal traffic out of the coal fields of Arkansas, both north and south of the Arkansas River, were helping considerably.

As the 19th century turned into the 20th century, that siren call of "expansion fever", also hit the KC&G. In fact, "exapansion fever" was still running full swing throughout the region. Soon, the KC&G was building toward another target: Dallas, Texas. This was accomplished, and though they weren't anywhere near being one of the first of the railroads built into that growing metropolis, the new Dallas line began to add revenue to the coffers of the KC&G.

Another important decision to be made during the late 1900's, was a decision as to where to locate the new major locomotive and car shops. This would accomplish two things: First, the small facility at Kansas City's Riverfront Yard was being out-grown and taxed to the maximum. Second, the KC&G management felt the new Main Shops needed a more a central location. So it was that the growing area of Magnolia, Arkansas was selected. By the end of the 1900's, the new Magnolia Shops were in full operation. After this period of expansion and growth, the KC&G settled in, and began to fulfill its role in the world of Class 1 railroading. Though the line couldn't really be considered to be making a "killing", it was at least was deriving a profitable living during the "Golden Years" of railroading.

THE GREAT DEPRESSION AND WORLD WAR 2...

Let's skip ahead now, and move onward in time to the next item that would begin to change the direction of the plucky little "Mainline to the Gulf": The Great Depression and World War 2.

As with almost all sectors of the economy, the Great Depression was not kind to the KC&G. Along with many other railroads, the KC&G was looking at many different ways to operate more efficiently and therefore reduce costs. One of the tentative moves in this area was to sample the "diesel waters" as some of the other regional roads were thinking of doing. In the case of the KC&G, they turned to one of their locomotive builders: Alco. In 1939, emulating another Kansas City railroad that the KC&G worked hand-in-hand with (the Kansas City Terminal), the KC&G ordered one of ALCo's "HH660" model diesel switchers. Unlike the KCT, the KC&G opted to order the more cost-effective HH660 instead of the more expensive HH900 as did the KCT. Also, the KC&G maintained their frugality by ordering just one HH660 and not a pair of Electro Motive Corporation's offerings (a switch engine dubbed the "NW2") as the KCT had done. With all the talk of war in Europe looming, the KC&G simply stood pat with their one and only diesel switcher: ALCo HH660, numbered "D-10". (Why, "D" stood for "Diesel"!)

Then the war came. Almost a one-two knockout punch for the KC&G's aging steamers, the lack of funds during the depression along with the surge of traffic during WW2... essentially ran the wheels off the KC&G's aging fleet of Consols and Mikes.

As the war traffic grew, the need for more new power was painfully obvious. The valiant little "D-10" just wasn't anywhere near enough to help the situation. The only saving grace at this point was the surplus cash that was accumulating in the bank due to the burgeoning surge in war-time business. So, with funds in the bank, and a worn stable of antiquated steamers, the decision was made to commence dieselization as soon as practical, beginning with the switch engines. IF the new diesels proved to be as efficient in use as was being touted then they would spread the dieselization toward other types of engines. If all went well, they hoped to accomplish conversion to diesels in rather straightforward fashion spread over the course of a few short years. Of course, the War Production Board and circumstances of the time would have much more to say about that! Eventually, though, after more years than first hoped, the road to dieselization was finally completed.

(NOTE: For a more detailed look at the KC&G's initial dieselization, watch for the publication of the chapter entitled "The Dawning Of A New Age".)

THE POSTWAR YEARS AND BANKRUPTCY...

As with many roads during the years following the war, the KC&G began to experience a gradual tapering off of traffic throughout the 50's. It called for a time of frugal capital management, and a "common sense" approach to managing the road through some lean years.

The KC&G received neither.

Due to the fact that the KC&G had fallen into control of one wealthy family during the waning war years, it wasn't long and a "family" member was presiding as "General Manager", and that was only the beginning. Soon, family members were at various posts within the organization, and at obscene salaries. As the 50s hit mid- stride, the family-dominated stockholder board began a siphoning program of the modest funds that were coming in by voting generous dividends at will. When the road did make it to the black during a quarter, instead of reinvesting it into the sorely needed physical plant, and into some new(er) power to help the aging fleet of first generation units that were pulling their guts out to keep the freight moving... they would vote themselves another dividend! This approach has a name. It’s called “deferred maintenance”.

