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MoPac R.R. History in Nebraska - Screaming Eagles Over the Prairie
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MoPac History

TEXAS
Artesian Belt Railway
Kansas Oklahoma & Gulf / Midland Valley / Muskogee Lines
Texas & Pacific RR / Texas-New Mexico RR



Sources:
Missouri Pacific River and Prairie Rails - the Missouri Pacific in Nebraska by Michael M. Bartels
this book is invaluable with it's information of the MoPac's history in Lincoln, as well as all of Nebraska

The Hub of Burlington Lines West by Holck

The Lincoln Star & Journal


Special Thanks to William W. Kratville, Glen Beans, James Gilley, Michael Bartels, J. J. Holck, and Jim McKee for letting me borrow from their photos and research.




Every effort has been made to get the correct information on these pages, but mistakes do happen. Reporting of any inaccuracies would be appreciated.


All photos & text © 2000-2008 T. Greuter / ScreamingEagle@rrmail.com unless otherwise noted.

 

xxx


Being all of 7-years old, I didn't know or care much about history. But I did know that I was enthusiastic about trains. As far as I was concerned, ALL engines wore Jenks Blue with the white stripes on the nose that reminded me of "warpaint", and a huge white eagle with claws outstretched and screaming on the sides.

As I walked the rails in cowboy hat and boots, I didn't know all of the story. But as I reached down to pick up an ancient cinder/clinker my mind drifted to what it must have been like riding these rails long, long ago.

Lincoln, Nebraska - 1977

 

Westward to Lincoln!

With the coming of the Missouri Pacific to Omaha and its stockyards, it became a major goal of the city of Lincoln to bring the railline closer to home, not only for the benifits of competition to the other carriers, but to gain access to southern lumber and coal. After years of talks, in 1886 the Missouri Pacific laid track through the towns of Nehawka, Wabash, Weeping Water, Elmwood, Eagle, Walton and Lincoln, Nebraska. Wabash and Eagle came into being and flourished as a result of the new track being laid. In fact, the Dec 30, 1888 issue of the Daily Nebraska State Journal would proclaim that the MoPac had led to quite a bit of the prosperity seen in Lincoln over the preceeding three years. The connection to southern resources had indeed been fruitful. This branch line connected at Union to the Omaha line, and the growing Missouri Pacific Railroad system. Traffic from Omaha and Kansas City could reach these young communities. The carrier originated from Missouri and constructed parts of its trackage in Southeast Nebraska as subsidiary companies to the MoPac. Eventually about 347 route miles would operate in Nebraska.

A mileage marker just west of Eagle marks the spot where the Union and Lincoln extensions were joined. 5/13/95

The Missouri Pacific had staked it's claim in Lincoln. The original idea was to have the line push westward, and this got as far as the Union Pacific connection on the salt flats west of Lincoln (interchanging with UP continued here until the merger). In the early years the rail business boomed with transporting grain, livestock, coal, limestone, and lumber.

The 1870's and 1880's were decades of rapid growth for small towns such as Weeping Water on the branch or Falls City in far southeastern Nebraska. Weeping Water experienced a building boom, with the name "Missouri Pacific" being adopted by not only a new hotel, but also the town's baseball team. Meanwhile down in Falls City in 1871, the coming of the Atchison and Nebraska Railroad accelerated the town's growth, while in 1881-82, the Missouri Pacific mainline from Omaha to Atchison, Kansas opened. In 1909, Falls City became a division point on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. This improved transportation access helped Falls City grow from 607 in 1807 to 3,022 in 1900.

Weeping Water was not only at the heart of the Union to Lincoln branch, but had become a Missouri Pacific crossroads in 1887. Before the track to Lincoln was finished, crews began clearing a right of way up north to Omaha and down south to Talmage for a connection to the Crete Branch. Meanwhile, up in Omaha the MoPac was encircling the whole city with it's own belt line. It continued the use of UP's Omaha facilities but would no longer merely be a "guest" of the Union Pacific there.

In 1881 The Missouri Pacific made another stab in Nebraska further west. After some controversial stock wheeling and dealing by rail giant Jay Gould, the Union Pacific had aquired the Central Branch R.R. in Concordia, Kansas - thus driving out the competition from the Kansas Pacific R.R. The Union Pacific then leased this track to the MoPac, which had access to Concordia by it's own line. The MoPac's aim of extending farther west had taken another step forward. Eventually the Missouri Pacific aquired the interest and began laying track extending northwest from Warwick, Kansas to Prosser, Nebraska in 1887. Prosser experienced a boom with it's own streetcars and a cotton mill, but the railroad's aspirations languished as efforts to push up across the Platte River and on to Kearney failed to make progress due to the lack of support.

