Friday, July 18, 2014

K&S: Kankakee and Seneca Railroad

The reason for researching this railroad is the railroad bridge that is over the Illinois River on the east side of Seneca.

K&S was organized in 1881, and it was intended to be a link between the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad and the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Chicago Railway. The later was known as the Big Four, and its successor was the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway, CCC&STL. Rock Island and Big Four each owned half of the K&S, but it operated under the Big Four name. Nonetheless, the K&S had its own train crews and station agents. The road began operations in 1882 and went between Kankakee and Seneca via Bonfield, Freilings, Union Hill, Essex, Coster, Gardner, Booth, Mazon, Wauponsee, and Langham. It had 42.15 miles of main track and 6.41 miles of sidetracks. It was abandoned Feb 24, 1933. All of the track east of North Gonnam Road south of the river has been removed. And the towns of Freilings and Wauponsee disappeared after the abandonment.

A comment for Fred Frailey's column concerning this bridge indicated that in the 1980s the plant was a duPont (later ETI) explosives plant. That would explain why it is off "Dupont" road. Another comment from Trains login NebraskaZephyr is:

Know this bridge and the area well, having grown up along the RI in Utica, IL and worked for the Daily Times newspaper in Ottawa.

When the K&S was mostly abandoned in the late 1930s, the Rock Island kept the track a bit beyond the DuPont plant to service a grain elevator a mile or two southeast at a place the railroad called Langham. As recently as 10 years ago, the derelict elevator was visible on the horizon from the front gate of the plant.

Another interesting tidbit about that remnant of the K&S is the switch barely visible at the bottom of Fred's second photo. It leads to Conti-Carriers, a rail-barge transfer facility for bulk materials. Originally that parcel of land was developed by Chicago Bridge & Iron into a shipyard that hummed round-the-clock cranking out LSTs for the U.S. Navy. The Seneca-built LSTs joined the Manitowoc-built submarines in heading off to war down the Illinois River.

Fred, I've always been a great fan of your work and I'm glad you got to take a tour of my old railroad stomping ground.

Harold Krewer

Before I learned about the K&S, I studied satellite images to see where the railroad went after it crossed the river. What surprised me was how easy it was to follow the abandoned line to Mazon, IL. It was harder to follow the old line from Mazon to Gardner, IL. And I was unable to follow it past Gardner. Also, was easier to follow than Below is an excerpt from an aerial photo taken in 1940.
The blob of trees in the upper-left corner is Mazon. The line going southeast from Mazon is the K&S. I captured the area south of the K&S to compare with the following satellite image.
Notice the extra two "lines" in the satellite image. I was easily able to follow the one that comes in close to the middle on the west side to the Northeast to the west side of Coal City. I don't think they are power line right of ways because I could not see any wires or towers. (I confirmed with some known power lines that wires and towers are visible at the maximum zoom.) Are they buried pipelines since the aerial photo indicates that they are not abandoned railroads? I think so because I followed the bottom "line," and it intersected with the following facility that is east of Mazon.

Below is a screen shot of the aerial mapping web page that records the 1940 aerial photo I used for the above image of "land scars."
And I noticed that the layout of the plant north of Dupont Road was quite different back then.
Update: The comments for the crossing of the Santa Fe in Mazon, IL has more history of the K&S. Of special note is that the line ended operations on February 24, 1933. And I traced the K&S on the Kankakee end when studying abandoned bridge piers in the Kankakee River.

Bill Molony ->
Bill's comment:
The Kankakee & Seneca Railroad connected with: The Big Four and the Illinois Central in Kankakee at MP 0.0
The Wabash in Essex at MP 18.0

The Elgin, Joliet & Eastern in Coster at MP 22.9

The Chicago & Alton in Gardner at MP 23.9

The Santa Fe in Mazon at MP 30.8

The Rock Island in Seneca at MP 42.5
Bill Molony: The K&S was owned 50% by the Big Four and 50% by the Rock Island. It was constructed for the purpose of providing a through route between the Big Four and the Rock Island that bypassed Chicago.

safe_image for KLASEY: Kankakee & Seneca Railroad the local 'short line'
The Kankakee & Seneca Railroad died in 1933, at the age of 51."

Josh Biggers -> 
Josh's comment:
Here we have an Eastbound Kankakee and Seneca mixed passenger/freight train arriving into the town of Bonfield, IL. This was taken some time between 1900 and 1910.
The train is lead by a CRI&P 4-4-0. I can't tell what engine number she is but judging by the shape of the boiler and steam domes she has a 500 number.
Notice the brakeman on the roof of the boxcar behind the locomotive.

Comments indicated that 4-4-0's could be powerful for such a small engine because that was a rather long train.


  1. I grew up on a farm 1 mile east and 1/2 mile south of Essex, Kankakee County that the Big 4 ran though. I remember the railroad grade that my father had leveled to farm the land. The grade ran east to west through the farm. I still have one concrete post used for the railroad right of way fencing. Dean Sharper

  2. My family has been influenced by the K&S since its inception. My Maternal Great Grandfather Sam Madison helped grade the right of way in 1881 and in 1906 purchased a farm southeast of Mazon, Ill, that was crossed by the K&S. His son, Oliver Madison used to ride the trains to school in Mazon in the early part of the 20th century. My mother, Kathleen Madison Gonnam, walked the right of way into Mazon in the 1930's. My Paternal Grandfather arrived in Wauponsee Station in 1900 on a K&S train. He spent the rest of his life in Vienna Twp. farming. His family's primary outlet for grain was Dunn Bros. at Langham on the K&S. And, in the summer of 1965, I worked at that elevator receiving grain and trucking grain to the Continental Elevator on the Illinois River in Seneca. I also remember us loading a boxcar with corn to ship out. Currently, I am in the process of building a N scale railroad including Wauponsee Station in 1900. Modeling this has been a challenge because rolling stock representing this era is difficult to find.