St. Joseph & Grand Island Railway

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(Portions of this article were first published in the blog on August 1, 2012.)

The St. Joseph & Grand Island Railway was the 107-mile line across northeastern Kansas, from St. Joseph (Kansas City), Missouri to Upland, Kansas (five miles east of Marysville). After the January 1936 system consolidation, the line was operated by UP as the St. Joseph Branch, after UP gained control in 1897.

Today, in northeastern Kansas, there is an abandoned railroad that once played a very important role of the battle for railroad traffic in the Midwest. That railroad was the St. Joseph and Grand Island Railroad. In what was the first railroad in the state of Kansas, a predecessor of the St. Joe laid its first rail in 1860, just five miles westward from Roseport, Kansas, just across the Missouri River from St. Joseph, Missouri. In 1862, that early road, the Palmetto and Roseport Railroad, changed its name to the St. Joseph and Denver City Railroad, a reflection of its hoped-for destination of Denver, Colorado, a rapidly growing boom town 560 miles to the west.

The St. Joseph and Denver City struggled throughout the 1860s to gain financial investors, a small road among several with grand plans of connecting the towns on the Missouri River, with the mining towns in the Rockies, as well as connecting with the Union Pacific's transcontinental line being rushed to meet the Central Pacific someplace in Utah Territory. After the Kansas Pacific gained success in 1866 at changing its destination from the middle-of-nowhere 100th meridian, to Denver, the St. Joe decided to head northwest to a connection with Union Pacific in central Nebraska. By 1869 only 14 miles of track had been laid, but within three years, in December 1872, the St. Joe reached Hastings, Nebraska, 227 miles from St. Joseph. At the same time, a separate company completed a bridge over the Missouri River, making the movement of rail cars a more direct enterprise that did away with the time-consuming use of cross-river ferries.

In the mid-1870s, New York financier Jay Gould and his associates on Wall Street began using the railroads serving Iowa and Missouri as pawns in their money-grabbing strategy to control all railroad traffic in the Midwest, from Chicago to the Missouri River. Control of railroad companies was purchased and exchanged like so many face cards, and the St. Joe was caught up in the fray as Gould and his enemies bartered and jockeyed for position. By 1880, Gould had exhausted almost everyone involved and turned his attention to other money-making schemes, but his shadow was always in the background as the dust settled, as others tried to make some sense out of the financial mess.

One of the many impacts of the Jay Gould battles was that the St. Joseph and Denver City was foreclosed and reorganized in 1875, and emerged as the St. Joseph and Western Railroad. Its route extended west 109 miles from St. Joseph on the Missouri River, to Marysville, Kansas, and then north and northwest for another 120 miles to Hastings, Nebraska. In 1879, a separate but still affiliated company called the Hastings and Grand Island Railroad completed the 21 miles northward between those two cities. In less than six months, the St. Joe purchased the Hastings and Grand Island company, giving the St. Joe a direct connection with the Union Pacific mainline.

Union Pacific wanted a connection with Kansas City, to supplement its eastern terminal on the Missouri River at Omaha. Having connections with other railroads at both Omaha and at Kansas City would allow Union Pacific a much greater piece of the railroad pie, and UP saw the St. Joe as a much needed addition to its growing system of branches. Union Pacific began buying shares of the St. Joe, but also began starving the road, holding back connecting traffic. By late 1883, the St. Joe was in default of its financial obligations due to shrinking revenues, and the company was foreclosed on in January 1884. It emerged from bankruptcy in June 1885 as the Union Pacific-controlled St. Joseph and Grand Island Railroad.

In a show of Union Pacific's plans for the St. Joe, Union Pacific included the locomotives and rolling stock of the St. Joe as part of UP's system-wide renumbering plan in June 1885 that put all of the equipment of the Union Pacific empire into a singular numbering pattern. Numbers were assigned to the St. Joe's 21 locomotives, with documents showing old numbers and new numbers. But the plan apparently fell apart due to objections of the bondholders and minority shareholders, who felt that changing the numbers on the equipment would hide it as collateral for the bonds and loans. All of the equipment kept its St. Joe number, and when new locomotives arrived in December 1885, they were delivered with numbers that matched the sequence of the St. Joe's own numbering pattern.

Union Pacific lost its battle with its financial bondholders, and on October 13, 1893 declared itself bankrupt. It was a large empire of interconnecting mainlines and branches, each with its own unique financial arrangements, and collateral for the construction loans. The St. Joe was among the smaller roads that fell as part of the Union Pacific collapse. A separate receiver was named to look after the interests of the financial backers, and a new company emerged in February 1897, with a slight change in its name: St. Joseph and Grand Island Railway, instead of Railroad. The new company had every intention of becoming an independent railroad, away from the control of Union Pacific or any other of the large roads that wanted branches in the region.