Lincoln's Union Station, jointly operated by the MoPac and C&NW, as it appeared sometime after the turn of the century - from a postcard

Being the northernmost extension of the railroad, the Missouri Pacific had to face new natural foes as well as the man-made kind. Such was the challenge of Nebraska's unpredictable weather, which seems to prefere the extreme more often than not... flash floods and tornadoes, grassfires, or fighting to keep the trains from becoming snowbound during heavy snowstorms, such as the infamous Blizzard of 1888 which prooved deadly all across the plains.

In October 1887 work began on a new brick and sandstone passenger station at Ninth and S streets west of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, replacing a small frame depot. With it's Baroque style spires the new station was decidedly a bit more elaborate than the old structure. The MoPac shared the facility with the Freemont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley (later the Chicago & Northwestern) as well as some jointly operated rails. The cooperation between the two lines would continue until the C&NW ceased oprations in Lincoln, an arrangement that lasted 95 years. The station came to be known as Union Depot. It was the only one in Lincoln at the time to be used by more than one rail company. Three years after the new passenger station, both companies moved into their new freight depot just to the west. Though station facilities and rails were shared, the MoPac and C&NW mantained their own additonal yard spaces and engine terminals, surrounded by lumber warehouses, coal industry companies, and other commercial dealers.

 

Railroad Stories

There are a couple of intriguing stories involving the MoPac in Lincoln. One story concerns a dispute involving crossing rights which threatened to become down right ugly back in 1890 on August 25.

The Missouri Pacific, the Burlington & Missouri River (a predecessor of BNSF), and the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley (now an excursion line) were miffed at the North Lincoln Electric Railway. The electric streetcar line, in preparation to enter northern Lincoln, laid track between two tracks of the MoPac near 11th and W Streets. The superintendent for the Burlington (who's tracks paralleled the MoPac) and the attorneys for both the Elkhorn and the Missouri Pacific were soon at the scene of the "crime". Then the 3 railroads had moved their locomotives accompanied by a force of 200 men to join the dispute. The stand-off lasted hours with both sides glaring and trading insults, but gradually kept enough of their cool, deciding to resolve the issue in the courts instead.

The next day, the 26th, a judge issued a restraining order against the railroads, prohibiting them from interfering with the streetcar line. But by the morning of the 27th, the streetcar company charged four Burlington officials with disobeying the restaining order.

Now things got worse...

That afternoon the sheriff and a deputy were called out to the disputed site. They found the main and side tracks again occupied by the railroads' locomotives. When ordered to move off the crossing, the engineers would only move one locomotive at a time, constantly leaving one to block the track. The engineers were arrested, a skirmish ensued again threatening to become bloody, so the sheriff swore in 20 deputies armed with revolvers (including some of the streetcar company men). The crowd was driven back. Then a fireman had to be overpowered in order to move an engine off the crossing, amidst cheers and jeers. The railroads were defeated, but they left the spaces between the street car track 'paved with rails'

Accidents were a common occurance on any railroad. Such was the case of a "lost" train. In January 1911, a MoPac road crew unfamiliar with Lincoln left early one morning, not realizing that the track switch was aligned for a C&NW passenger train. The C&NW roundhouse took notice of the unexpected sight rolling by and notified the tower at North 27th Street to flag down the wayward train. Fortuantely they were stopped, and face to face with the C&NW passenger train!

On July 21, 1911 the operator of a MP 4-6-0 somehow either lost balance from the cab and fell off or jumped off to throw a switch and couldn't climb back on the moving engine (the stories conflict). Anyway the results were the agreed to be the same as the unmanned loco made an unscheduled stop through the wall of the C&NW ticket office. No injuries occured, but tickets were strewn all over among the rubble as employees rushed to collect the booty.

There were a few other encounters. Sharing a busy railyard in the age of steam was no easy matter... and there were times when the foremen of the two companies were said to have had skirmishes. But overall the MoPac and C&NW crews worked well together.

