Friday, September 5, 2014

Before Trucks -- Dense Railroad Trackage

Update: "At one time, you physically could not be more than 12 miles from a railroad in the state of Iowa." (Trainweb)

When farmers had to get their harvest to market, they wanted a town with a grain elevator within about 10 or 15 miles. Because the roads were not paved, I'm going to assume the team of horses did the trip at a fast walk. No trotting. When you consider that 16 miles would take 4 hours at 4 mph, it would be a long day to take something to market because the travel time alone would be 8 hours. I wonder if they had long wait times at the elevator. It would take a while to unload because a shovel is probably the most sophisticated unloading device they had. I doubt if they could tilt the wagon and let the grain pour out. If they were to order something from a mail-order house, they would probably do it before they went to town so that they could bring the purchases back in their now empty wagon.

The above assumption of a grain elevator and a freight station assumes that the town had railroad service. That is why it was so important for towns to entice a railroad to build through or near them. In fact, towns would fight for a second railroad to introduce competition. Until 1887, the eastern terminus of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway was Kansas City. In 1887 they finished their line from Kansas City to Chicago. During the planning stages, Fort Madison outbid Keokuk to secure the route across the Mississippi river even though Andrew Carnegie had already built a bridge in Keokuk. And Galesburg citizens bought the right of way through town, the land for the depot, and 20 acres for yards and gave the land to the Sante Fe if it would come through Galesburg. Basically, they bribed Santa Fe $65,000 to come to their town. (TheZephyr) I could not find an inflation calculator that went back to the 1800s, but if I assume the $65k was in 1913 dollars, they gave over $1.5 million to the Santa Fe.

In the above TheZephyr article, I saw the town Chillicothe in print. (Actually, in the glow of LCDs.) That name required me to look closely at a map. When I did, I noticed that the town has a railroad bridge across the Illinois River, but not a highway bridge. This struck me as strange. Normally a town has at least as many highway bridges as it does railroad bridges. So I did an analysis of the bridges across the bigger rivers in and around Illinois. Chillicothe is the only town I found that has a population over 5000 and a railroad bridge, but not a highway bridge.

Back to the topic at hand -- getting grain to an elevator and bringing mail-order purchases home. It struck me when I was writing the Sante Fe post that there were a lot of tracks in southern Kansas when you look at all of the branch lines.

Source: 1891 Map, © www.MemorialLibrary.com, used with permission and is authorized for this site only.
Note that these maps are from an 1891 book for grain merchants. More evidence of how important it was for a farmer to know where the nearest railroad stop was. For example, note the branch to Gridley about half-way down and two-thirds across. I looked on a road map to get a scale and Gridley is about 15 miles east of Madison. Likewise, CB&Q heavily covered southern Iowa and northern Missouri.

Source: 1891 Map, © www.MemorialLibrary.com, used with permission and is authorized for this site only.
The distance from Creston south to the border is about 30 miles. So by building a parallel line from Humeston to Shenandoah, CB&Q made the farmer's distance to a track about 8 miles. Since the farmer needs to go to a station, not just a track, the max distance is more than 10 miles.  Most of this "horse distance" track was abandoned before 1950. I also noticed that Conway, which looks like an important town in 1891 is not even in the index of my 2014 road atlas.

In the following BNSF map, the upper green lines are CB&Q, the blue lines are Santa Fe, and the orange lines are abandoned. The light green and blue lines have been bought by short lines.

Copyleft by Elkman
When I was studying the Wabash Railroad map to help figure out Indiana track density, I learned that a lot of other lines are missing from the CB&Q map above. Specifically, neither of Wabash's lines from Missouri into Iowa are represented in the CB&Q map. So the track density is even higher than either of these maps indicates.

Source: 1891 Map, © www.MemorialLibrary.com, used with permission and is authorized for this site only.

When I analyzed an Indiana map, it seems that it wasn't sufficient to have a railroad every 15-30 miles or so, but to have two railroads. A reminder of how important it was to farmers to have competitive shipping prices to get their grain and livestock to market.

The railroads reducing the cost of shipping food is one of the factors that made the mass migration of people from farms to cities possible. (Farm machinery is another. New "needs," and thus jobs, such as the cosmetics and fashion industries is another.


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