Edward H. Harriman had a vision for railroads in the West, a vision that saw the Union Pacific as the main stem of a system of railroads that connected branches in the Midwest, with branches in the Far West. Harriman and his associates soon began gathering the mainlines and branches of Union Pacific back under their protective wing. The first move was Union Pacific itself, when a new company was organized in July 1897. More of the mainlines across the west came under Harriman control throughout 1898 and 1899. In Nebraska, at the eastern end of the system, several branches came back into the fold, including the Omaha and Republican Valley, a road that shared much of the same district as the St. Joseph and Grand Island. Harriman saw no need for branches that essentially duplicated each other, and was willing to let the St. Joe drift away from his control. But when the Rock Island showed an interest in making the St. Joe part of its own system, Harriman moved in during 1899 and snapped it up. The St. Joe remained under Harriman's direct ownership until 1906, when he sold it to Union Pacific.

With the St. Joe serving as a connection between its Nebraska mainline, and lines in eastern Kansas, Union Pacific set about putting together a more direct line that would get its trains from the Northwest, straight into Kansas City. In 1914, a connection was completed between Gibbon and Hastings that would allow through traffic to move onto the St. Joe at Hastings, all the way to Marysville. In 1906, UP had completed a 70-mile connecting line from Upland, Kansas (a short distance east of Marysville) on the St. Joe, to Topeka on the Kansas Pacific. From Topeka, it was 68 miles to Kansas City. The connection at Hastings in 1914 gave Union Pacific a direct line into Kansas City, and the St. Joe was a very important part of the new direct link.

The portion of the St. Joe north from Hastings to Grand Island became UP's Grand Island Branch. The portion to the east of Marysville became UP's St. Joseph Branch, but the 120 miles of the St. Joe between Marysville and Hastings became part of Union Pacific's mainline between Nebraska and Kansas City.

The following comes from Ehernberger and Gschwind's Smoke Above The Plains:


Menoken, Kansas to Grand Island, Nebraska

Affording a vital connection with the Union Pacific's Nebraska Division and the main artery of the railroad system, the Fourth Sub-Division consists of 251.8 miles of trackage from Menoken, Kansas, 4.9 miles west of Topeka, to Grand Island, Nebraska via Upland and Marysville, Kansas and Hastings, Nebraska. At the latter point the sub-division joins the Hastings Branch or "Gibbon Cutoff" of the Nebraska Division, affording a direct route to the west and northwest over the U. P. main line. Most through freight between Kansas City and points west is moved over this route.

This sub-division actually consists of two distinct segments of line. The first consists of the 70-mile segment from Menoken to Upland which was formerly known as the Topeka Branch, and was constructed by the Topeka & Northwestern Railroad. In 1906 the T. & N. W. laid the rails from Menoken to Onaga, a distance of 37.1 miles and in 1910 completed the remaining 32.9 miles to Upland. The second portion of this sub-division, comprising 181.9 miles between Upland and Grand Island is composed of approximately the western two-thirds of the former St. Joseph & Grand Island Railway. The St. Joseph & Denver City Railroad constructed 157.5 miles from Upland to Hastings in 1872 and in 1879 the remaining 24.4 miles to Grand Island were completed by the Hastings & Grand Island Railroad. The line climbs very gradually as it continues northwestward, from 899 feet above sea level at Menoken to 1864 feet at Grand Island.

Sub-division points included Marysville and Hastings as well as Grand Island. Engine houses which served power on this line in addition to the facility at Topeka included the 16-stall roundhouse at Marysville and the 8-stall structure at Hastings. At Grand Island, on the Nebraska Division, the 38-stall roundhouse served Kansas Division power which found its way into that terminal during the glory years of steam. A turntable at Hanover, Kansas, 14.9 miles west of Marysville also saw service for many years turning helper engines which were used over Hanover Hill, and served as a reminder of early years when Hanover, rather than Marysville, was a sub-division point. Centralized Traffic Control governs train movements over the 227.4 miles between Menoken and Hastings.


St. Joseph, Missouri to Upland, Kansas

Extending westward for 107.8 miles from St. Joseph, Missouri to Upland, Kansas, the St. Joseph Branch constitutes approximately the eastern one-third of the venerated St. Joseph & Grand Island Railway. From St. Joseph to Troy, Kansas, Union Pacific trains have trackage rights over 13.9 miles of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad. The 93.9-mile section from Troy to Upland was constructed by the St. Joseph & Denver City Railroad, predecessor of the St. J. 8c G. I., in 1872. Steam power operating out of the eastern terminal of the branch was serviced in the 24-stall roundhouse of the St. Joseph Terminal Railroad.