The City and the Railline Grows

MP 724 - The 2-10-2 literally fills the sky with hot steam on this frigid 21st of January day, 1951. It would be one of the last times steam would be seen on this mainline, as #1724 pulls a freight northward near Lake Street in Omaha, Nebraska - photo © copyright William W. Kratville, used with permission

Peck's Grove, a farm and orchard east of 33rd Street in Lincoln grew into a community thanks to the MoPac's service to the college town. This area of open farmland was subdivided into residential lots, and a depot was erected by the Fall of 1886. Later on, by the 1920's, the depot would be reduced to a shed With the coming of the postwar years a sign continued to mark the stop, long after the city of Lincoln swallowed up the one-time farm. And even then it was still used as a stop for neighborhood residents. There was another flagstop farther on east to serve Bethany Heights, another new developement around a new college, with it's depot located at what is today's 66th Street. MoPac's motorcars were a common sight during these years. The Bethany Heights building stood long after it outlived it's use as a depot, being converted to an elevator scale house in the Twenties. By then the growing city of Lincoln annexed this area as well.

The coming of the Burlington's Zephyr meant a new source of stiff competition facing the Missouri Pacific in Nebraska. By August 1937 Lincoln saw its first diesels in road service, a pair of NC2s #4100 and 4101, although appearing to be switchers, these were painted up in the early road colors of black with white trim (over the years MP would modify a number of switcher-types including the addition "streamlined" cowling over the front end reservoirs for road service). One of the new diesels handled one or two daily passenger runs to Union, while the other switched in Lincoln during the day, and ran round trip freight to Union at night. The countdown clock had begun for Steam on the branchline, but not until 1951 would the last fire would be put out.

 

WWII Legacy

During wartime the Missouri Pacific participated in the building of the Martin bomber plant near the Fort Crook, Nebraska station. The forty-eight new buildings constructed as well ast the airstrip were leased to the Martin-Nebraska Co. (an arm of Glen L. Martin Co.).

Martin used the facility to produce bombers and other aircraft. At it's peak, the Martin Bomber plant employed 14,500 workers and turned out over 2,000 war planes, 1,585 B-26 Marauder bombers, 531 B-29 Super Fortress bombers and modified over 1,000 other aircraft. The best known bombers of the War were products of the Nebraska plant - the famous B-29 Enola Gay and Bock's Car which dropped the atomic bombs on Japan and brought an end to World War Two.

After the war, was leased to the Army and processed prisoners of war. In 1946 the airfield was designated as Offut Field by the Army Air Corps, ultimately becoming Offut Air Foce Base. The former bomber plant was transformed once again for an even bigger role, converted into the new headquarters of the Strategic Air Command (SAC).

A scene once common now gone. Caboose #13408 rounds a rural curve at Omaha, Nebraska. "Schoolhouse Bend" as pictured by reknowned photographer William W. Kratville - © W. W. Kratville photo, used with permission

Growing up in the 40's and 50's with the Eaglet

It was Feburary 1940 - Lincoln was close enough to the route of the Mopac's new streamliner to be treated to a visit by the pre-inaugaral tour of the Eagle... even though the Eagle didn't make a direct connection here. Excitement would continued to be high, even billboards advertising the sleek streamliner began to appear in town. Soon passengers would make a short trip from Lincoln to board the new Eagle at Union. By September 1942 a double-ended streamlined Motorailer No. 670 built by ACF was put into service on the Lincoln branch as a compliment to the Eagle. Resplendant in attractive blue, gray and yellow border matching those of it's now-famous parent the motorcar was nicnamed the "Eaglette" or the "Little Eagle". Operations required a crew of four - the railway express agent, conductor, brakeman, and engineer. Inside its passengers were treated to the comforts of the streamliners traveling at a sometimes bumpy 55 mph with unequalled railtravel views from it's glassed front. Occasionally standard motorcars or a steam engine would fill in when the "Eaglette" was unavailable. Over a course of the next 12 years this motorcar captured the attention and hearts of Lincolnites and came to symbolize the Missouri Pacific between Union and Lincoln. When there was talk of its retirement in 1952, local outcries, plus MoPac's chief executive officer Paul J. Neff brought it back into service for another 2 years. The poor soul who originally suggested the retirement idea was demoted.

