Kansas Central Railway (1871-1879)
Kansas Central Railroad (1879-1897)

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The following comes from Ehernberger and Gschwind's Union Pacific Steam, Eastern District:


Leavenworth, Kansas to Miltonvale, Kansas

Best known as the Leavenworth, Kansas & Western Railway, the ill-starred branch began its colorful career as the narrow gauge Kansas Central Railroad in 1871. For the next ten years construction of this line, originally projected to Denver, Colorado, progressed westward. In 1872 rails had been laid as far as Holton, 55.4 miles west of Leavenworth. Track-laying remained at a standstill for the next five years but in 1877 an additional 27.1 miles were opened to Onaga. Thereafter construction proceeded as follows: 1879, Onaga to Blaine, 13.4 miles; 1880, Blaine to Garrison, 20.9 miles; 1881, Garrison to Clay Center, 30.9 miles; and 1882, Clay Center to Miltonvale, 18.5 miles. Subsequently, the 166.2-mile line was taken over by the Union Pacific and reconstructed to standard gauge in 1889-90. The Kansas Central then went into receivership and in 1897 the L. K. & W. was organized to take over the property. In 1908 it was again acquired by the U. P. which absorbed the line and operated it as a part of the system until its final passage into oblivion.

During the final months of operation of the east-west branch, two tri-weekly mixed trains furnished service. One operated between Leavenworth and Onaga, a distance of 82.5 miles, while the other served the 83.7-mile western portion of the branch between Onaga and Miltonvale. Until late 1934 two "Daily Except Sunday" mixeds had been handling the business, with Holton serving as the "division" point. In 1935, rapidly declining revenues, accentuated by the Great Depression, then in full swing, proved to be the undoing of the historic line and it was abandoned, except for short segments on either end. The 18.5 miles between Clay Center and Miltonvale on the extreme western end of the branch were retained and incorporated into the Junction City Branch with the abandonment of the original Clay Center-Concordia segment of that line the same year. Nineteen years later, in 1964, this surviving remnant of the late, lamented L. K. & W. also succumbed with the abandonment of the Junction City Branch. Today all that remains of a once-important rail line is the 3-mile section between Leavenworth and Knox on the extreme eastern tip of the Leavenworth Branch.

The following comes from George W. Hilton's American Narrow Gauge Railroads:

Of the various projects to provide an eastern connection for the Denver & Rio Grande the most important was the Kansas Central Railway. Although the promoters never achieved their goal, they did build a narrow gauge extending 165 miles west from Leavenworth, Kansas, over the course of a decade. Construction on the railroad nearly spanned the entire narrow gauge period.

The leading businessmen of Leavenworth felt that their city had been bypassed by the major east-west routes of the standard gauge railroads, which had centered at Kansas City to the south and St. Joseph to the north. The announcement of the Denver & Rio Grande project presented to them the prospect of making Leavenworth an analogous center of a rival narrow gauge system. The Kansas Central Railway was chartered on May 31, 1871, to build a line of 3'-0" from Leavenworth to the western boundary of Kansas. The principal promoters of the line were L. T. Smith, manager of the Planters Hotel; Paul E. Havens, president of the Leavenworth National Bank and a member of the state legislature; Thomas Carney, a former governor of Kansas; and Lucien Scott, president of the First National Bank of Leavenworth. Their intended route was through the northern two tiers of counties of the state; the exact location would depend on the availability of local assistance. The route necessarily crossed the drainage pattern of streams tributary to the Platte River to the north. Especially toward the east end, the terrain was the typical hilly country of the Missouri River valley, the contours of which the promoters intended to follow closely. The Kansas City Journal of Commerce, in a hostile editorial of October 11, 1871, characterized the narrow gauge's route as 600 miles of which the western 300 were "uninhabited and inhospitable," correctly predicting both that the company would go bankrupt and that the line would never be completed. The promoters hoped to build at a rate of 100 miles per year. The Colorado Eastern was a later project, but had the Kansas Central been completed, trains would probably have entered Denver on that railroad or on the KC's own trackage on a route from the Kansas-Colorado border such as the Colorado Eastern projected.