The 7.2-mile Highland Branch, constructed by the St. Joseph & Grand Island in 1908, diverged from the St. Joseph Branch at Stout, Kansas, 22 miles west of St. Joseph, and extended northward to Highland, Kansas. This branch was abandoned in 1952.

Current Status

Union Pacific's use of the portion between Grand Island and Hastings was reduced in 1914 when UP completed the Gibbon Cutoff between its mainline at Gibbon and Hastings. The Grand Island to Hastings portion was abandoned in the 1990s, except for five miles of the line south from Grand Island that remains in place today to serve a coal fired power plant.

The portion between Hastings and Marysville (145 miles) became part of UP's Marysville Subdivision, and today serves as a connection for unit coal trains between Wyoming and Kansas City.

The portion between Marysville and St. Joseph (107 miles) was sold by UP to Northeast Kansas & Missouri Railroad (NEKM), a subsidiary of Railtex. NEKM operations began on February 26, 1990.

NEKM sold its interest back to UP on April 15, 1999 for $3.2 million. The purchase would help UP as a potential construction project to relieve congestion on the Marysville Subdivision.

UP retained the portion between Marysville and Hiawatha (60 miles) as a spur line, used mostly for car storage. At Hiawatha, the line connects with UP's former Missouri Pacific mainline between Omaha and Kansas City. The 45-mile portion between Hiawatha and Elwood (just 1-3/4 mile west of St. Joseph) was abandoned and removed. The portion between Elwood and St. Joseph includes the swing bridge over the Missouri River and a few industries in the area west of St. Joseph.


February 17, 1857
Palmetto and Roseport Railroad was organized

To build a railroad from Roseport, Kansas, opposite St. Joseph, Missouri to Palmetto Kansas. The road to be built was intended as an extension of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad.

Construction started on Palmetto and Roseport Railroad

First rail laid; first in the state of Kansas; completed to Wathena, 5 miles

May 12, 1862
Palmetto and Roseport Railroad name changed to St. Joseph & Denver City Railroad, with plans to build to Fort Kearney in Nebraska

August 11, 1866
St. Joseph and Denver City Railroad was consolidated with Northern Kansas Railroad

May 1869
St. Joseph and Denver City Railroad completed 14 miles to Troy, Kansas.

July 25, 1871
Construction was begun on a bridge over the Missouri River at St. Joseph.

Marysville, Kansas (mile post 148.07 on the Kansas Division mainline) northwest to Hastings, Nebraska (mile post 261.84 on the Kansas Division mainline) was built in 1872 by St. Joseph & Denver City Railroad. (Union Pacific Eastern District Condensed Profile dated January 1, 1981)

March 15, 1872
The St. Joseph & Denver City completed from Marysville to Fairbury, Nebraska (145 miles) on March 15, 1872, and completed to Hastings, Nebraska (245 miles) in October 1872. (from "First Steam West of The Big Muddy")

December 1872
St. Joseph & Denver City Railroad was completed to Hastings, Nebraska, a distance of 227 miles.

Missouri River bridge completed.

June 18, 1875
St. Joseph & Denver City Railroad entered receivership; Kansas lines reorganized in September 1876 as St. Joseph and Pacific Railroad; Nebraska lines reorganized in September 1876 as Kansas and Nebraska Railway.

April 21, 1877
St. Joseph and Western Railroad was organized as a consolidation of St. Joseph and Pacific Railroad in Kansas, and Kansas and Nebraska Railway in Nebraska.

May 9, 1879
Hastings and Grand Island Railroad was organized

St. Joseph & Western took ownership of the Missouri River bridge.

Completed between Hastings and Grand Island (21 miles) in 1879 by the separate Hastings & Grand Island Railroad, after Union Pacific took control of St.J.&G.I.

Union Pacific gained control of the St. Joseph and Western, but operated it as a separate company

February 18, 1880
Hastings & Grand Island Railroad was sold to St. Joseph & Western Railroad

January 1884
St. Joseph & Western entered receivership; Kansas lines reorganized in June 1885 as St. Joseph and Marysville Railroad; Nebraska lines reorganized in June 1885 as Grand Island and Marysville Railroad

June 22, 1885
St. Joseph and Grand Island Railroad was organized to purchase the assets of the St. Joseph & Western Railroad.

Fully controlled by Union Pacific through majority stock ownership.

St. Joseph & Grand Island locomotives were assigned numbers in the June 1885 renumbering of all locomotives, freight cars and passenger cars of all Union Pacific-controlled railroads, but there is no evidence that any of the locomotives were actually renumbered. This was likely because UP did not own all of StJ&GI stock, and other shareholders objected to the renumbering.