MP 670, the 'EAGLETTE' MotoRailer - © copyright T. Greuter

The Eaglet was a definite hit with the local kid population, achieving fame that would outlast it's all too brief career. A Lincoln-native now living in Eagle, Bob Soflin writes "I grew up in Bethany Park in the 50's... along the banks and in the depths of "Dead Mans' Run" ... where I used to fish for crawdads under the creek bridge between Cotner and 66th South of Vine. The banked curve between 56th and Cotner offered many hours of pleasure walking the rails waiting for the Eaglet and the daily freight. When no trains were expected the creek offered a diversion and when that didn't entertain us we chased wayward golf balls on nearby Park Valley Golf Course. "

"I loved the Eaglet and knew when she was coming every day. I got to ride her to Union and back twice before they took her off. I also remember seeing some steam freights and one time a circus train came through. "

But of all Bob's memories, one image stands out among the rest, "As the Eaglet approached Cotner from 56th to me it was the most beautiful thing I ever witnessed."

 

 

Dieselization Brings Big Changes

May 16, 1948 saw the coming of the Freedom Train to Lincoln, filled with historical artifacts being exhibitted across the country. While parked in the MoPac's passenger depot it was visited by 8,241 people. In a few short years the towering spire and intricate designs would themselves pass into history as the old station was replaced by a smaller, more modern facility in April 1953.

A MoPac train passes behind a new suburb in the 48th-56th Street area in the early 1960's. It still looking more like the farmland it was when the line was originally built. This area will change greatly from development over the next 10 years.

Big changes were happening by late 1951. The ever forward-looking Missouri Pacific was the first of Nebraska's major raillines to completely dieselize. This meant jobs were cut back, the city-scape changed with the disappearance of water and coaling towers and roundhouses. Even roads in Falls City were affected as the city lost its source of cinders used on it's unpaved streets. MP 486, a 2-8-0 was the last MoPac steam locomotive out of Lincoln.

Nine years after replacing the granduer of the old station, the modern joint MoPac/C&NW passenger depot in Lincoln was itself demolished in 1962, with operations moved to a freight office space the two railroads shared with a beer company. For years the station was the departure point for trains, motorcars, provide passenger service to and from Union, Nebraska to meet the sleek Missouri River Eagle streamliner. By July of 1954 a Missouri Pacific bus would take over the The Eaglet's 12-year assignment, with the motorcar being moved further south to work in the warmer climate of Louisiana, where Nebraska's deep snows couldn't lock it up in an icey grip. Depots were disappearing in Elmwood, Eagle, Union and to the south in Talmage. And eventually, like the others, the newest Lincoln freight office was gone to make room for the highway overpass of Interstate 180 by 1986, leaving only a few tracks as reminders under the new concrete bridges.

MP 213 and Chicago & NorthWestern 1545, - the Geeps offer comparative views while switching cars at the joint MP/C&NW yard a stone's throw from Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. The date is April 19, 1974. - © copyright Glen Beans, used with permission

Over the years the MoPac kept a solid presence along the branch line. The daytime switch engine crew would build a train at Lincoln to be taken by a road crew to Union, then back to Lincoln. In 1963 the late evening departures were moved up to late afternoon... around 5 p.m., in order to get the road engines back in time for the switch yard crew the next morning. The railroad ran everything they had into Lincoln at some time or another, but they did have some preferances for the branch. By the late1970's the equipment had changed many times - gray and blue had long since given way to solid blue for economy back in 1962. A pair of sleek new GP15's or slightly older GP38-2's had replaced the aging GP7's and F7's, which before them had replaced the varied mix of steam driven locos like the Ten-Wheelers, the pride of passenger crews on the branch in the 30's. But always the service continued as it had everyday except on Sundays, a traditional rest day. Occasionally the day off was changed for football Saturdays, and operations were suspended due to the Mopac's close quarters to the University of Nebraska's Memorial Stadium... a very wise decision in light of the crew's challenging efforts to switch cars among rabid Big Red fans. When the city wished to expand "O" Street to four lanes, the railroad replaced it's bridge over the street in July 1971, becoming the largest rail landmark in town. For awhile, a pair of new MP15ACs yard switchers, #1533 and 1532 were seen building trains in the Lincoln yard during 1974. By the mid 1970's the through train, #171 and 172 were performing the local switching operations. The Lincoln switch crew was discontinued service in July 1975. This left one train to do everything, occasionally with a switch crew being brought back briefly during times of heavier traffic.