Smith and his associates began their efforts with an attempt to secure aid from Leavenworth County. From an earlier transaction, the county government held $250,000 in stock of the Kansas Pacific. Smith proposed that the county transfer the stock to the Kansas Central. The stock was also sought by the Chicago, Southwestern & Pacific, which planned a standard gauge line from Chicago to San Diego via Leavenworth and Topeka. The CSW&P proposed that if it were granted the stock it would allow the Kansas Central to lay third rail on its projected line for the first 25 miles out of Leavenworth. The County Board, however, on July 8, 1871, voted to turn the stock over to the Kansas Central upon completion of the first 50 miles from Leavenworth. A public election ratified this arrangement on August 16, 1871, by a vote of 3,680 to 672. Construction began in July 1871, and by August 11, 1872, track reached Holton (55 miles), satisfying a franchise obligation by four days. The railroad's prospects looked favorable enough that some bonds were sold in Europe. In November 1872 the Washington, Cincinnati & St. Louis, which was expected to be the main connection to the East Coast for a national narrow gauge network, expressed interest in building from St. Louis to Leavenworth.

Inability to secure transfer of the Kansas Pacific stock from Leavenworth County, the failure of some votes for aid in Pottawatomie County, and the financial stringency of 1873 brought a downturn in the Kansas Central's prospects. Construction halted and service was cut from two trains per day to one on March 13, 1874. After Mill Creek, Jefferson, and Soldier townships voted aid, construction was resumed in June 1877. In spite of a strike by unpaid employees of the contractor, track reached Circleville (63 miles) in September and Onaga (82 miles) early in 1878.

On February 5, 1879, the Clerk of the Federal District Court in Leavenworth served a summons on the company on behalf of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company and various individual creditors. This action brought a foreclosure sale on April 14, 1879, at which the railroad was sold for $252,000 to C. K. Garrison, president of the Missouri Pacific, and L. T. Smith. They reorganized the property as the Kansas Central Railroad on April 15, 1879. Although Smith and his associates retained their directorships, the equity of Garrison marked the railroad's entry into the financial empire of Jay Gould. Although the transfer of the Kansas Pacific stock was still in the courts, Gould bought the Kansas Central from Garrison and Smith on November 13, 1879, for $431,820. Gould then conveyed the narrow gauge to the Union Pacific for $479,000, along with the Kansas Pacific and Denver Pacific. The Kansas Central thereafter operated as an associated line of the Union Pacific, though it retained its corporate identity and Smith remained in charge. Since the railroad at best aspired to the status of a low-quality duplicate of the Kansas Pacific, the reason for the Union Pacific's interest in extending it is not obvious. In May 1880 President Sidney Dillon of the UP reported that the first 60 miles needed new steel rail and the entire narrow gauge needed ballast. Nonetheless, the Union Pacific extended the narrow gauge. Track reached Garrison (118 miles) on August 3, 1880, Clay Center (146 miles), the principal county seat in the area, on December 25, 1881, and finally Miltonvale (165 miles) on April 1, 1882. Miltonvale provided a junction with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe's branch to Concordia, Kansas, and Superior, Nebraska. Even in this partly completed form, the Kansas Central was a relatively large narrow gauge, with 19 locomotives and an office car.

The Kansas Central was converted to standard gauge on August 25, 1890, for the most part by simply relaying the existing narrow gauge rail to 4'8-1/2". The Kansas State Railroad Commissioners considered this arrangement unsatisfactory and issued three orders for laying of heavier rail. An accident in the summer of 1891, in which two people were killed, was held to be caused by spreading of the lightweight rails. The Supreme Court of Kansas late in 1891 held that the Railroad Commissioners were without authority to order the relaying of the line, on the ground that their powers were advisory only.

The Kansas Central went bankrupt along with the parent Union Pacific in 1893 and was reorganized as the Leavenworth, Kansas & Western Railway, a UP subsidiary. This arrangement lasted until 1908, when the line was incorporated into the Union Pacific. Thereafter the former narrow gauge was operated merely as part of an extensive network of UP branches in the area. With the coming of the Depression, the line became expendable. It had virtually no traffic except agricultural products, which were now being lost to trucks, and its physical properties were poor. On July 1, 1933, the UP applied to the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon the 143 miles from Knox at Leavenworth to Clay Center, a step incidental to its extensive abandonment of branch lines in the area. Also to be abandoned was the portion of a branch from Junction City to Concordia north of Clay Center. The railroad proposed to retain the former Kansas Central west of Clay Center and to take trackage rights on the Santa Fe from Miltonvale to Concordia. The ICC approved these arrangements on October 8, 1934, and the Knox-Clay Center line was abandoned on January 10, 1935. The revised Concordia branch lasted until the early 1960s when a proposed dam on the Republican River threatened to inundate 28 miles of line south of Clay Center. The UP on September 10, 1962, applied to abandon the entire Concordia branch, including the Clay Center-Miltonvale segment of the ex-Kansas Central, and received permission on March 25, 1964.


