S County Remnants Of The Past

S County Remnants Of The Past

“Leaky Roof” Railroad

Kansas City Star

Thursday, 11 March 1971

The Old ‘Leaky Roof’ Railroad

By Howard Brickey

Thirty-six years after the demise of the rusty Kansas City, Clinton & Springfield railroad, one of the road’s veteran locomotive engineers continues to “railroad” at his home in Clinton, Mo.

He is Fred Long, now 91 years old, who was at the throttle of a K.C.C.&S. locomotive when word came that the Interstate Commerce commission had granted the struggling owners permission to abandon the line, in 1935.

Long has related the highlights of his 35 years with the railroad to Mahlon Neill White, Clinton newspaperman, who has written of the road’s colorful background in “The Leaky Roof”.

The Leaky Roof’s tracks stretched only from Olathe and Stanley, Kas. eastward into Missouri, linking numerous communities, including Belton, Raymore, Harrisonville, Garden City, Clinton, Deepwater, Osceola, and Ash Grove in Greene County.

However, by utilizing tracks of the St. Louis-San Francisco railroad between Kansas City and Olathe, and between Ash Grove and Springfield, the K.C.C.&S. was able to extend its operation to include the two cities which figured so prominently in its name – Kansas City and Springfield.

Clinton was the pivotal city, however, 96 miles by rail from Kansas City, and 108 miles from Springfield. In fact, the line advertised itself as “The Clinton Line”, the words emblazoned on its rolling stock. Its largest switch yards, lone roundhouse and machine shop, were in Clinton, the chief division point.

The railroad’s history is the story of a struggling line, born in the late 1880s, which was never able to gain full independence from its close competitor – the Frisco, and the Frisco’s antecedents. In the end, the K.C.C.&S. was finally taken over by this competitor.

The K.C.C.&S. was the dream of E.J. Perry, owner of coal mines, who in the ‘80s envisioned a great coal field being developed if a railroad were built through an area that included Henry County. Perry successfully interested George Nettleton, president of the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis railroad, in the venture.

As a start, the builders purchased an existing line owned by the Santa Fe, with tracks from Lawrence, through Olathe, Belton, Raymore and Pleasant Hill. Preserving only that part of the purchased line between Olathe and Raymore, Nettleton built to the southeast, eventually to Ash Grove, where the new road joined his Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis.

A Rival

The K.C.C.&S. was saddled by a rival right from the start, as John I. Blair, a New Jersey millionaire, started building the Kansas City, Osceola & Southern from Kansas City, virtually paralleling the insecure K.C.C.&S. A construction race developed to see which line would be first to reach the Osage river.

Long afterward, in the 1930s, W.C. Lucas, a Kansas City lawyer, recalled the finish of the race.

“I remember that race well,” he recounted. “I was then a boy in Osceola. Everyone was watching the two rival railroads heading our way. There was lots of betting. I bet a quarter with a boy that Blair would win, and he did. But the other boy wouldn’t pay me because Blair built to the north side of the river, opposite Osceola, and stopped there, ferrying his passengers and freight across. But Nettleton built a bridge across the Osage and entered Osceola first.”

The triumph at Osceola by the K.C.C.&S. lasted only a few years, before the rival line was acquired by the Frisco and its tracks extended to bridge the gap between the Osage river and Springfield. Almost from that time, bitter competition sapped the financial strength of the Kansas City, Clinton & Springfield, and threatened its independence.

For more than 40 years the rivals operated virtually side by side. About six years before it finally folded, the K.C.C.&S. likewise came under complete control of the Frisco. Both roads operated through passenger trains between Kansas City and Springfield, by way of Clinton.

The line came by its widely known nickname because of defective roofs in its rolling stock.

The Dickey-Clay tile plant at Deepwater at one time shipped about 250 cars of tile products each month. The roof condition of boxcars mattered little to this shipper, so the defect was no problem, and many roofs were thus permitted to remain leaky.

However, on a rainy spring day at Clinton, the foreman of a flour mill saw that some of the cars with bad roofs had been switched to the mill siding for loading.

“Don’t ship out any flour today,” the foreman passed the word in the mill. “They’ve sent us another batch of leaky roofs.”

The “fame” of the K.C.C.&S. thus spread over the system, and ever afterward the road was known as “The Leaky Roof”.

The Leaky Roof, by Mahlon Neill White (25 pages, paperback; The Printery, Clinton, Mo.; $1)


Monday, 17 October 2005

The “Leaky Roof” railroad line was mentioned in the Sept. 19 column about the Frisco High Line.

Former Springfield Fire Chief Bill Penland called to say he grew up on a farm on the Leaky Roof line at Eudora, in Polk County.

“I went to school in the 1930s at Eudora,” Penland said. “It was a ‘big’ school, a two-room instead of a one-room school.

“The tracks were about a half block from the school. When there was a train there, we were not allowed near the tracks.

“They called it the Leaky Roof line because the passenger cars leaked when it rained.

S County Remnants Of The Past

“There was a pond near our house and a hobo jungle nearby. When my dad, William Virgil Penland, saw fires down there at night, he wouldn’t let me out of the house.

“They had cattle pens along the tracks at Eudora. There weren’t many trucks then so the farmers herded their cattle to the pens to wait for a train.

“The line was abandoned long before I graduated from high school. You can still see some of the roadbed around Aldrich.” Penland said he never rode the train.

Joe Leith of Eudora, who went to school with Penland, believes the Frisco bought the line before it was abandoned around 1935.

He’s correct, said Pat Hiatt, a former Frisco employee. Hiatt, now with Burlington Northern-Santa Fe corporate relations in Fort Worth, Texas, said the Leaky Roof line was built in 1886.

The Kansas City, Clinton and Springfield Railroad ran from Raymore, a Kansas City suburb, to Ash Grove, where it tied in with the Frisco main line to Kansas City.

Hiatt said portions of the road near Kansas City were abandoned in the 1920s. The line from south of Osceola to the stone quarry at Phenix was abandoned in 1935.

“After the line was abandoned, the property owners were allowed to buy the land,” Penland said. “My dad bought some and later I bought some more. I spent $5 for the land and $300 for a lawyer.”

The Leaky Roof line ran parallel to the Frisco High Line in places. It went through Fair Play; the High Line through Bolivar to the east.

Also responding to the Sept. 19 column was Stella Cunningham, a library technician at Southwest Baptist University.

Her father, Jasper Clark, was a professor at Southwest Baptist College for 24 years. She and her father were in the crowd at a 1948 Bolivar event that featured a stop by President Harry Truman.

She remembers it was hot, but didn’t realize that Missouri Gov. Phil Donnelly, who was to introduce Truman, fainted from the heat, as Springfield attorney and banker John Hulston once told me.

“I only remember riding the High Line once, from Bolivar to Karlin, just a short distance south of Bolivar,” Cunningham said.

“The Catholic church at the Bohemian settlement sponsored a big picnic every Labor Day.”

(I never had the pleasure of attending it, but I can remember a Catholic priest coming into the News & Leader newsroom every year, lobbying for picnic publicity.)

Mike Dark, now living at Plano, Texas, said I was correct in assuming the town of Frisco was named for the Frisco Railway, which owned the land on which the town was built more than a century ago.

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