 

 

Growing up in the 70's with a railroad in your backyard

Five o'clock p.m... except for the caw of a jay in the surrounding trees growing upon the isolation of the surrounding hills, all was silence. This was another world apart from the everyday suburbs hidden all around. Then in the distance you'd look up, and there it was... a bright glimmering point of light shining. We knew what it meant. It was coming! Not much longer you could hear the horn blast and the light rose higher as it approached the 48th Street bridge heading straight toward east. Now you could make out a shape around the light. When the air and the ground both began to rumble from the throb of EMD turbine engines, it seemed that any kid on the block who wasn't already outside would rush out the backdoor of their home to watch and wave.

As a kid, my family lived close enough to the MoPac's Lincoln-Union line that you could feel ground shake as the train passed. The MoPac was an overwhelming sight of white warpaint (that's what the white nose chevrons reminded me of), buzzsaws and billboard-sized screamin' eagles on the long hoods... endless loads of graincars... trailers on flats of every color and boxcars from all over the country. Sometimes we'd see loads of military tanks or other vehicles on their way to the Nebraska National Guard. One engine was affectionately known as "the Greaser", due to all the oily residue clinging to it's sides. If we were quick and rich enough we could crush a penny under the wheels of the heavy engines (the all-copper pennies minted before '72 worked best).


MP 1624 with her brakeman at the ready, the little GP7 rumbles through the UNL campus on a clear white day in Lincoln, Nebraska on March 5, 1976. Later it will make the 5pm run east to Union, then back home to Lincoln around midnight. - © Glen Beans Photo

Always there was an enthusiastic wave from the conductor in his bright red caboose, he must have gotten a swollen arm from all the waving he'd do each day as he saw us fly past from high above in his cupola. We'd stand and stare as the train rumbled away, going over the hump past at 56th Street, until it was no longer in sight. The smell of diesel still hung in the air as we turned back to our bicycle races or tv cartoon shows. Or maybe just a few of us stayed behind, as we would search the gravel around the rails for our newly flattened penny with all the wonders of the smoke and noise of the MoPac still playing in our minds.

Mom always tried to persuade me away from the rails, telling me if I got too close I'd be sucked under the wheels. I didn't believe her... no engine traveling at 20 miles an hour could do that. But still I always used caution whenever near my stretch of track. Better to have a healthy respect and not to push your luck with any train - you'll always come out the loser.

Now I'm not here to defend what a bunch of us kids in my neighborhood did way back when (if and when dads and moms found out our gooses were usually cooked too). And I'm sad to say some of what we did was pretty stupid, even for kids. I will confess that we took advantage of our apple tree and delighted in using a passing hopper empty for target practice (locos or cabooses were off limits) - the empties boomed like a humongous drum, a pretty big sound for a little kid to make. Yes, we could be brats at times... and darned lucky that no one was hurt either on the train or the kids. There was always someone laying a rock or a branch or even a spike on the rails just to see the aftermath of it being squished. I lived directly beside the tracks, and I kind of had different ideas. I had my own little patrol on the rails every day and knock any obstacles off... sometimes rocks or 2x4's or fallen trees. A train derailment into all these surrounding homes wasn't going to happen under my watch!

This wasn't the only type of mayhem the neighborhood kids got into. Around about the 4th Grade, a friend of mine who we'll fictionally call Greg the Schemer, had hatched a scheme to collect old rail spikes then selling the metal to a scrapyard. Now there was always this rumor going around with us kids for as long as I could remember - that rail spikes were worth their weight in gold and ripe for the picking. Many had tried and all had failed. But Greg had a plan. So after the school bell rang at 3:00pm he ran out of the schoolyard to the rails nearby and began hunting for spikes that had worked their way loose or had fallen off. The secret to Greg's master plan was wearing his extra baggy jeans with big pockets that day. With much sweat and toil, Greg pulled spikes and filled his pockets with all the booty he could carry and with a noticeable swagger he trotted off home. In his head I'm sure he happily dreamed of how to spend every last cent of his soon to be had riches.

Then along after 5:00pm rolled by, not long after one expects all the neighborhood fathers have gone home from a hard day's work, I happened to spot Greg back working on the track. This time he was under very close adult supervision. I couldn't hear what was said, but I imagine it was just as well. The stern looking figure would point to the rails, then stand with hands on hips and the poor Greg the Schemer pounded every spike he pilfered into the hard cross ties with a small hammer. Oh the humiliation... another great kid-idea bites the dust!