May 31, 1871
Kansas Central Railway was organized. Corporation papers filed with State of Kansas on June 1, 1871.

July 1871
Construction began at Leavenworth, Kansas, at a connection with Missouri Pacific Railway.

October to December 1871
Kansas central received its frist three locomotives, delivered to them from Baldwin numbered as Kansas Central numbers 1, 2, and 3.

August 11, 1872
Kansas Central was completed from Leavenworth to Holton, Kansas (55 miles), connecting with Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad at Valley Falls, Kansas, 35 miles east of Leavenworth.

The road had just over one mile of trackage rights with Missouri Pacific at Leavenworth that was laid as dual gauge, and about one half mile of trackage rights at Valley Falls over tracks shared with AT&SF, also laid as dual gauge.

Construction halted due to lack of financial backing.

April 1873
Kansas Central received its fourth locomotive, numbered as Kansas Central number 4.

June 1877
Construction resumed.

December 14, 1877
Kansas Central entered receivership, for the purposes of financial reorganization.

Early 1878
Kansas Central was completed to Onaga, Kansas (82 miles).

April 14, 1879
Kansas Central Railway was sold at foreclosure to C. K. Garrison, president of the Missouri Pacific, and L. T. Smith.

April 15, 1879
Kansas Central Railway was reorganized as the Kansas Central Railroad.

November 13, 1879
Kansas Central Railroad was sold to Jay Gould, who then sold it to Union Pacific.

August 3, 1880
Kansas Central was completed to Garrison, Kansas (118 miles). At Garrison, the Kansas Central crossed the Blue River.

December 25, 1881
Kansas Central was completed to Clay Center, Kansas (146 miles).

December 31, 1881
Operation of Kansas Central Railroad was assumed by Union Pacific Railway, "without formal lease or agreement."

April 1, 1882
Kansas Central was completed to Miltonvale, Kansas (165 miles).

Miltonvale served as a junction with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe's line between Concordia, Kansas and Superior, Nebraska. Rolling stock for Kansas Central included 19 locomotives and an office car.

Kansas Central's east-west rail line was crossed at Garrison by the newly completed north-south rail line of the Manhattan & Blue Valley Railway (also a UP-controlled company), as the M&BV completed its line between Manhattan and Garrison. The M&BV built along the west side of the Blue River, connecting with the KC at Garrison, where the KC crossed the Blue River.

Manhattan & Blue Valley Railway completed its line north from Garrison (and its connection with Kansas Central) to Marysville.

August 25, 1890
Kansas Central was converted from narrow gauge to standard gauge. Other sources show the conversion taking place in 1889-1890, or as late as 1892.

October 13, 1893
Union Pacific entered receivership, for the purposes of financial reorganization.

September 24, 1897
Kansas Central Railroad was to sold Leavenworth, Kansas & Western Railway, a new company organized for that purpose..

October 1, 1897
Leavenworth, Kansas & Western Railway took possession of Kansas Central Railroad.

May 25, 1908
Leavenworth, Kansas & Western Railway was sold to Union Pacific Railroad.

March 1935
Union Pacific adandoned and removed approximately 140 miles of the former LK&W, from Knox, Kansas, a station near Leavenworth, west to Clay Center. When the LK&W was abandoned, 24 towns along the line were left without rail service.

The Leavenworth-Knox portion (three miles) was added to the Leavenworth Branch, and the Clay Center-Miltonvale portion (18.5 miles) was added to the Junction City Branch.


Kansas Central Locomotive Roster


Ehernberger, James L. and Francis G. Gschwind. Union Pacific Steam, Eastern District (E&G Publications, 1975)

Ehernberger, James L. Union Pacific Equipment List & Renumbering, June 1, 1885, Including Subsidiary Lines

Hilton, George W. American Narrow Gauge Railroads, Stanford University Press, 1990

Union Pacific Railroad Company. Corporate History of Union Pacific Railroad Company, As of June 30th, 1919

Union Pacific Railroad. Eastern District Condensed Profile