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MoPac R.R. History in Nebraska - Screaming Eagles Over the Prairie
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The Central Branch R.R
and the Missouri Pacific in Nebraska

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Missouri Pacific River and Prairie Rails - the Missouri Pacific in Nebraska, by Michael M. Bartels

Life on the Central Branch, by Darrel Miller, 140 Pages

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 / unless otherwise noted.


NorthWest to Prosser!
by T. Greuter

With it's beginnings as the Central Branch Union Pacific (later Central Branch of the Missouri Pacific) Railroad that covered north central Kansas, this railroad pushed northwest into Nebraska in hopes of connecting to the Union Pacific RR and west toward Denver. In fact, this line never made it to Denver, nor connected directly to the UPRR, but rather became closely associated and finally a part of the Missouri Pacific through it's connection at Atchison, Kansas.

The Union Pacific was to head west and open a passage to the West and California. It was a natural choice for other roads to capitalize on this goal by striving to be the first to make key connections to this route. With hopes of building one of the four proposed branches of the UPRR, Atchison raised it's flag in 1859 with the colorfully named Atchison & Pike's Peak railroad. This branch was to build to the republican River and meet the proposed Kansas City branch which would head for the UP along the 100th meridian at Fort Kearny, Nebraska.

In December 1865, not far behind the UP's move west from Omaha, the ceremonial first rails of the A&PP were laid, heading west from Atchison, Kansas. The A&PP was no longer a mere paper railroad. Progress was hindered by the fact the road yet lacked a locomotive, but by March 29th, 1866 Locomotive #3 arrived from Missouri. July 9th, 1866 saw the first mixed train run to the end of track.

But Congress sanctioned a change to the state's rail development, the Kansas City Branch was to follow the Smoky Hill River to Denver, rather than meet the A&PP on the Republican. The Atchison & Pike's Peak original purpose was gone. In hopes to keep it's dreams alive admidst the westward struggle to Denver, the railroad officially changed it's name to the Central Branch Union Pacific Railroad and pressed for further subsidies. It would be some time before the open prairies were populated by enough homesteaders to encourage the road to grow. And the new frontier railroad would grow, as newly formed counties and towns were built from the sod the company had income to pay for its expansion.

The newly named Central Branch Railroad reached it's 60th mile by January 22, 1867 and built to Waterville by late that year. By November 1867, workmen were finishing the grading on the first 100 miles. Soon the iron horse's whistle would be heard in Washington County which lay at the end of the line. Despite pleas to Congress that they had frustrated their mission by the 1867 route change, no more federal funds were to go to the railroad after it completed laying it's 100th mile, which occured in January 1868 at the Little Blue River. The lack of aid, drought and the Panic of 1873 stalled the lines progress. It would be some time before the open prairies were populated by enough homesteaders to encourage the road to grow. And the new frontier railroad would grow, as newly formed counties and towns were built from the sod the company had income to pay for its expansion.

At the same time the Central Branch trains now were running to Frankfort, with passenger trains leaving Atchison every day except Sundays at 7:00 a.m. and arriving at Frankfort at 1:00 p.m. The returning passenger left Frankfort at 1:30 p.m. and reached Atchison at 6:30 p.m. The distance to Frankfort was 78.5 miles, and freight trains left Atchison at 7:00 p.m. and arrived in Frankfort at 1:00 a.m., on the return trip leaving Frankfort at 1:30 a.m. and reaching Atchison at 6:30 a.m.

Atchison was promoting several railroads that fall with dreams of becoming a major rail center on the Plains. Just announced was that the contract for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe line had been signed. There was talk of the Atchison and Nebraska City Road as well. Already the Central Branch had made it's impact upon the town with new farms were springing up alongside the rails, in every direction.

The piers of the railroad bridge over the Blue River were completed and the first locomotive reached Irving on December 22, 1867.