Sublettered for Mopac subsidiary Texas & Pacific, #13103 is parked on the college campus at Lincoln, Nebraska in October 1975. This evening it will be headed back east to Union, then it or a sister will make the return back again to Lincoln around midnight - © copyright Glen Beans Photo

At times the railroad would bring on a few troubles itself. Now the trackage east from 40th Street straight over the 48th Street concrete bridge, past the schoolyard through to 56th was free from any crossings save for a single school sidewalk. There were times when the local crews were either faced with an over-full yard or busy switching out cars, so thier solution was to park a long cut of freight cars between 40th and 56th Streets (either for a few hours in the morning, or since the previous night).

This gave the crew a huge stretch - longer than the yard itself - to park cars without impeding road traffic. Busy 48th Street now ran under the line (I believe that the grade seperation was constructed around the 1950's). Unfortunately someone didn't take into account the school kids who used the sidewalk crossing the tracks to reach Riley Elementary School. Ten minutes before the school bell rang at 9 a.m., kids everywhere were crawling through the parked cars, under cars or tried to find a way around, oblivious to the danger. Then pretty soon the cars would roll without warning as the crew would finally clear the sidewalk The freight office received some very pointed phonecalls those mornings.

The MoPac always offered hours of entertainment for us kids, even when they were not running trains. Finding old date nails imprinted way, way back in the 1920s and '30s was fun. We made it a competition to see who could find the most colorful rock from the ballast bed - the ones with a bright stripes of rusty orange mixed with black on white where more valuable than diamonds, especially if it had a vein of glitter in it. The biggest prize however were the ancient klinkers and coal cinders, perhaps dropped off of one of the ten-wheelers that used to call Lincoln home. These were sometimes bigger than both fists put together and reminded me of something as exotic as a meteorite.

After a MoW gang had been through our area performing some trackwork (the spreaders and pullers put on an impressive show) we'd have fun picking-up the discarded items, an empty track nail drum could always be used for an addition to the clubhouse, and it was always cool to find a bent spike in the shape of an "L". One lucky day I found a spike driver with a split handle thrown into the weeds of a hillside - I still have that relic today. The most exciting bit of equipment I was fortunate enough to play with for some time was the speeder that a crewman parked behind our home. I spent a whole weekend in my engineers cap and bandana playing on that thing, waving off any possible dangers with a lantern and sounding an imaginary airhorn.

As kids we'd sometimes lay out on the dirt hill beside the right of way with our bikes, chewing on a stalk of grass straw and wait for the train to come. To pass time we'd have a Railwalking contest to see how far we could go before loosing balance - I had alot of practice at this. There were always trestle bridges and culverts with a little creek to explore. But we had to always keep an eye on the horizon for a bright little speck of light. The line was flat and straight enough that you could see a train approaching miles away, long before you could hear the horn. As the engineer saw us gathered to wave he'd give a blast of the horn or ring the bell which made us jump and cheer.


MP 2032, a GP38-2, which appears ready for the eastward run to Union from Lincoln, Nebraska on March 5, 1976. - © Glen Beans Photo

To give a brief idea of rail operations in Lincoln during the years of the 1970-80's, MoPac had direct access to many local industries. Lincoln Lumber and Hyland Bros. - both lumber industries were located between 33rd and 20th Streets. Cushman Industries - renowned manufacturer of Cushman golf carts, motor scooters, etc... was another major industry directly linked to the line here. East of 17th Street the line crossed the CRIP and the local switching company OL&B, who handled two of the larger grain elevators in the city, as well as the Reimers-Kaufman/Ready Mix plant which kept shipments of sand, gravel, lime & cement in constant demand. Just west, north and northeast of Memorial Stadium the line became the joint MP/CN&W rail yard. Here the two roads interchanged freely and shared the freight office as well. Just southwest of the yard were the team tracks, Lincoln Station, and the Haymarket district where the MoPac interchanged with BN and UP. Finally the line terminated into the UP line west of town and west of Salt Creek. Passenger traffic was long gone, but the twin daily runs was as routine as day and night.