Union Pacific and St. Joseph & Grand Island built a joint depot in Marysville. (UP 1922 annual report, courtesy of Jim Ehernberger)

January 5, 1887
St. Joseph & Grand Island Railroad and AT&SF form the jointly owned St. Joseph Terminal Railroad; a new freight house was built by the terminal company in 1890.

St. Joseph Terminal Railroad also owned the St. Joseph shops from February 1, 1888 until July 1, 1900.

Union Pacific organized the Kansas City & Omaha Railroad, and operated it as part of what was called the "St. Joseph & Grand Island Division." The KC&O locomotives were not renumbered into UP's system, and all locomotives later received Burlington & Missouri River and CB&Q road numbers.

October 13, 1893
St. Joseph & Grand Island Railroad entered receivership along with Union Pacific; Kansas lines reorganized in December 1896 as St. Joseph, Hanover & Western Railway; Nebraska lines reorganized in December 1896 as Grand Island, Hastings & Southeastern Railroad

February 22, 1897
St. Joseph and Grand Island Railway was incorporated (after being organized on February 16, 1897) as a consolidation of St. Joseph, Hanover & Western Railway (in Kansas), and Grand Island, Hastings & Southeastern Railroad (in Nebraska).

"For a time Harriman seemed content to let the St. Joseph & Grand Island drift away as well. In December 1896 the road's reorganization committee bought the road at foreclosure sale and declared their intention of running it as an independent line. By 1900 it had arranged trackage rights into Kansas City and begun to show a modest profit. Satisfied that the branch had potential and bothered by rumors that the Rock Island wanted to buy it, Harriman made his move in 1902. Without warning, his representatives turned up at the St. Joseph stockholders' meeting with enough stock to oust the current directors and install their own men. The new board promptly stopped paying a dividend on preferred stock and embarked on a program of improvements under Berry's watchful eye. Harriman kept personal control of the road until 1906, when he sold his holdings to the Union Pacific." (Union Pacific, The Rebirth, by Maury Klein, page 71)

Union Pacific completed a new cutoff between Gibbon and Hastings, to shorten the route for through traffic between the West and Kansas City. UP trains used part of the StJ&GI between Hastings and Upland, near Marysville.

February 23, 1923
St. Joseph & Grand Island Railway owned by UP, incorporated as successor to St. Joseph & Grand Island Railroad.

Automatic block signals were installed on Union Pacific's line between Gibbon, Nebraska, and Menoken, Kansas, including that portion of St. Joseph & Grand Island between Upland and Hastings; the purpose being to affect a "bridge line" for the movement of through traffic between Gibbon and Kansas City. (UP 1931 annual report, courtesy of Jim Ehernberger)

January 1, 1936
Union Pacific leased the St. Joseph & Grand Island Railway for operation., along with the Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad, the Oregon-Washington Railway & Navigation Company, and the Oregon Short Line Railroad. ("Union Pacific Unification", ICC Finance Docket 9422, dated July 26, 1935, in 207 ICC 543.)

"LEASE OF PROPERTIES OF SUBSIDIARY RAILROAD COMPANIES --- For many years the properties of the Union Pacific Railroad Company and those of the Oregon Short Line Railroad Company, Oregon-Washington Railroad & Navigation Company, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad Company and The St. Joseph and Grand Island Railway Company have been operated under one control and management but the operations of the properties of each company were for its account and it was necessary to keep accounts and statistics and make separate reports to regulatory commissions and others for each company. Effective January 1, 1936, the properties of the other companies were leased to and are being operated by the Union Pacific Railroad This made possible the centralization at Omaha of all accounting and treasury work in connection with the railroad operations and the discontinuance of the separate Accounting and Treasury Departments which had been maintained by the lessor companies at Salt Lake City, Portland, Los Angeles and St. Joseph, with a resultant saving in expense (after the first year) estimated at $472,000 annually." (Union Pacific Annual Report for 1936)

(Read more about Union Pacific's lease in 1936 of its OSL, OWRR&N and LA&SL subsidiaries, including St. Joseph & Grand Island)

Union Pacific began the operation of a motor car to replace the daily passenger train between St. Joseph and Grand Island.

The operation of the motor car was discontinued, making StJ&GI a freight-only railroad.


St. Joseph & Grand Island Locomotives


St. Joseph & Grand Island Cabooses -- StJ&GI had 23 wooden cabooses and four drover's cabooses.


Map (1948) -- A map taken from the 1948 UP Kansas Division employee timetable.

Map (current) -- A Google Map of the current route.


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

Wikipedia ICC Valuations Project