By the new year the Central Branch Union Pacific was looking to the future. The railway now ran west from the city of Atchison through the fertile country to the Republican Valley, turning to the northwest, and intersecting the Pacific Railroad (predecessor of the Missouri Pacific) at or near the 100th meridian. Ninety miles of the road were completed and in running order. The Central Branch's officials still hoped to build northwest and join the Union Pacific in Nebraska. The Central Branch's prospects looked good, but the actual extension of the railroad wouldn't be easy. Much of the territory was still unsettled.

During the 1870's, the Central Branch Union Pacific owned six engines, numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Number 6 was the switch engine. In rolling stock the road owned only four passenger coaches -- two at the Atchison end to run west, and two at the Waterville end to make the trip to Atchison. To alleviate the lack of equipment two flatcars were converted into make-shift passenger cars with benches, staked sides and a roof covered with tree branches. Five hundred Sunday school children rode the train in these cars.

In 1872, another push to extend the railroad fell through. It wouldn't be until 1878 before the line actually reached Beloit, and 1879 before it was built to the forks of the Solomon. During the decade of the 1870's the country west of Waterville filled up with settlers and many small, new towns were built.

It wasn't until the late 1870s under yet another name change, now as the Central Branch Railroad, that the original rendezvous point of the fertile Republican Valley was reached in 1877. From the new town of Downs the road divided and ran along both tributaries. No other railroad had pushed so deeply into northwest Kansas.

Another battle brewed, and the Central Branch helped organize the local Atchison, Republican Valley & Pacific on May 24th, 1879. The plan was to create a route northwest along the Republican, and intersect the Union Pacific Railroad at or near the 100th meridian. The Central Branch officials hoped to join the Union Pacific at Willow Island, Nebraska. Prospects looked good, but the actual extension of the railroad wouldn't be easy. The local officials stepped down in favor of the Central Branche's own as actual construction began, with the promise the line would be down in Scandia by the end of 1878. The first passenger train pulled into Scandia on December 31st, with two hours to spare.

Now business began to boom as shippers and passengers crowded along with a rapid population increase. The wagons of grain that once rumbled through enroute to Concordia now could be marketed here. Scandia prospered, and so did the Central Branch. The road was a valuable asset and in a controversial exchange of stock with the notrious Jay Gould, the Union Pacific aquired the Central Branch. The UP in turn leased the line to the Missouri Pacific.

The line continued to prosper and would next cross Washington and Republic counties in Kansas, and enter Nebraska in Jefferson County. All in all, a prime homestead area of 6,400,000 acres of choice agricultural and stock lands were accessible by the extension.

Though the Central Branch didn't develop quite as planned, it's rails eventually pushed northwest into Nebraska to serve the towns of Superior, Hastings and the town of Prosser, which became the northwesternmost terminus point on the Missouri Pacific system.

Million Dollar Railroad

In the late 1930's, the line was cut back 15 miles to Hastings. As WWII unfolded and the country braced itself to fight the war, the railroad commision suggested MoPac should cut off service to the small town of Prosser due to wartime priorities. Hastings then became the end of the line. At the same time, the Naval Munitions Depot was built at Hasting, resulting in the severing and abandonment of the Chicago & Northwestern line there. The abandoned depot and small yards eventually were assumed by the local MoPac.

Both the CB&Q and UP gave access east and west, but MoPac provided the the only southeastern rail transport for completed munitions from the naval depot. As the only feed to the southeast from the Naval Munitions Depot , the Prosser division florished, becoming known as the "Million Dollar Railroad" because of the munitions components (such as shell casings) that flowed to Hastings upon the MoPac.

Passage into History

Today the Prosser line is gone, after being long abandoned. By the time of the UP merger, the "Million Dollar" line was a memory and it once again returned to it's former branchline status. GP15-1 #1675 made the final run from Concordia, Kansas to Hastings on March 1, 1985. The small loco went south back to Kansas, never to return.

An Update

At the time of this update, a detailed history of the Missouri Pacific's Northern Kansas Division (the old Central Branch Union Pacific) is under preperation by MPHS member Doug Brush of Downs, Kansas.


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 l Last Update to this page: 15 April, 2008
          All images & text 2000-2008 T. Greuter / Screaming Eagles, unless otherwise noted. All Rights Reserved.