MP #1547, a MP15 DC, switching cars at the joint MP/C&NW yard near Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. Though it's November 1974, from the looks of the bright red engineer's cap, it's easy to imagine things haven't changed too much since the days of steam power. - © Glen Beans Photo

As a kid, the almost endless summers of discovery of the tracks always held something for us, whether it was the mechanical mystery of a work train plodding by one day... or playing engineer on an orange pushcar parked behind my home the next. Just about midnight the engine would make a return run from Union back to its roost near Memorial Stadium. You could hear it coming from a greater distance during the stillness of the night... I could trace it's path past Cotner Boulevarde, then 56th Street in my mind. The ground would vibrate and the windows rattle as the powerful EMD engines got closer. I'd rise from my pillow and peek out my darkened bedroom window that faced the track to see the sillouttes rush by as a multitude of dancing "lightning bugs" signalled off and on, as the familiar shapes made the track whir with the many steel wheels. Some may think it a shame that we missed-out on the age of steam, but us kids didn't care. Those were the best and biggest toys we ever had. This was my world.

 

 

Merger - the Big Mop-Up

Oftentimes the MoPac would be seen cooperating with the Burlington Northern (formerly the Chicago Burlington & Quincy), which had always been the rail king in Lincoln. The cooperation was not only seen in Lincoln but across both systems. The MoPac's philosophy saw a time of increased rail mergers coming, and was determined to find an ideal partner to merge with rather than be left behind in the future. The MoPac was always looking ahead. Other roads such as the Rock Island had slipped here and withered away into non-existence. Ultimately the prospects of a BN/MP union fell through, as the the two systems overlapped and duplicated too many operations to be profitable. The MoPac then turned it's eyes to the Omaha-based Union Pacific and things began to happen. A merger was rumored... then announced involving the UP, Western Pacific and the MoPac.

As reported in the local papers in September, 1980, no lines on any of the three merging railroads (Western Pacific, Union Pacific and the MoPac) were expected to be abandoned as a result of the impending merger of the three rail systems. Lincoln terminal operations were to be conslidated under a joint facility agreement between M.P. and U.P. An additional U.P. zone local train would operate to provide local freight service then handled by MoPac in Lincoln. Except for routing improvements, there were to be no major changes in operations in Nebraska outside of Omaha.

MP 2023 - a GP38-2 still a bluebird, but beginning to show signs that it's being stripped of it's MP heritage. Lincoln, Nebraska, 4/9/89 - Richard Wilson Photo/Todd Greuter Collection

When the merger was announced, the MoPac was the larger system. The MoPac rails covered more area than the Omaha based Union Pacific. MoPac owned more locomotives, most of which were under 10-years old. It's fleet and operating facilities were more modern using the cutting edge technology of the industry, keeping with MoPac's philosophy. When the two systems were laid out on a map, they met almost perfectly end-to-end, with little trackage overlapping.

During the early Eighties, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas line was seen running through Lincoln's east campus neighborhoods over the Mopac. This was one of the first signs of the impending merger going into effect, as the MKT exercised it's new trackage rights, performing many of the operations the blue MoPac Geeps had formerly done. After making a number of familiarization trips over the "Siberian Subdivision", as the "Katy" began calling it's new northern operations, the MKT took over and the MoPac's presence began to disappear for the first time in memory. Service to Lincoln slowed to semi-weekly, or even monthly at this time. By now I was growing up and working for my dad. I missed witnessing the infrequent action when it did happen behind our home. What a change it was to see the Katy's green hues roll by where large Screaming Eagles once flew. The daily 5pm MoPac freight out of Lincoln was a thing of the past. Though they were still in use, the rails seemed almost forgotten. Still, I had no idea what was about to happen next, even as I continued to walk the rails and escape into my world.

Missouri -Kansas-Texas # 632 is resting between assignments at Lincoln, Nebraska, 9/24/89 - photo James Gilley collection

 

 

...the sun sets upon the MoPac's Lincoln branch. Looking west to a local MoPac landmark, the 48th St. Bridge and the former "Peck's Grove" area.

Abandonment

Disaster happened in 1984 when heavy flooding damaged the steel rails, totally washing away a bridge crossing just west of the town of Weeping Water. The price for repairs along the tracks would be high... very high for a 47-mile long branchline.

There was a growing lack of sufficient revenue from the the smaller towns to keep up with the costs of modern railroading. The trucking industry was beginning to bite into the profits that formerly belonged to only the line. And the city of Lincoln had been pressuring the MoPac to build a new route, one going around the city, and abandon the long used trackage - which now found itself cutting straight through a busy, growing city that seemed to have popped-up overnight from the once endless grain fields. Perhaps the branchline was a victim of it's own success. There were growing conflicts with traffic, including a tragic collision between an outbound locomotive and a fire engine in 1981 that was in the headlines for weeks.