Deferred maintenance can only last so long until the operating ratio soars completely out of sight. As expected, this it did. By the late 50's, the once plucky little road was beleaguered by many problems. Many sections of roadbed were showing signs of deffered maintanence, the engines were in need of heavy maintanence and repairs, some had simply been run ragged and generally worn out. The beleaguered Magnolia Shop crews accomplished whatever "repair" could be improvised in oder to keep a unit serviceable for one more trip. As well, essentially all of railroad structures were "lookin' a might poorly", as one would say down on the "Ozark Subdivision" in the Arkansas hills. It was a very tired railroad.

Though the road (and the poor employees that remained, I might add) had struggled for years in a situation where the money was going out faster than it was coming in, the inevitable happened... the money ran out.

Unfortunately, this was not uncommon at the time, for across the nation, railroads were folding. Already scrapped and gone was the New York, Ontario & Western. And by the early 1960s the Lehigh & New England was gone, as well as the Rutland Railroad. Why, even the mighty New York Central and Pennsylvannia Railroad were having to make drastic changes in order to remain alive! In the mid west region where the KC&G tromped, lines like the Rock Island, and Missouri-Kansas-Texas, and others, had also fallen on hard times. It was a dark hour for railroading.

So it was in the early 1960s that the creditors foreclosed, and the KC&G filed bankruptcy. For all practical purposes, it looked "all in". Though the trains still ran as best they could, everyone surmised the same... it would probably be sold for junk.

Sure enough, with bankruptcy declared, the self-serving owners/management that had caused the KC&G's dilemma wasted no time in attempting to unburden themselves of the worn and weary KC&G as they began to court various salvage operations as to what they could expect if the KC&G were junked. (Actually, given their comparitive small investment for such a large operation, a tidy profit could be had by liquidating all assests and scrapping the line.)

As the court-appointed receivers began to sort through the volumes of ledgers to ascertain the fate of the tired line, it became obvious as to what had happened. The statement of their findings were very frank and to the point. The court learned that "excessive profit taking" abounded. "Poor managerial decisions" (decisions made more in view of “more dollars for dividends” in mind instead of what was best for the company) were plentiful, and maintenance was intentionally "procrastinated so as to allow funds for dispersal to the principal stockholders." In addition, the books indicated that there had been some very spurious dealings by the principles that owned the KC&G that, if proven, COULD cost some of them jail time.

Furthermore, it was learned that if the road had received good management over the past two years, not only would it have been able to began addressing the physical plant issue and the motive power situation... but would have finished the year with a surplus in excess of $700,000. A figure not all that good for such a large operation, but far better than bankruptcy court.

The court appointed Board of Trustees immediately offered the former “family” management a proposition: Surrender all right to the KC&G, and the Board would not pursue criminal charges. This they readily accepted, and quietly slipped out the back door to other endeavors. Good riddance. Within a matter of days, a plan for reorganization was filed with the court. The essence was:

1. The old company would be declared dead.

2. A new company would be formed.

3. The assets of the old company would be conveyed over to the new company.

4. The new company would refinance using the scrap value of the new company as loan guarantee. The funds would be used to retire certain outstanding obligations, and the remainder to be invested into physical plant rehabilitation, and new motive power.

5. With good management the road could be expected to began returns on investment within 2-3 years.

And so it was, that on a fateful midnight hour, the Kansas City & Gulf Railroad died... and in it's place the brand new Kansas City & Gulf RailWAY rose up. But what a job the young company was faced with. Consider the following:

1. In essence, nearly all of the motive power had about 10 to 15 (or more) years of service, and most had never received any major maintenance/upgrade work of any type. It was a "patch as patch can" basis.

2. Many sections of the roadbed were in poor shape. Even the best of it would only be considered "fair". Poor ballast existed on many, many miles... and cross tie replacement was essentially unheard of for the past few years. Fortunately, the alignment and surfacing wasn't in as deplorable a condition as it could have been, which would certainly help.

3. There were some trestles in place that hadn't received new bridge timbers in years.

4. Much of the rolling stock was well worn, some of it obsolete by current standards.

5. Many structures needed repair, and a coat of paint was needed by all.

That was a quick assessment of the road's condition. With a good rough draft of how to put the KC&G back on its feet, it could have a chance... but it needed good leadership and a very frugal financial plan for rehabilitating the line. An aggressive General Manager was sought, found, and secured. Though new at being a General Manager, L. Andre Ming accepted the challenge, rolled up his sleeves... and went to work. After surveying the "damage" on an inspection train which, in this case, turned out to be an engine and a caboose, for General Manager L. Andre Ming could see no sense (cents) whatsoever in using passenger equipment for such a job.