Bob Soflin witnessed these crashes from his own home. "Unfortunately, I also witnessed two horrible incidents when the Eaglet was late one winter evening and collided with a car at 66th before any signals were installed and there were two fatalities."

"Again, I witnessed the terrible accident with the Station 9 fire truck at Cotner & Vine and the daily freight ... I can still see the fire truck spinning like a top as the train came to a stop heading east on it's way to Union. I knew one of the fireman that was killed, Harley Grasmic, as he was thrown from the drivers seat and run over by the train. But, again those are things that become imbedded in your mind and are apart of the railroad heritage as, with anything else, human error and accidents will always occur."

The merger with the Union Pacific provided alternate access to Lincoln, the UP rails ran well around the city. All of these ingedients had been brewing for years under the surface, waiting for the right moment to combine for the inevitable result. The railroad deemed to petition for abandonment of the right-of-way between Weeping Water and Lincoln, just two years short of the branch's 100th anniversary in favor of access to Lincoln via the Union Pacific trackage. The towns of Wabash, Elmwood, Eagle, and Walton which sprouted and prospered alongside the line had been axed from the system. Weeping Water too, lost direct routes to Lincoln and Omaha, but had kept busy enough moving cars to and from Union and Louisville.

The last rail activity I remember seeing from my backyard consisted of the strange sight of a short string of yellow passenger cars, likely a UP inspection train. There hadn't been any traffic on the rails for so long... and I wouldn't see it again.

With a train of three covered hoppers, MoPac GP15 #1668 made the final trip from Lincoln to Elmwood and back on August 2, 1986. On May 13, 1988, scrapping of the branch from Lincoln's 33rd Street all the way to Elmwood began.

In a just a matter of a few years the Missouri Pacific Railroad, the blue engines with their white eagles and war-paint on the nose, the friendly wave from a bright red caboose, and ultimately the tracks themselves were all gone. The right-of-way, which had once rumbled daily with passengers filled with hopes and dreams, and supplies of grain, coal, lumber and goods to nourish a small college town into a prosperous city, has been preserved today as a very popular 30-mile long bike path... still puncuated by the caws of bluejays in the shadey elm trees.

 

 

The Missouri Pacific track rises then cuts through a hill west of 56th St. in Lincoln in the 1970's. Back in 1886, this area was part of the Thomson farm when, at 3:40 pm on August 14, the final spike was driven, finishing the Lincoln segment witnessed by about 50 onlookers on horse-drawn carriages. Regular rail service would begin on the 25th with almost an entire trainload of coal, followed two hours later by the first passenger train, almost full without advance publicity, headed for Weeping Water.

 

An Update

After the UP/MP/WP merger , Union Pacific took over the MoPac branchline from Lincoln to the Falls City Sub at Union. With the bridge washout from the 1984 floods, the UP opted to cut the west end of this line between Weeping Water and Lincoln. That left the ex-MP track running only as far as 35th Street in Lincoln for interchanging with the Omaha, Lincoln & Beatrice next door to the fairgrounds.

A paired set of former Missouri Pacific GP38-2's, now in U.P. paint, change cars on old MoPac rails on a hazy Saturday afternoon, Lincoln, Nebraska. Once a common site, now this too has also passed into history with the final abandonment of the remaining line by Union Pacific. 6/3/95 - T. Greuter photo

The University of Nebraska wanted the land the belonging to the line as it now cuts through a portion of the campus. After years and years of pressure from the University and City dating back to pre-merger days, the UP began pulling-up these last rails in the Summer/Fall of 2000. Only track from the OL&B interchange (18th Street) to Lincoln Lumber (23rd Street) remains with segments yet to be removed between 27th & 33rd Street. It's was assumed that the UP would interchange with the OL&B by trackage rights to be secured over BNSF's Omaha Line between 9th Street and 17th Street, but it's been observed that BNSF is handling the switching between the two companies.

By mid-summer UP the standard Geep pair assigned to Lincoln were called elsewhere as the company ceased its switching crew operations in Lincoln.

Union is still an important stopping point on the KC-Omaha mainline. Switching operations continue along the remainder of the Branch to the limestone, concrete, and fertilzer industries of Weeping Water and Louisville.




Pictured is a MoPac locomotive that crashed through the wall of the Lincoln depot into the ticket office in 1911.

Story courtesy of Jim McKee, Lincoln Journal-Star. Used with permission.

Click on Article to read at Full-size

 

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