"I can see what I need to see right here from this caboose. Besides, if it's good enough for my crews... it's good enough for me!" (It should also be noted that he was a good politician as well!) As a matter of fact, unintentionally, the new GM started a new saying that began to circulate through the rank and file of the KC&G... "Waste not, want not!" was his motto.

After spending many days out on the line, and spending several weeks in his office pouring over the books, looking over service records for locomotives (a short job indeed), and a virtual mountain of other work, he was ready to announce his "plan of action for the complete rehabilitation of the Kansas City & Gulf Railroad... er Railway." (More good politics.) It was as follows:

1. We will concentrate first on the three most essential elements in running a railroad:

A. Motive Power. Part of the funds from the reorganization will be used to secure new motive power. Older power deemed undesirable for long term use will either be used for trade-in or sold for scrap. Those considered long term will be rebuilt as time/money permits... starting with the units that need the lesser attention. To help alleviate the immediate power shortage, the Magnolia Shops will call back furloughed Motive Power employees, and go to 24 hours a day - 7 days a week rotation. They will go through the "Stored Unserviceable" units, and those units that can (with cost-effective repairs) be put back into service, shall do so until new, re-built, leased power, or even used power, can be added, or replace units.

B.Track Rehab. Cross ties will be purchased, and replacement will commence immediately. Curve worn rail will be reversed for now, and replaced as soon as practical. Ballast will be dumped and the rails lifted out of the dirt and resurfaced where needed.

C. New rolling stock for key ladings will be purchased, and the older rolling stock will be rebuilt or retired, whichever is deemed more cost effective.

2. In conjunction with the above, we will go after business.

A. Former customers will be contacted and persuaded to ship with us again.

B. New industries will be sought, and negotiated with.

C. The fledgling broiler industry will be investigated, and solicited.

3. Next will be system upgrades.

A. Old, unneeded buildings will be disposed of. Redundant depots will be closed and razed. Those remaining will receive repairs and/or paint.

B. The right-of-way will receive brush clearing.

C. Bridges will receive inspections, and repairs where needed.

4. Target date for completion of the above will be 2 years.

Formidable tasks. But convinced it will work, the new GM rolled up his sleeves and began getting the needed materials headed that way, and the Magnolia Shops are humming with activity again. The long, hard road to recovery has begun...

And so it goes. The KC&G has a new lease on life, but it will have to prove itself on the ledger sheet if it's going to retain it. And that, will be no easy job.



EPILOGUE

So there you have it. This is the KC&G as conceived back in the early 1990s. Its concept, for the most part, has stood the test of time with few modifications, and most of said modifications were mainly within the diesel roster as the roster became more defined.

Whereas the KC&G is purely fictional, the theoretical (non-modeled) portions of the KC&G are set among the "real world". In creating this fictional scenario, I attempted to utilize any rights of way that had existed, or are barely in existance as of this writing, to get the route from Kansas City to New Orleans. Doing so helped keep the line mentally plausible to me, which I enjoy. However, in contrast, I have intentionally avoided tying the modeled portion, my "Ozark Sub", to any reality, thereby avoiding my tendency to incumber the layout with "reality" in regards to reflecting prototype scenes, settings, and such as that.

As for the "bankruptcy/reorganization" portion of the concept, and the era in which it's taking place: By setting the KC&G in a state of bankruptcy/reorganization will allow me several "must haves". They are:

* It gives me the opportunity to represent power in the gamut of mechanical condition and cosmetic state. That is, I can have some units that are absolute junk, with a high failure percentile on the power matrix. (I can hear a crew member now... "oh no... I've got THAT engine again... maybe this time it will make the trip!") all the way up to brand spanking new power. That is IF I decide to model newly arrived power. AND, the door is wide open for "leased power" to get us through the crunch, including the possibility of purchasing used power from lines that are casting off their older units, or having closed shop and been abandoned.

* The "reorganization" concept will allow me to still be running small rail, with sections that have poor ballast, and a few weeds right up next to it.

* The KC&G's structures can be in whatever state my mood dictates... from pretty sad, to being rebuilt/repainted, all the way up to finished with the rebuilding... or razed!

In closing...

When I conceived the KC&G theme back in the early 1990s, I had never heard of this “bankruptcy” concept being done before, nor have I to date, but it sounds like the way to accommodate elements I found fascinating during my youthful years of railfanning. Indeed, if I can pull it off convincingly, I could possibly end up with a freelanced diesel road with a lot of "personality"... or "character" (to use an oft overworked word).

Yep, I've said it before, and I'll say it again... this sounds like fun!


Stay tuned for future installments!


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